• Temara Willis

The importance of flexibility in your parenting plan

Having an established and repeatable structure for shared parenting provides immeasurable benefits for you and your kids. Children and parents have comfort knowing when, where and how their two houses and co-parenting will work for the family. However, to make things easier for everyone, you need to demonstrate flexibility around the parenting plan from time to time.

The flexibility I refer to allows parents and children to live with the shared parenting arrangement, enabling your family to adapt to change in the short or long term. If it benefits the children while still preserving the overall structure, it will assist you to be cooperative and communicative co-parents regarding matters concerning your kids.

Once you can accommodate that mindset, you and your children will be 100% better off. While a parenting plan provides a clear structure for your agreed parenting, it must provide some flexibility around your children's needs, your co-parent, and the circumstances surrounding your day-to-day lives.

If there is a high level of conflict, it is essential to be clear on the level of flexibility that we are talking about. It doesn't mean being an on-call backup plan for the other parent or a babysitter if they want to go for drinks on a Friday night. The flexibility we are talking about is things like letting the children go to an event with your ex-partner, such as a wedding, when it falls within your time with the children. Having a degree of flexibility and diversion from your schedule means your children benefit from being part of rather than excluded from extended family events that cannot be arranged around them. It could also accommodate attending a doctor's appointment with your child, covering for a parent when it isn't their day because they can not participate or agreeing to change the weeks or days around so children can go on a holiday with your ex-partner.

Allowing this degree of flexibility demonstrates that your role as a parent pervades even when the children are not with you, above all else.

So how to make this a reality.

First, you need to free yourself of resentments towards your ex-partner so that you can consider reasonable requests for change based on its positive impact on your children. Considering the impact on your children over resentment towards the other parent needs to be what drives the request for assistance and the response to the request. This means that your children's needs are forefront and that no reasonable requests are turned down without reason. For example, if your ex-partner has exhausted all other practical avenues for help and you are free, you would want to make sure you did what you could for the benefit of your children. The general premise should always be that you'll be doing your best to service the arrangement despite your differences if you can consider requests for help in the context of the benefit to your children.

The next question is, can you accommodate this change to meet your children's needs within the bounds of what you can reasonably accept. The priority here is to ensure that you and your ex-partner prioritise the needs of the children reflecting that sometimes a change is required to arrangements based on your children's needs, especially when they reach their teenage years. You may find a rigid structure is no longer the best means of meeting their needs, and instead, you need to be flexible rather than pushing them back and forth between homes as the calendar dictates.

Younger kids may also have a genuine need where they don't benefit or want to rigorously conform to the regular schedule based on a need to be with one parent or the other. For example, if they are not feeling well, they might prefer to be with one parent over the other. This isn't something of great complexity to manage, but embracing this flexibility as a part of the demands of shared parenting just as it would be if you were a non-separated family has such a positive impact.

Flexibility, responsibility-sharing, and adaptation to change will be a feature in any healthy co-parenting relationship. Allowing changes to fundamental elements of the plan or minor modifications as needed makes a solid statement to your children and those around you about what you prioritise the most, your children.

Amending the plan as needed ensure that the children don't miss out on important, fun or special occasions that children of separation, unfortunately, are sometimes forced to miss out on.

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