Visitation arrangements are settled during separation or divorce, and both parties agree to abide by them. You are all set, right? Not usually. Inevitably, even when you try your best to keep to the schedule, circumstances will dictate that changes be made. As with all other issues between you and your ex-spouse, if you can agree on adjustments to the visitation schedule, your children will be better off. You and your new spouse know that building your blended family is easier when you take care of your own relationship. Likewise, when you and your ex-spouse can agree that what is best for the children shall be the keystone of your co-parenting arrangement, the kids will be freed from constant wrangling and court appearances.
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Getting along with your ex-spouse
Your new and specialized relationship with your ex-spouse is one of the most important relationships in the lives of your children. With a divorce and remarriage in their recent experience, kids need to know they can rely on you two getting along well enough to be parents; otherwise it can be really difficult for them to feel safe and secure, or trust that you will do right by them. Children often feel responsible when parents divorce, and having them fight about custody and visitation matters reinforces that belief. Do what you can to develop and maintain a cordial and child-focused working relationship with your ex-spouse. If you find that your former spouse is unwilling to cooperate, step back and do your best to operate in as cordial and child-focused manner as you can by yourself. Face it: you are even less likely to induce change in your ex-spouse now that you are divorced. Ask your blended family partner to help keep you child-focused and on track.
Communication with your ex-spouse
Cooperative or not, you will always have to communicate with your ex-spouse about your children. When you do, regardless of whether he or she is cooperative or not, here are some guidelines for communication.
- Stay on message
- Stay cool
- Stay away from finger pointing and old arguments
- Keep going back to your point if the subject gets changed
- Keep it about the kids, and only the kids
- Keep it between the two of you; never ask kids to carry messages
In order of preference, the means of communicating with an ex-spouse is by email, texting, voice mail, telephone conversation, and only if all else fails, with a personal meeting. When you have a parental issue to handle, an email offers you the best opportunity to set the right wording and tone. It works best when you draft your message one day, then wait until the next day to edit, and perhaps ask your spouse for advice on wording before you send it. Communications with your ex-spouse can easily affect your blended family; be sure to keep your new spouse informed and in a position to offer support or advice.
Make visitation work
Scheduling aside, you have a great deal of control over how your children experience visits with their other parent. It begins with you, and how you handle things at your end. If you remember that spending time with their other parent is for and about the children, not an accommodation to your ex-spouse, hassles and scheduling snafus take on less inconvenience and annoyance. Encourage your kids to have a great time and enjoy being with their other parent. Send no messages via the children. Have them ready for pick up if that is the arrangement, and make sure you are ready to receive them when they are dropped back home. Refrain from grilling the kids about the visit beyond asking how it went, and ask no questions about your ex-spouse. Never, ever, speak badly of your ex-spouse in front of the children, and never make them feel guilty about being close with their other parent.
Your primary relationship
While it is important to have a good relationship with your ex-spouse, be sure to put your major efforts into your primary relationship: the one with your new spouse and the blended family you are building together. With your primary relationship working well and providing you a center from which to operate, other matters outside your blended family fall more easily into place. Visit The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for more information.