It's been said that parenting is the experience of having your heart walk around outside of your body. Our children are as dear and essential to us as our own hearts, but it's true that from the moment they begin to walk, they begin to walk away.
This isn't a bad thing! As parents, we're meant to both love and protect our children and encourage their growth and independence. Doing so is a challenge at the best of times, but it can be even harder when you don't live with your child's other parent. You're not just balancing your child's need to spend time with you against their need to spend time with your ex, you're balancing both against your child's growing need to form and nurture peer relationships.
When you have only limited time with your child, it can be hard to give any of that up for them to spend time at school activities or at a friend's house. Increasingly during the school years, however, this is what they will want and need to do. It doesn't mean you're a bad parent or bad company. It's just the developmental work of your school-age child, just as learning to trust was the work of your infant.
From about the ages of 5-12, a child's peer group increases in significance, and success with peers becomes a primary source of his or her self-esteem. Whereas once your approval was all your child craved, now it's becoming more and important to him or her to excel at activities valued by peers, such as sports. When kids do well at things that are valued by their peers, they feel confident. The need to fit in with peers continues, of course, into adolescence, as your child is establishing an identity as an individual and further separating from you.
How does parenting time come into play? To the extent that your child is pulled away from activities like sports, scouting, and simply hanging out with friends in order to satisfy a parenting time schedule, those important peer relationships are stressed. You know there will always be another slumber party or football game, so it doesn't seem like a big deal. But these events are important to your child, and missing them may make him or her resentful.
None of this means that your child's desire to be with friends should control your limited parenting time, but it does mean that you should take your child's social needs into account when planning parenting time.
So how do you accommodate both of your child's needs—for time with both parents, and for time with friends? The ideal solution is for parents to live close enough to each other that the child has the flexibility to spend time with friends and attend parties, games, and other events no matter whose parenting time it is. Of course, sometimes this isn't practical or even possible. However, other things may be more within your control. If your child knows about upcoming events that are important to him or her, put them on a shared calendar with your ex and try to work out a way for your child to attend. Flexibility is key, but at the same time, it's helpful for your child to have predictability so she can know which parent she'll be with when scheduling plans with friends.
Please contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have about promoting your children's social development while keeping their relationship with you strong. We look forward to working with you.