Create a Parenting Schedule That Works for Your Family

The Dos and Don'ts of Creating Your Family's Parenting Schedule

Mom hugging her son and smiling
Follow these parenting time dos and don'ts. Photo © Camille Tokerud/Getty Images

Developing a parenting schedule with your ex is an important step toward helping your children adjust to your new life. And while it's primarily about divvying up child custody responsibilities, it's also about showing your children that you're willing to work together for their good. Apply the following dos and dont's as you develop your initial parenting schedule:

Tips for Creating a Parenting Schedule That Works for Your Family

When it comes to designing your family's parenting schedule:

  • Do put yourself in your kids' shoes. Traveling back and forth between two homes is not easy. But neither is adjusting to no longer living with both parents when that's the only living arrangement your children have ever known. Before you make a decision about your parenting schedule, put yourself in your kids' shoes and imagine what the day-to-day life will be like for them. What will they gain? What will they miss out on?  
  • Do consider the logistics. If you're going to share a generous amount of parenting time, it's important that the two of you live close enough to one another to make the transportation logistics manageable for everyone. And whether your kids have started school or they'll be school-age in a few years, don't forget to consider bussing options to and from both residences. Another logistical consideration is the availability of childcare providers you both trust. If you have young kids who are already accustomed to a regular babysitter, you may want to make sure that your parenting schedule will allow that relationship to continue, in order to minimize the amount of change your kids are going through at once.
  • Do consider your kids' school and activity schedules. If your kids stay after school two nights a week for extracurricular activities, keep that routine in mind when you're planning your parenting schedule. Remember, too, that there may be a seasonal quality to your kids' school and activity schedules. For instance, if you know your child's karate classes are currently on hiatus, but will resume on Tuesday nights in two months, then factor that into your parenting schedule. 
  • Do consider whether to involve the kids. If you have very young children, asking for their input may not be practical. In that case, it's up to you and your ex to work together to create a parenting plan and decide what's best for your children at this stage in their lives. On the other hand, if your kids are older, consider discussing your parenting schedule openly as a family and asking your kids whether they have any preferences. Even if you wind up overruling them on some aspects, it's important to give them the opportunity to be heard. Involving them in the process doesn't have to be scary, either. Remember that asking their preference regarding certain days of the week is not the same thing as letting young kids decide outright where they're going to live.
  • Do consider any special needs your children may have. As your kids' parents, you know best what their needs are. And if any of your children have special needs, you know better than anyone how their unique challenges impact everyday interactions, your approach to discipline, and your family's relationships. As you evaluate the best custody arrangement for your special needs child, keep in mind everything you know about what helps him or her thrive. 

    What Not to Do When Creating Your Parenting Schedule

    At the same time, you'll want to make sure that you:

    • Don't make convenience your goal. The natural temptation is to create a parenting schedule that's convenient. Yet, it's important to remember that the purpose of your parenting schedule is to support your kids' ongoing relationship with both parents — and that's going to require a healthy dose of compromise. Some of your family's parenting schedule decisions will align with what's convenient for you, and some others may be downright inconvenient. Going into the process expecting to make sacrifices can help you feel less agitated along the way.
    • Don't focus on winning or losing. Another temptation is to keep track of how many sacrifices you're making in comparison to your ex. But remember: it's about doing what's best for your kids, not about how many times you have to give in. And the reality is that you're both going to make sacrifices, and you may not always know it when your ex gives in to a request that requires him or her to rearrange something at work or at home.
    • Don't use the parenting schedule to get back at your ex. Your family's parenting plan is not an opportunity to sabotage your ex's personal life or career by orchestrating 'compromises' that carry significant costs. Instead, focus on what your kids need and set aside your personal agendas. This isn't the time to make your ex 'pay' for his or her past choices and the pain you've had to go through.
    • Don't assume you are the only qualified parent in the family. You may have more experience dealing with specific challenges, like bedtime routines, preventing meltdowns and ensuring that your kids' homework gets done on time. But that doesn't mean your ex can't learn the same skills when given the chance to step up to the plate. Remember, too, that having to adapt to your two different parenting styles can be a positive life lesson for your kids. 
    • Don't assume conditions will be met down the road. Say you agree to shared parenting with the understanding that your ex will relocate to your school district before your now 2-year-old enters kindergarten. In reality, whether that actually happens depends on a number of factors out of your ex's control, such as whether his or her house sells and whether affordable housing is available at that time in your school district. Therefore, it's best not to commit to a parenting schedule that presumes certain conditions will be met at a much later date.​

    Test Drive Your New Parenting Schedule

    Once you've worked out a basic parenting schedule with your ex, try to stick with the initial plan long enough for everyone to get a sense for what works and what doesn't. You can always make changes down the road, but sticking with your initial plan for 2-4 weeks in the beginning will help you differentiate the to-be-expected kinks that come with adjusting to any new living arrangement from legitimate scheduling issues that need to be formally addressed in your written parenting plan.

    When to Let the Courts Decide Your Parenting Schedule

    Finally, remember that working out a parenting schedule with your ex directly can be extremely beneficial. It allows you both to have an equal say in the process and shows your children that you're willing to work together. However, if you find that it's simply not possible to agree on a parenting schedule with your ex, then you'll need to consider heading to court so that a judge can decide for you. Either parent can make this request. If you do decide to go this route, you should also consider hiring an experienced family law attorney to represent you in court. Keep in mind, too, that the outcome will be entirely out of your hands, and you could wind up with less parenting time that your ex is currently willing to give you.