Updated: Sep 30, 2020
The conversations I have with parents about Parenting Arrangements and solutions are deep, and varied. As with so many aspects of this beautiful, complex work with people, the answers to the questions above are full of nuance and individuality.
How could I give quick, broad-brush answers, when:
Each family is unique.
Each child is unique.
The challenges and skills and strengths that you bring to your situation mean that your particular solutions will also be unique.
More often than not, my answers to these questions consist of a list of possible scenarios and factors to consider. So that's what I'm aiming to give you today, as we look at the question of AGE, and its impact on parenting arrangements. I hope that this will help you to fit your own particular needs, values, and experiences into the picture, and create something that works for you, and for your one-of-a-kind little ones.
Do you think this is a good idea for a [4*] year old?
*Insert any given age [here].
This questions comes up a lot, and I totally understand why. It's actually based in solid parenting knowledge and backed up by research - different solutions DO work for children at different ages. People often start their Parenting Plan journey by googling living arrangements according to age groups, and this can be a good starting point.
You wouldn't ask a 6-month old to spend a week away from their primary carer, but this is much more normal and realistic for a 12 year old.
You wouldn't arrange for a 15 year old to go to story time at the library for short visits with their parent, but this would be totally appropriate for a 2 year old.
But that is often where the simple answer ends. Ages and developmental stages are important. And general, high-level, overarching principles are great, and helpful, but if you want to make a plan that's really comfortable and secure for your child, you will want to factor in a few more things:
How long have you been separated, how is your child going with the separation process, and how long have you had a stable plan in place already?
When you're making this plan, consider how secure your child is currently feeling - is it a fairly new separation, is your 4 year old struggling with the new demands of going back and forth between homes, and have you still not managed to keep a plan in place for longer than 3 weekends?
Then, you might want to take a step back from where you think a child of their age "should" be at. Slowing it down a little, sticking with whatever works for now, could give your child a chance to adjust.
On the other hand, a four year old who has been going between two homes, on the same schedule, for 2 years, and feels supported by two loving, open, co-operative parents, can probably cope with a plan that stretches his comfort zone a little.
How does your little one see you working together as parents?
I did just touch on this one, but to be specific, the higher your level of communication, and the lower your level of conflict, the more you can ask your child to manage, in terms of your parenting plan.
The old adage is absolutely true: poor long-term outcomes for children are not related to divorce itself. The damage is done by ongoing, unresolved conflict, and violence that spills over into their daily lives.
So, think about the amount of resources - their own little bucket of emotional stability, patience, understanding, and resilience - that they are using to survive going back and forth between their parents. How much of their bucket are they using up on behalf of their parents, in peace-making, message-carrying, and secret-keeping?
Now, picture how much is still left in their bucket at the end of the week. This is what they are using to
pay attention at school,
learn their times tables,
make meaningful friendships,
remember their soccer shoes,
get to the bus stop on time,
be patient with their sister,
motivate themselves to get dressed in the morning,
and so much more.
If there is still anything left, you may just be able to expect them to adjust to a more demanding parenting arrangement, and still hold it together.
Are there any other challenges, or protective factors, which could affect your little one's ability to adjust?
These challenges would include any developmental or learning challenges, physical or medical needs, and even personality traits like sensitivity or a pre-disposition towards anxiety and separation difficulties.
Protective factors are things like: travelling back and forth with an older sibling who is mature and capable, with whom your little one has a strong attachment; or regular contact with a grandparent who is a consistent, warm and trusted part of their routine; or a weekly dinner with both parents where their feelings are respected and there is a shared commitment to child-focused co-parenting.
So, that should give you some sliding scales to work from when you're figuring out arrangements that will suit your little one at any given age.
Did this post answer any questions that you were asking yourself about your parenting plan? Is there anything I didn't mention that you were hoping I would? Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment here on the blog to connect.