One of the earliest challenges for divorced parents, particularly the non-primary parent, can be how to manage weekend visits with their children.
Many parents may not have been that involved with the nuts and bolts of their kids’ lives before the divorce, so such tasks as bedtime routines, homework, household chores, and the like are unfamiliar and foreign. Consequently, when those newly divorced parents face weekends alone with their children, they can feel pressured to come up with a never-ending list of fun things for their kids to do during their visits.
That can undercut the purpose of visitation: to build and maintain a relationship with the children that hopefully mirrors what they would have had if there had been no divorce. When handled correctly, the non-primary parents’ relationship with their kids can actually be better than it would have been without the divorce.
Time alone with kids-without the other parents’ intervention or the conflict that can be present in unhappy marriages-can provide the non-primary parent with a prime opportunity to occupy a unique and invaluable place in their children’s lives.
That can only happen, though, if the non-primary parent takes off his or her “entertainer” hat. Visitation time isn’t vacation time for the kids. It’s not an excuse for late nights, all-pizza-and-ice-cream diets, unlimited television, and trips to the nearest amusement park. That’s what grandparents are for.
The non-primary parent’s home needs to be the kids’ true second home, with a dedicated space for them to sleep and study, chores, responsibilities, limits, consequences, and routine. Those all provide a solid foundation for children in any situation, but children of divorce need them even more.
Just as the family probably did before the divorce, it’s okay to throw the rules out and have pizza and stay up late every once in a while. But if the kids’ routine goes out the window every other weekend, visitation will soon become an albatross for everyone involved. The non-primary parent will dread it because he or she won’t get a good night’s sleep and the primary parent may dread it because the kids will come back grumpy and exhausted and the family will spend the next few days trying to get back on track. Also, children may eventually find the lack of routine and proper diet a hindrance rather than a treat.
Visits with kids should be enriching and rejuvenating for kids and parents alike. Non-primary parents will do themselves and their children a favor by making those visits an extension of, rather than a vacation from, their routine.