There are few problems that can arise with regards to child visitation schedules. Let’s review a few scenarios.
1. Let’s assume that you have successfully mediated your divorce and it seems that everything is in place now. Property Settlement Agreement is signed and filed to court; you have separated and are eager to follow your agreement. All of a sudden on Friday morning you receive a call from your ex-spouse that your child wouldn’t want to see you this weekend. You get the explanation that your child is busy, overwhelmed, tired, etc. and that the custodial parent will not want to push him/her to see you. They will also try to explain to you that your divorce had a very traumatic effect on your child and that you need to give him/her some time/space, etc. All of the above seems like a very reasonable explanation and you might want to let it go this time. Will there be another time like this? Should you give in again next time? Should you let your child to decide whether he/she are to see you or not? What should you do if presented with such a situation?
While it is very important to listen to your child and assess his/her emotional wellbeing, both of you need to understand that spending time with non-residential parent should not be optional. Your child needs both of you and, even though he/she might indeed feel tired or just lazy, he/she still needs you. By letting your child to get away with the breaking of the schedule, you are sending them two very dangerous messages. First, your child would understand this as if you don’t miss him/her and don’t care to see them. Second message is that your child would learn how to manipulate you and get from you what they want.
It is very important if such situation develops to show the united front and to explain to your child again and again that you both love him/her and care for him/her, you both want to be in their life and in divorce the only way to assure this is to strictly adhere to the established parenting schedule. It is also very important to be consistent and let your child know the schedule well in advance.
2. Let’s consider another scenario: your child calls you and asks not to be picked up by you because he/she was invited to a sleepover party with friends. You are put in a very uncomfortable position. On one hand you would like to spend time with your child; on the other hand you don’t want to ruin a weekend for your child who is clearly looking forward to spending his/her weekend with their own friends rather than with a parent. It could also happen that your ex-spouse has already allowed your child to spend your parenting time with their friends without consulting you. Again as in scenario # 1, your child needs to learn that spending time with a non-residential parent is not optional. There are plenty of solutions to that particular situation, but your child needs to clearly understand that he/she needs to address all their plans for a particular weekend with that parent who has parenting time with them on that particular weekend. Both of you need to help your child and direct him/her, but siding with your child or letting him/her make plans not on your weekend is extremely damaging to your child. One of the messages you are sending to your child is that you don’t respect your ex-spouse and therefore, your child doesn’t have to respect him/her either. You are also teaching your child to manipulate you. Once your child learns this skill, he/she will be using it on both of you.
It is very important to understand that, even though you are divorced and you live separately and apart, you have children who love you both and need you both.
By co-parenting you will help your children to regain the balance in their lives that was shattered when you were in the painful process of divorce.
By co-parenting you will help your children learn that they can rely on you both in difficult situations.
By co-parenting you will allow your children to grow into emotionally healthy and productive adults who will maintain relationships with both of you in the future.