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Shared Family Parenting Conclusions: What is Harmful to Children

            Children are harmed when parents:

  •  Encourage children to choose between them.
  • Make promises they do not keep.
  • Criticize the other parent to the child or in the child’s range of hearing.
  • Use the child as a messenger or negotiator or seek information about the other parent from the child.
  • Withhold access to the child for any reason unless there are safety concerns.
  • Involve the child in the court process or share legal information.
  • Introduce a new partner without adequate preparation. Remember that children need time to grieve the loss of family as they knew it and may not be ready to accept a new partner.

             Parents should remember that a child’s experience of divorce differs from their own. A child can often benefit from participation in school-based groups for children of divorce. Some children have greater difficulty in adjusting to their parents’ separation. If your child exhibits troublesome behavior over time, consider seeking help from a specialist experienced in dealing with child development and divorce.

             It may be helpful to refer to the information you received at the Parent Education Program. Many helpful age-appropriate books have been written to help you and your children through this difficult time. Your local bookstore and library are wonderful resources.

 
 

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Shared Family Parenting: Vacations

Children benefit from extended uninterrupted vacation time with each parent consistent with their abilities to handle separation from either parent. The length of time for each vacation period is dependent upon the age and temperament of the children, the geographic location of the vacation, the extent of shared parenting, and the availability of the parents.

             Once overnights away from the home base have been successfully established, longer vacation time may be implemented. Vacation time for children less than eighteen months should be consistent with the child’s ability to tolerate extended separations from either parent. Initially, infant vacation time should not exceed three consecutive overnights with either parent. As a child matures, both parents should have the same opportunities to vacation with their child. Many parents provide for two uninterrupted vacation weeks for children at about six years of age, increasing to four weeks by age ten. Whether or not these weeks are consecutive depends upon the circumstances of the family.

  •  To avoid undue stress on the child, parents should plan down time for their child after travel and before they return to school.
  • In planning vacations, parents should not take their children out of school except in special circumstances and when both parents agree.
  • Plans for vacations, holidays or other special occasions should be agreed to as early as possible to avoid last-minute conflict. Parents should establish specific dates for advance notification of summer vacation choices.
  • Consideration should be given to the relationship between vacation, holiday and regularly scheduled time. Is a two week vacation intended to be fourteen days? If a two week vacation involves two weekends, should an alternating weekend plan begin with the non-vacationing parent on the following weekend to avoid three or more back to back weekends with either parent?
  • Parents should not plan a vacation to conflict with the other parent’s scheduled holiday (i.e. July 4 or Labor Day) unless they agree.
  • The vacationing parent should provide the other parent with full contact information prior to leaving home.
  • Arrangements should be made for reasonable telephone contact between the child and the non-vacationing parent, particularly with younger children.
 
 

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Shared Family Parenting: Holidays

           Holiday schedules generally take precedence over regularly scheduled parenting time.

             The major holidays should be defined by both parents and alternated or shared with consideration to prior family traditions and religious beliefs, especially in the first year of separation. Whenever possible, children should continue celebrating particular holidays with extended family where this has been the prior custom. The location of both parents and their respective families should be considered in determining how holidays should be shared.

                       Many parents provide for the civil holidays that are celebrated on Mondays by having the child remain with whichever parent has the child for that weekend. This generally works out equitably except in cases where the child is scheduled to be with the same parent every Monday.

 
 

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Shared Family Plan: Thirteen to Fifteen Years, Part II

Parents of these early adolescents should consider the child’s schedule and commitments, distance between the parents’ homes, each parent’s work schedule or other obligations, the child’s temperament and wishes, and recognition of a teen’s need for unstructured time.

             Although many different plans may work for children of this age, some options include:

  • Alternating seven-day periods with or without mid-week time.
  • Alternating long weekends with or without mid-week time.
  • Providing a home base for the child with some time with the non-residential parent during the week and on weekends.

             This is a time when children may articulate a desire for a home base because of the growing importance of their own network and outside activities. Both parents can increase contact through regular attendance at the child’s athletic, performance, academic or other activities. This allows for maximum parental involvement in activities important in the child’s life.

 
 

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Shared Family Plan: Thirteen to Fifteen Years, Part I

            Children between thirteen and fifteen continue to use the family as a base of support and guidance. Decision-making abilities vary widely among adolescents as well as from one situation to another.

             Though they may not show it, young adolescents continue to need the nurturing and oversight of their parents. The primary developmental task for children this age is one of increasing independence from the family and the emergence of an identity of a separate self. Girls usually mature earlier than boys.

             Children of this age should be encouraged to explore activities and develop social relationships outside the family. These outside interests often compete with the scheduled parenting plan. Teens will often prefer to spend time with peers over parents and can become resentful and angry if their wishes are not respected. The challenge for parents of these early adolescents is to support their growing independence while maintaining some basic structure and close contact with both parents.

             It is appropriate for children of this age to begin to negotiate their time directly with each parent. It is of paramount importance for parents to talk directly with each other to be certain that the child is safe and accountable. Parents should support the  relationship of the child with the other parent.

 
 

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Shared Family Plan: Ten to Twelve Years, Part II

  • School-age children can do well with many different parenting plans as long as they provide for frequent contact with both parents.
  •  Where possible, plans should include overnights during the week and on weekends.
  •  Some options include alternating weekends with three or four overnights, split weeks or alternating weeks.
  •  Children should be given the opportunity and privacy to call the other parent.
  •  Children’s preferences should be considered and respected. Remember that parents should still make the final decision.
  •  It is important to accommodate the child’s social activities and commitments.
 
 

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Shared Family Plan: Ten to Twelve Years, Part I

This period is also known as the “pre-teen years,” as these children are preparing to make the leap into puberty and adolescence. They have a greater capacity to understand time, to appreciate future plans and schedules, and to balance different values and parental practices that might exist in their two residences. Children this age tend to be rule bound and may align themselves with one parent. If your child refuses to see the other parent, you should seek assistance from a professional family counselor.

 Ten to twelve year olds should be encouraged to engage in a variety of activities outside the home. Such participation helps children develop social and intellectual skills in preparation for the greater independence and demands of adolescence. Parents should allow their children to express feelings about the need for greater control over their own time while making it clear that parents make the final decisions. Balancing time with parents, friends and activities requires flexibility and commitment to maintaining a strong relationship with both parents. Parental support of increased independence will contribute to the child’s self-esteem and self-confidence.

 
 

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