There is no way to get divorced or separated without changing the fabric of your family. We remind parents that it is rare that children arrive in this world without some tearing apart as well — it’s one of the realities of how humans experience profound life-change.

Painful as it can be, we recover, we heal; we grow and thrive. Even in divorce or separation, with separating homes, being separated from your children on some sort of residential schedule, your goal is to remain two 100 percent parents.

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Early in the coParenting, during residential schedule days, parents often struggle with missing their kids and feeling like they do not have enough time with them. You go from daily contact to something less than that as the other parent takes over duty. There can be an impulse to compete for time, to count hours, to become overly concerned with an extra-overnight here, or a Saturday lunch visit there. Competing and counting hours is not the answer. Grieving the loss and change is part of the answer. And building a workable residential schedule for the future is part of the answer.

Although difficult to believe, once healthy recovery happens, both parents and kids recalibrate to the new schedule, the new normal, and a new sense of expectations. There are many things that help with this resenting of expectations and finding a different, even comfortable, rhythm of family life:

    • You are a 100% parent — whether you are on duty or not, you are always your child’s parent. All the other loving adults that may enter your child’s life will never substitute for you. We have watched this for years: the fear and concern about losing connection with a child, missing an important moment, or the other parent getting something special that you want a piece of. Unless you simply do not show up, your child(ren) will always have a special place in their hearts and lives for you. You will share amazing special moments, and yes, the other parent will, too. And, that’s OK. So start by reassuring yourself: there’s enough time, enough contact, enough wonderful experiences, and enough love to hold you and your children in a strong, bonded and enduring place.
    • Practice generosity. Look for opportunities to include the other parent in your child’s life when appropriate. Keep in mind that this is for your kiddo as much as it is for the other parent. Go back to the good-old-fashioned golden rule: treat the other coParent the way you hope to be treated.One family demonstrated this spirit of family togetherness by the residential parent planning the birthday and “inviting” the other parent and his/her partner and even former in-laws to the celebration. Their child experienced his birthday with all the important people in his life showing their ability to work together and focus on the joy of the occasion. When this is possible, it’s a great example of open-heartedness in meeting a child’s needs.
    • Create realistic rituals with your children when they are with the other parent. Be sensitive about randomly intruding on your coParent’s and children’s residential time; consider how often you call, the impact, the value; consider the other parent’s schedule. For older children, an occasional text message may be a good way to be in touch without involving yourself in the other household. Perhaps it works best to let the kids contact you, trusting that they will do so when it’s comfortable for them. Remember that calling or connecting is not a measure of how much they care for you. Your ability to trust them to and their way of calling/connecting with you is often a measure of how much you care for them. With younger children, coParents often work out ways to Facetime, Skype, or similar, which allows little ones a chance to connect with mommy or daddy in a way that supports their development. With babies, parents should find ways of creating visits in the other parent’s home, maintaining breast feeding, etc. Keep your eye on the mark: determine what meets each child’s developmental needs and what works best for the kids — which, as they get older, can include settling in with their other parent without worrying about connecting with you.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK.  For more information on Karen or her book, visit http://coachmediateconsult.com/co-parents-handbook/

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About Karen Bonnell

Karen BonnellKaren has over 25 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families facing transition, loss, stress and change. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Karen has been Board certified and licensed as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner since 1982. She served on the faculty of University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University & Seattle Pacific University before beginning full-time private practice in 1984. She continues to be a provider of Professional Continuing Education to both health care and legal professionals.

Karen served on the Board of King County Collaborative Law and Collaborative Professionals of Washington. She is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals and Academy of Professional Family Mediators.

Her work is found through Unhooked Books: https://www.unhookedmedia.com/#home.