Managing shared custody of children can be difficult but parenting coach and educator Joseph Driessen says there are several things you can do to make this easier.
When children go back and forth between parents, everyone goes through a cycle of grief, revisiting the loss of the perfect family they idealised, says Driessen.
The cycle starts with the feeling of numbness, he says, and children will often shut down.
Next comes sadness.
After a while the cycle moves on to happiness, because you’re together again, but this doesn’t last as the visit nears to an end, he says, and this can turn to anger.
“Anger is actually an energy which we use, which evolution has given us to try and change things.”
The feelings can revisit families for years.
“The key to reduce these cycles is to try and improve your frequency of contact. So, for example, you might be living with your mum for a week and then your dad for a week, the week you’re not living with the other parent, it pays for the parent to stay in contact, maybe give them a ring or a text.”
It’s important not to interfere with the other parent’s week but to show the children you’re still there, he says.
“That frequency reduces the grief cycle for all parents.”
While instinct might tell us to keep the other parent away during the time we have with the children, Driessen says doing this might put the children in a bind, causing them to feel guilty and unable to process their grief.
“Buried feelings are dangerous,” he says.
“You give them permission to love the other parent and if you do that, you demonstrate to your ex-partner…that you give them permission to love their children fully.”
Young children need routine, don’t change this if you can help it.
Older children, preteens and teenagers, need flexibility.
Driessen’s plan for managing access visits
The key is for the adults to get support
Find a solution – give permission for the children to love both parents
Increase frequency of contact
Accept your child’s cycle of grief