This is a million-dollar question for which there is no one answer, but I have seen the best routine is the one that works for the entire family, not just the children – and not just the parents. Some professionals lead us to believe we need to choose if our parenting is child-centric or parent-centric while arriving at the conclusion. I would rather say that to form a great routine it needs to be family-centric, otherwise someone is losing, and it will be the quieter person or the first to buckle under pressure.
The reason no one routine is the best becomes apparent when we consider the number of aspects involved in formulating a great routine: geographical challenges, schooling requirements, after-school activities, and naturally, parents’ commitments. When deciding on a routine, be aware that the requirements will change as the children grow. While the children are preschool age, frequent contact with both Mum and Dad is preferable because three days is a long time in their world. Once they reach teen years, three days becomes comparatively short. If you live close by to your Ex, the routine can often be a bit more flexible; if you live far away, changes to the routine can add hours of travel time and increased expenses.
For many years, the Ex and I lived in the same street; this allowed for convenient drop-offs and pick-ups. I kept a very open-home policy, and we maintained a routine of them with me for ten nights per fortnight. This geographical closeness provided ease of access if Dad and Stepmum liked to pop in, or if the children had asked to see them on their way to and from work.
In alternate week routines, sometimes younger children find the gap too long between visits, but there is a nice simplicity with them being settled for a week in one place. One of the main considerations with this routine is the times things are forgotten. This can particularly affect the child regarding their classroom activities; while many ‘forgotten’ items can be done without for a week, it becomes quite a disruption to teachers if they constantly have to compensate for the child’s forgetfulness, while trying to be supportive of their home life. One way to resolve this is to work out a way to remind your children of all they need before leaving for the week. If you need to have a checklist, make one. It is a balance between growing awareness of their own responsibility and your understanding and acceptance of the complexity in their home scenario.
Forming the agreement can be a little tricky at times. Over the years, we tried most types of routines, including the parents moving while the children stayed in the same house since they were the innocent ones. To be fair, it didn’t work; but at least we knew we had given it a go. We have had great challenges in agreeing on routines. Whenever it called for a review, we would go back and forwards for several weeks until we had viewed it in the context of the family as a whole, instead insisting on the principle or timetable we initially wanted to fulfill. Upon reflection, one of the routines that stuck for years, I shouldn’t think any court in the land would have assessed as satisfactory, yet it was the best for us all and one that we could agree upon as a Parenting Team. Our children were mostly happy, and we, as parents, were satisfied – although I had strong feelings for an alternative. The reason that routine stuck for many years was because it reasonably fulfilled the core principles of a good routine even though it saw a fair amount of coming and going.
The routine was I had the children every day after school to do after- school activities and homework, and it gave them a place of consistency. For the nights, the first week they would stay with me, next week with Dad, changing over on Friday. Stepmother collected them from me at 6:00 p.m. for the week they were to be with them.
So far, so good. Here is the twist – and the part that caused issues for us to form agreement.
Dad played sports on Tuesday nights so seemed pointless to him to have the children. As a result, instead of a full week at each place, we had Monday nights at Dad’s and Tuesday nights at Mum’s with the balance of the nights in the week-about pattern. This caused more confusion than you care to imagine, but we all managed to work with it to accommodate Dad’s preference.
Establishing a great routine is not about holding to an ideal, but rather doing the best we can while allowing for flexibility. A good routine has some key characteristics:
– Reasonable time in each place: not sleeping in a different bed every night.
– Not too long between change-overs: able to survive when something is forgotten so it ceases to become a calamity.
– Consistency: easy to remember and able to book time for future dates, working out who has who when.
– Flexibility: when the unforeseen happens, we can call upon our Ex’s support.
All this being said and done, the greatest routine will provide both benefits and perhaps an element of inconvenience for all involved. It is about focusing on what works and continuing to refine the parts that do not flow as well.
Until next time, all the best on your parenting journey.
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