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Parenting Time and Flexibility

Robin:

I’m in the middle of a divorce that is becoming a little rough and tumble lately. I’ll spare you the details and let the lawyers hash it out.

My problem is my husband’s tendency to make requests, usually at the last minute, for changes to our parenting schedule.  I usually try to go along with them but he’s being such a dick in the last few weeks in the divorce that I really don’t feel like rewarding him for bullying me.

I also think it is very important that kids have a predictable schedule.  Have you advised people on this problem before?

Andrea

Dear Andrea:

Ah, the parenting time flexibility issue!  Yes, I realize that is not how you defined it, but since this is my blog I have the right to attach my own theories to your words.  If you don’t like it, please contact the Oregon State Bar and file a complaint against me.

Noted smarty-pants Charles Darwin once observed:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

One of the most oft-touted ideas in divorce, especially by those who seek and/or enjoy the majority of parenting time, is that children need predictability, structure, and a strictly-regulated schedule in order to thrive.

I totally agree.  

Then again, I totally disagree.  

Let’s discuss my seemingly contradictory viewpoint.  Please bear with me as I try to make two points at once that at first glance seem at odds with each other but in fact are not.

Schedules are Good!

It is certainly true that kids need structure and predictability. Parents do as well. 

Remember when you first brought that helpless little baby home from the hospital?  The first thing most of us tried to do was get that squealing, peeing, crying, confounding little terrorist onto a schedule.

  • Baby sleeps.
  • Baby cries.
  • You change diaper.
  • Baby eats.
  • You burp baby.
  • (You change shirt)
  • Baby shits, often rudely outside the confines of the diaper border.
  • You change diaper.  
  • Baby sleeps.  
  • You do not.

As baby gets older we add in more activities like “tummy time” and “plop in front of the television for 90 minutes as we drink a bottle of wine in despair.”

Regardless, the general idea remains: get the screaming shit machine, also known as “baby,” on a regular routine they learn to follow and upon which mom and dad (or mom and mom, or dad and dad, or single mom, or single dad, or any combination you can think of that helps keep me from being labeled “intolerant”) can depend.  

Schedules are comforting when new parents feel most vulnerable to the frustrations and fears of trying to keep a tiny, helpless, bald little asshole alive.

When baby matures into an older child, the routine-setting continues. Schedules are important as kids experience the rigors of school, the demands of sports, participation in hobbies, and management of their social lives. 

Kids these days have incredibly complex social lives – much more so than when I was young.  Then again, I was awkward and unpopular and sported what some labeled an “old-growth-sized unibrow,” so that may explain the simplicity of my calendaring when I was growing up.  Or is it, “when up I was growing?”  Grammar Nazis, feel free to chime in for Friday Feedback!

So, making schedules and sticking to them is important!  Unfortunately, life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.

So is divorce. 

Divorce is messy, emotionally devastating, and inherently unpredictable, unless one follows all the advice contained within the pages of my soon-to-be-published book, Divorce by Design: How to Split Without Losing Your Mind, Your Money or Your Kids. 

Even the smoothest of dissolutions will create upheaval for the schedules of every family member, even the dog.  If you have a cat he or she will not be affected by the divorce, because cats are evil and they do not care about the emotional tumult of their captive humans.

We can create and plan for routine to the best of our capabilities but unpredictable things like divorce are, by their nature, unpredictable. 

How we react in the face of rapid and continuous change and the needs of the other people in our lives for us to be flexible says much about who we are as parents and human beings who in no way resemble cats.  

Evil-plans-dont-come-up-with-themselves...

I really don’t like cats.

Parents who insist upon following the parenting plan to the letter are almost universally still very bitter about the breakdown of the marriage and the divorce.  These people rarely allow for changes unless the other person files legal documents and a judge orders in their favor. 

Andrea, don’t be that person.  

I understand you don’t like your STBX (Soon To Be Ex) very much right now, but how he is behaving in the divorce should remain separate from parenting time issues.

In addition, your children are watching and learning from their parents’ behavior.  

Figuring out how to go with the flow and manage change through flexibility and compromise is a key component of growing up and becoming a successful adult.  So why handicap your kids by modeling the opposite behavior?  

You told me in our emails that you have the kids the majority of the time, you do not work outside the home, and that his career demands are challenging right now.  I think those facts demand you exercise a little flexibility, so let’s do some brain stretching: 

It’s time to whip out the “RDPTFC,” or “Robin DesCamp Parenting Time Flexibility Checklist!” 

(Please be advised this is for run-of-the-mill couples who do not have suffer from very serious issues such as domestic violence, stalking, and the like.)

RDPTFC Basics:

  1. Try to stick to the schedule as much as possible.  When you need a change, make efforts to work out your scheduling issues first before you ask your co-parent for the change.
  2. Give as much notice possible in advance of the changes you are seeking to the parenting plan.  Always provide dates, locations and contact information so you can be reached if necessary. 
  3. Make requests, not demands.  Be respectful in your communications.
  4. Always keep your child’s perspective in mind when considering changes to the parenting plan.  For example, don’t plan a family vacation during your child’s finals week.
  5. Express understanding to your ex that changes in the schedule are not always easy to accommodate.
  6. Reciprocate your ex’s flexibility.
  7. Be especially willing to make changes when there is a vital reason for doing so such as your ex’s family, career, or health.
  8. When considering a “no” to a requested change, make sure you are checking in on your own ego and declining the change for the right reasons.
  9. Never try to interfere with your ex’s parenting time because they have fallen behind on financial obligations to you. Even deadbeat moms and dads have a right to their children, and vice versa.
  10. Apply the Golden Rule when considering proposed variances: How would I want my ex to respond if I were making the same request?

Of course, you need to share the RDPTFC with your STBX and ask him to abide by it as well.

So, Andrea, what do you think?  Will you consider my advice, apply it to your life, and check in with me in a few weeks with a status report?  

Please do, and best of luck in your divorce.  You should have hired me to mediate your case, by the way.  

Anyone reading this right now who is presently divorcing or about to go through a divorce and who wants to save the family resources and create the best co-parenting relationship possible, please email me at robin@robindescamp.com.  

I have a list of references from very happy uncoupled couples who can attest to my charm and brilliance in resolving their conflicts expeditiously and for a fraction of your basic DICKs first month of billing.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. TLM

    Agreed on all counts, although having been there done that I’ve seen some folks that think having a mani/pedi is reason to change the parenting schedule. Don’t let them take advantage, but yes, flexibility is important.

  2. Hillary

    No kid has not gotten into Harvard because he or she did not rigidly follow a “schedule” (more often imposed by mom’s that can’t stand that they no longer have 100% control over each parenting decision). Kids like seeing both parents. If dad is erratic, but trying to work around his schedule, and when he is with the kids they enjoy spending time with him, that is just more of a good thing. And if bedtime is off, or they did not have the Honey Oat Cherrios on Saturday morning when it is Honey Oat Cherrio Saturday, they will be OK. No one will be lit on fire because there is some “flexibility” in the schedule. Thanks for common sense Robin! You nailed this.

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