Have you ever stopped to think how many varieties of routines there are? You’d be surprised.

You’ll also be surprised at what you think is so obvious, suddenly is not.

It’s amazing that routines are one of the hottest topics debated in courts – it’s where emotions run high and more people believe they’re done-over because a routine doesn’t fall in their favour.

It becomes really emotional because it’s in these moments we realise that even if we had all the money in the world, if we’re without time with our children, we will not build close relationships with them.

Now of course, how we go about trying to please two people who no longer live together is really hard.

It’s really hard for the parents – and really hard for the children.

Children do not want to be in a position where they feel they have to choose either. They may want to express their opinion – but to make them choose – is cruel.

Often kids find it hard enough to decide which parent to sit next to at the dinner table in a traditional family – in a Complex Family – to choose where they live is asking for them to choose between the two halves of their own genetic make-up. That’s simply not fair.

Let’s look at the some very typical thought processes that are used to decide who goes where when.

Co-Parenting Routines

If you follow the methodologies used by most professionals, you will be surprised to find that they divide this into two very distinct worlds:

  • Child centric
  • Parent centric

I’d like to take the time to discuss this and then provide my opinion.

Child-centric Routines

This is where the priorities of the children are placed in top position and compromises and sacrifices are required by the parents to fit around the needs of their children.

This may well be a very good solution – and of course, an admirable one because we all want the best for our children.

You may well instantly feel like you’d like that option too – as it places the innocent children in their rightful place – they’re kept innocent and inconvenienced by the divorce.

So what does a Child-centric routine look like?

As a good example, let’s look at one that I’ve personally tried too. For the first few months of my separation, I was determined for my children to remain innocent and inconvenienced by the divorce, irrespective of circumstances.

This meant that instead of the children moving, the parents moved.

You may well laugh … You may have tried this yourself …

I can tell you what happened with us.

There were some strong upsides … belongings didn’t get lost. The children slept in the same bed every night. Their friends knew where they were when they wanted to phone them. It was okay for the first few weeks, actually probably more like 6-10 weeks.

After that, things started to get broken and not replaced. CD / DVD’s would get borrowed and not returned. The house wasn’t left as you’d like it to be left.

… and all the normal hassles that come from different people in one house, sharing the same bedroom etc.

I could have lived with those small sacrifices … after all, the kids were not being inconvenienced and they were having a consistent place to live.

But – all was not that easy for them either.

In fact, what actually happened was they found it more confusing and difficult to deal with.

They’d forget who was going to walk down the stairs in the morning – mum or dad? They’d forget what set of house-rules where to be followed because their surroundings didn’t remind them of the differences.

They’d forget what stories went with which set of parents. They’d find it more difficult to tell what was funny – and what wasn’t funny …

All these subtle little things that we hadn’t allowed for in our desire to keep things easy for the children.

It actually wasn’t easier for them all all.

So that’s a good example of a Child-centric routine failing its intended desire.

Parent-centric Routines

As you would expect, this is where the parent’s priorities are worked with to come up with a solution that will work for them both.

Let’s face it, it’s hard work trying to juggle work commitments, possible new relationships, time with the kids, time to catch up with family and friends – not to mention who every has time out for your own time.

So, the parent-centric routine would look something like this:

Let’s say I’m a police-officer who has to work to a six-weekly routine.

I’ve got no say in what that roster will be, so I wait for it to be posted and then I have to fit the kids in around that.

It’s understandable, it’s near reasonable.

It’s also a good public service of which we’re grateful.

It’s also without much consideration of the children, or the parent who is not on a police roster who is trying to make the most of their now separated life.

That said, many Ex’s make the considerations of the working demands and put up with the inconsistencies.

This is a good example however of what a parent-centric routine looks like, and one that can be challenging to work around.

So, is there a solution?

Indeed, I believe there is and in many practical years of experience, the answer works!

I believe that to restrict ourselves to having to choose between these two key focuses limits us to an either / or way of thinking.

When you come to solving issues inside Complex Family parenting, the Either / Or thinking will cause you many headaches.

You need to find an AND thinking.

This means, you need to think of multiple options – combinations, blends, bit of this – bit of that, the better way for us all.

Family-Centric Routines

The answer here is to come up with FAMILY CENTRIC ROUTINES.

This means that the best interest of everyone is considered important and valid … and a solution is found where these are maintained, albeit that some swapping, trading, and concession may need to be made.

You might not have the ideal for everyone, but you’ll have the ideal for family – and in the end, regardless of the structure your family now has, it’s still your children’s family.

If you have a great example of a family-centric routine, please share it in the comments below. This can be an immense help for other co-parents.

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Jill Darcey (author, parent, founder, and speaker) is a mother of three with thousands of hours of experience as a counsellor and coach, and more than a decade of real-time experience with "complex family" parenting --- parenting through separation, divorce or some other family breakdown. Jill is someone who has both vision and wisdom and has learned a lot of what does and doesn't work — and some of it the hard way!

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