When you're newly separated, it's hard, and you need all the help you can get. You're trying to keep your head above water, emotionally and financially. You're managing your own transition, as well as all those big feelings from your littlest family members.
When you sit down and try to put something on paper so that you and your Co-Parent can start to make plans for your children, it feels impossible.
You want to work out visiting times for your children, but your work schedules are a mess, and there are too many public holidays and student-free days to make a comprehensive plan ... not to mention dental visits and after school sport ... which reminds you, who is going to pay for all of that ... ?
It can seem like one thing is inextricably linked to everything else, and you will never come up with a plan that makes sense. Even if you have the help of a mediator, they will ask you to bring into your session a list of topics to discuss, along with some options or solutions for each topic.
It's understandable that you don't know where to start.
But I'm here to give you your first key: A Parenting Plan Topic List.
Your first topic list might look something like this:
The children living with me.
How will they get to and from our houses?
Cricket on Thursdays.
Jenny needs new glasses.
Emails only, no daily phone calls.
This is an excellent start.
You have begun by identifying some of the key areas that need to be settled for your children.
I love when I see a list that is future focused and also prioritises the children's activities and needs!
When I mediate with parents, I also start with a basic list of topics that looks something like this:
Children's financial needs
In case of our deaths
That should get you on your way!
As you write each one down, think about what your child needs from both of you right now. Write down what you would like to see happen (not what you don't want to see!), and all of the ways that you and your Co-Parent can work together to make these things work smoothly for your children.
(If you want to skip to the version with all the details you will need to make your own Parenting Plan, without having to come up with it yourself - you can download my Parenting Plan Topic List here right now! It has just been COVID-updated!)
But what if I told you that your Parenting Plan could be more than just a basic list?
More than just pick up and drop off times?
What if I could help you to avoid those day-to-day annoyances and frustrating conflicts that happen when circumstances arise that you hadn't planned for?
What if your plan was so well-rounded that you had an agreed response for nearly everything your children needed from their parents?
I know ... in the middle of separating, and parenting, and probably home-schooling your children, and working in the evenings, it can feel impossible to get your head around something like that.
Where do you even begin?
What if you had a detailed list of all of the most common areas of disagreement for separating and divorcing parents, so that you could work through them all in advance, and set yourselves up for success?
I really encourage you to start to expand on each item, so that your "children living with me" item might become:
Living arrangements --
Where will our children live/spend time?
Who are the other important people (eg. Grandparents) our children will spend time and stay in touch with?
What is our plan for school holidays and school closure/student free days?
And "Emails only, no daily phone calls", might become a more in-depth conversation, such as ...
How will we communicate with each other about the children (face-to-face, text, phone, email, etc)?
What do we want our communication to look and feel like?
How often do we need to communicate (about the children)?
How will we communicate with the children, about each other?
How will we stay in touch with the children when we are apart?
Can you see how getting into the nitty gritty of communication - not just how often, but what kind of communication, and with whom, and how you will speak to the children about each other - could help you to have clear expectations and understanding between you?
Expanding on your basic agenda items could help you to move forward in your Co-Parenting relationship, in a more positive and aligned way, the way I help my clients to.
And the end result can really be more relaxed, connected, secure, and happy children.
Children who know what's happening from one week to the next, who are confident that their parents can work out any issue that arises, and who feel that they are free to just be kids. I know that's what you want your kids to feel, just like I do!
For all of the helpful starter questions that I use with my clients, you can download my detailed and NEWLY EXPANDED Parenting Plan Topic List here!
What part of your Parenting Plan, or your Topic List, makes you the most nervous?