Building Bridges

Parenting Plans

From: Herman M. Frankel, M.D.
To: Parents

The purpose of the parenting plan is to create the conditions for your children to get the best possible parenting from both parents in the two-household family. Decisions you make now, in your children's best interest, will have a profound influence on their well-being, and on their healthy growth and development. In addition, the commitment you make, day after day, to do the best for your children can make a significant contribution to the quality of your own lives.

The two most obvious details of parenting plans are too often discussed prematurely: legal custody (the authority to make such major decisions as those related to education, religious training, and non-emergency medical care) and physical custody (parenting schedule). Ideally, decisions about these details are made at the end of a thoughtful process in which both parents carefully examine such questions as these:

What are our children's unique qualities? What does each of our children need? What unique contribution can each of us make to meeting our children's needs? How are we meeting our children's needs now, separately and together? How are our children doing right now? What is working well now, in terms of the parenting we are providing? What is not working well? What changes do we want to make?

When are we at our best with each of our children? What helps each of us function well with each of our children? What sometimes interferes? When are we at our best in our interactions with the other parent? What sometimes interferes? What helps us interact well? What does each of us want to do better? What does each of us want the other to do better?

Each of these sets of questions deserves thoughtful attention. For example, in addressing the very first question ("What are our child's unique qualities?"), it is important to ask about such temperament traits as sensitivity (to temperatures, textures, small details), activity level, intensity (of emotional reactions, positive as well as negative), distractibility, adaptability to changes, tendency to approach or to withdraw in response to new people or situations), frustration tolerance, regularity, and soothability. Similarly, it is important for parents to ask the same questions about themselves, and to use the answers in making plans that will provide as good a fit as possible between each child's needs (and style) and each parent's strengths (and style).

Optimally, parents deal with these (and similar) questions so that they will be able to make good decisions in the child's best interests when they work out the details of parenting plans. The purpose of the parenting plan to create the conditions for the child to get the best possible parenting from both parents in the next chapter of the family's life: after the parents are no longer living together.

The parenting plans needs to include details about the day-to-day aspects of parenting, in the family that now lives in two separate households. This can be harder than parenting in one household, unless the parents learn healthy ways of functioning and make daily commitments to parent well and to interact in positive ways.

Here are some of the details other than decision-making authority (legal custody), parenting schedule (physical custody), and financial matters that are usually included in parenting plans:

1. Transportation: Who transports the child from where to where? What if a parent is late?

2. Return of clothing and supplies: Will all clothing and supplies that accompanied our child during transportation from one of her homes be returned to that home? If so, will they be laundered, and how will they be transported?

3. Day-to-day decisions: Do we agree that the parent caring for our child at any particular time will make day-to-day decisions regarding our child's care and control during that time? Does this include any emergency decisions affecting our child's health or safety?

4. Information regarding our child: Do we agree that both parents are entitled to important information regarding our child? (Typically, this information includes, but is not limited to, the following: telephone number at which parent may be reached or messages may be left; address to which mail for Keely may be sent; school name, address, and telephone number; health professionals' name, address, and telephone number; records regarding education, medical care, and psychological counseling services; and involvement with law enforcement and other government agencies.

5. School: Do we agree that all information about our child's progress in school and in any school activity must be made equally available to both parents, and that both parents are encouraged to consult with school personnel concerning our child's welfare and education?

6. Emergencies: Do we agree that each parent will immediately notify the other about any emergency circumstances or substantial changes in our child's health or well-being?

7. Dispute resolution: Do we agree that if any dispute arises over the terms of this parenting plan, parents will talk by telephone or in person in an effort to resolve the dispute? That if that attempt fails, parents will work with a trusted professional in an effort to resolve the dispute? That as a last resort, if parents fail to resolve the dispute with the help of a trusted professional, the dispute will be resolved through court action?

Some parents have concerns about additional matters. To serve and protect the children's best interest, it is important for to decide how to deal with these concerns.

8. Past and potential abuse of alcohol and other drugs: Will each of you participate in a formal drug and alcohol assessment? Will you agree to follow the recommendations made by the professional (or professionals) who conduct the assessments? Will each of you agree now to participate in follow-up assessments and random drug tests during the years ahead?

9. Parenting skills and communication skills: In what programs will each of you participate in order to improve your parenting skills and your ability to communicate with one another in positive and effective ways?

10. Anger management: In what programs will each of you participate in order to improve your ability to recognize and manage your own anger in ways that will protect you and others from harm?

11. Child safety: How will you deal with whatever concerns you have about your children's being treated roughly or negligently when in the care of the other parent?

I hope you find these ideas helpful as you prepare for this transition in your lives. The thought and care you invest in making and carrying out your parenting plans will serve your children well now and in the future.

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