Parents frequently consult with me for help in creating a parenting schedule. A parenting schedule is simply a written summary of how much time each child will spend with each parent and how the parents will divide between them the decision-making authority related to the children. While the concept of a parenting schedule is simple, arriving at a parenting schedule that both parents can agree upon is anything but simple.
It is important to know there is no one-size-fits-all parenting plan. In fact, while there are some general plans that are frequently discussed or ordered by the courts, each plan should be fine-tuned to each family's needs. Parenting plans are based on a legal standard of "best interests of the child". The problem is that reasonable people can and often do differ about what this means and how to apply this standard in their situation.
Understanding the child's emotional development and their unique personality is that starting point in developing a workable plan. While it is clear that the needs of a young child and an adolescent are very different in terms of the number of overnights they can and should spend with each parent, what is less clear is how to exactly quantify this difference. At what age is it in the child's best interests to spend more time with the non-custodial parent? When can we move to a 50/50 parenting schedule?
There are a number of helpful resources for parents to review to assist them in better understanding the developmental needs of children in general. For example, the Oregon judicial department provides some sample parenting plans and a parenting plan guide: Oregon Courts Basic Parenting Plan Guide.
It is also a good idea to speak to the child's teacher, physician, counselor or daycare provider in gaining a better understanding of your child's developmental stage.
Of course the analysis does not stop there. The next step is to consider your child's unique personality. For example, one of my own children used to easily separate from me, loved preschool, and enjoyed being with other adults. However, I also had a child who did not transition easily and who never wanted to leave my side until she was almost two years old. Clearly, a parenting plan for these two children should have taken into account these personality differences.
While it is difficult to be objective about our children, I include several questions that you may want to consider in better understanding your child's unique personality:
1. In general does your child transition easily from one situation to another?
2. Is your child able to express his or her needs (emotional and physical) or do they keep their feelings and needs hidden?
3. How important is a particular routine, such as a bedtime routine, to your child?
4. Does your child have a sufficient emotional connection with both parents to feel safe and loved in both homes?
Of course, there are many other factors to consider in developing a parenting plan, and we will continue to discuss those issues in future articles.