Managing the schedules of families living under the same roof can be a challenge given the current work demands and social activities of parents, coupled with the schooling and activities of their children. Things get more difficult for divorced or separated parents who may not get along and who may find it difficult to communicate about even simple matters. If these parents move on to second families with their own stresses, schedules and time demands, an explosive time management nightmare can result. Most of us are not in a position to hire a personal secretary to manage our time. So what can be done?
The single most effective step can be to document parenting time on a calendar shared by the parents. I recommend taking one day each year to construct a calendar documenting the parenting time for the coming year. After the calendar is constructed it can be given to the other parent for review and after any mistakes are corrected, it can be blessed and shared as the common agreed-upon schedule. It also can be shared with other interested parties such as grandparents and even the children themselves.
One may argue that their parenting time is flexible and fluid and that there is no need for such rigid accounting of their schedule. Yes, co-parenting of non-cohabitating parents works best if each parent is open to accommodating the needs and schedules of the other parent. But the existence of a calendar does not mean it cannot be changed as needs arise. However, even if parents are flexible, each parent should do their best to arrange their lives around their parenting schedule and only swap days when absolutely necessary and when doing so will have minimal impact on the other parent’s schedule.
There are many advantages to having a relatively predictable parenting plan and documenting that plan with a shared calendar. One of the most important advantages is that it allows for long-term planning of time away from your children, perhaps with a new spouse. It’s nice to be able to look months in advance and plan alone-time.
Another advantage is to remind each parent when they are responsible for picking up their child. Eventually everyone makes a mistake. In the many years I have been co-parenting, I twice picked up my daughter on the wrong day and once failed to pick her up on a day that was my responsibility. My 22-year-old daughter still occasionally reminds me about the time I “abandoned” her at the day care 14 years ago. A shared calendar may be especially important in turbulent cases where the two parents find it difficult to communicate. Once a calendar is constructed and shared, each parent can reference it independently.
Even your children can use the calendar to plan their activities. For example they may want to get together to work on a homework project with a friend who lives near their mother when they are scheduled to be with their mother, or plan a sleepover with a friend who lives near their father when they are with their father. Other advantages may involve third parties such as grandparents. They may want to plan a birthday celebration or just a visit when they know their grandchildren are around.
Another advantage to creating a calendar is that it forces you to interpret the court ordered parenting plan in advance before the scheduled parenting days occur. As with any written document there may be differing interpretations. It is better to implement the schedule in advance, to work out any disagreements. This may avoid surprises and conflicts that could arise when children are picked up or dropped off.
Constructing your calendar for the entire year requires a fair amount of work. You will of course need your divorce agreement. You probably need school schedules, a list of holidays, and whatever other data is required to create the calendar. Parenting plans usually specify parenting time in a prioritized fashion. For example holiday parenting time normally overrides normal weekend and weekday parenting time. Vacation time also usually overrides normal weekend and weekday parenting time.
In the old days I would use a giant erasable wall calendar. First I would write in my weekday and weekend parenting time. Then I would look for holidays specified in the parenting plan and replace (physically erase) anything already written in those time slots. Then I would figure out when the school vacations were and replace anything already written with school vacation week parenting time, then summer vacation time, etc. At the end of this process I would then transfer everything on my wall calendar to a paper calendar and give it to my ex-wife for review. After a few iterations the calendar was deemed acceptable. Then the last step was to transfer the edited paper back to my wall calendar. It was a bit of work, but well worth it. For the entire year the agreed schedule was in place.
When Google calendar came along the process became easier. I got rid of my giant wall calendar. Instead I did the calculations directly on a paper calendar. Then I input the contents of my paper calendar to an electronic Google calendar. When that process was done I shared the electronic copy with my ex-wife for review. After review and after correcting any mistakes we were essentially done. Once in Google the calendar can be printed, easily transmitted to other scheduling software, and even downloaded to your phone. In Google you can also simultaneously display your parenting calendar overlaid by other calendars. For example you might want to avoid scheduling a work meeting late in the day if you are also scheduled to pick up your children on that day. You can also set up notification to automatically notify you of parenting time via email, or phone. If days need to be swapped, it can be triggered by an email that can result in a calendar change that is then immediately available for all those who share the calendar. Things got a lot better.