For both parents and children, visitation is critical to maintaining a sense of connectedness both during and after a divorce. But in the early stages of family restructuring and co-parenting, it is frequently a source of conflict.
If former spouses want revenge, finding ways to spoil a visitation is easy. If they want to help their children through a difficult transition, they will find ways to make visitation successful.
For visitation to work, both parents need to accept and acknowledge that their children have two homes - one with their father and one with their mother. Parents need to make sure that their children are safe and comfortable in both places, even if they don't spend equal time there. They need to help make the transition from one home to the other smooth and calm. They also need to make sure they are being consistent in rules and discipline.
Constructive parenting goals
The following guidelines are examples of parenting goals that can help children grow into healthy, happy, whole people.
* Both parents should encourage visitation to help their children grow in positive ways.
The following suggestions represent strategies parents can use to achieve parenting goals.
Be flexible about visitation schedules
* Give the other parent advance notice of changes in your schedule.
Make visitation a normal part of life
* Find activities that give you and your children an opportunity to build your relationship. Allow time together without planned activities just to "hang out."
Show respect for your former spouse and concern for your children.
* Be on time.
Some parents use visitation to achieve destructive goals. These are goals based on revenge, such as one parent hurting the other or disrupting his or her life. To achieve those goals, parents may use destructive behaviors that can create a more hostile environment and seriously damage relationships. Destructive strategies can be deeply hurtful to children caught in the middle. Following are tips for avoiding destructive behavior.
Don't refuse to communicate with your former spouse.
* Don't use your children to relay divorce-related messages on issues such as child support. Those issues should be discussed by adults only.
Don't disrupt your children's relationship with their other parent
* Don't make your children feel guilty about spending time with their other parent.
Don't allow your anger to affect your relationship with your children
• Don't hurt your children by failing to show up for visitation or by being late.
Don't spoil your children to buy their loyalty and love
* Don't let your children blackmail you by refusing to visit unless you buy them something.
All of these visitation don'ts undercut children's ability to develop an open and supportive relationship with both parents. One of the best ways to support children involved in a separation or divorce is to do what you can to make visitations go smoothly. Focusing on visitation dos is a first step in helping children adjust.
Wallerstein, Judith S. and Joan Berlin Kelly. 1980. Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope With Divorce. Basic Books.
Wallerstein, Judith S. and Sandra Blakeslee. 1990. Second Chances: Men, Women and Children A Decade After Divorce - Who Wins, Who Loses - and Why. Ticknor & Fields, N.Y.
Contact the Iowa State University Extension office in your county for more information about children and families.
Family Life 3
Originally developed as Parenting Apart: Strategies for Effective Co-Parenting by M. Mulroy, R. Sabatelli, C. Malley, and R. Waldron (1995), University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension. Adapted with permission for use in Iowa by Lesia Oesterreich, ISU Extension family life specialist.
Editor: Jolene McCoy
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nolan R. Hartwig, interim director, Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa.
. . . and justice for all The Iowa Cooperative Extension Service's programs and policies are consistent with pertinent federal and state laws and regulations on nondiscrimination. Many materials can be made available in alternative formats for ADA clients.
PM-1641 / January 1996
PDF version of Visitation Dos and Don'ts (PM 1641) (PDF)
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