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Overnight parenting time starts with careful planning

By Peter Ewanchuk

You have been granted parenting time and you are looking forward to having your children spend the night in your home. To ensure that everyone makes the most of that time, here are some steps you can take before, during and after.

Before the visit

  • Think about sleeping arrangements. Separate bedrooms are ideal but younger children can share a room. Make sure you have age-appropriate beds that are comfortable as well as clean linens and enough pillows. Nightlights are usually a good idea, especially if the children are unfamiliar with your home.
  • Consider decorating bedrooms to suit their tastes or, better yet, have them involved in the decorating so they will feel like it is “their” room. For younger children, hanging up a few posters of their favourite animated characters might do the trick. Involve your children in the look and feel of “their” room and they will feel more at home at your house.
  • Ask the other parent to send items the children are accustomed to having at night. That might include favourite toys or a special blanket. They may be nervous about sleeping at your house, so the more you can make it seem normal, the better. Return all of these items when the children go home.
  • Make sure they bring appropriate clothes for the weather and for any planned activities. That might include a snowsuit for tobogganing or a swimsuit if a visit to a waterpark is envisioned. Make sure you return these items at the next exchange or you risk them not being provided in the future. Having your own supply of clothing and gear on hand is a possibility but can be expensive since you will have to keep getting new items as the children age. Allow the children to take clothing back and forth between homes as opposed to them having clothes that are only allowed to be worn at each household which not only discourages co-parenting but also robs the children of their ability to wear their own clothes as and when they see fit.
  • Have appropriate food in the fridge and cupboard. You want to have items they like but there should also be healthy choices. If children are accustomed to starting each day off with a particular cereal, buy that, while keeping in mind they may appreciate getting a special breakfast on the weekends. Make sure you are well stocked before they arrive because you do not want to waste your parenting time in a grocery store.
  • Clear your work schedule. Many people work weekends or evenings. If you know you have parenting time coming up, ensure you are available for those days so you can give the children quality face time. Avoid bringing work home with you since that will cut into the time you have to spend with your children.

During the visit

  • Let your children know you are happy to see them and discuss the weekend plans. The more they are involved in planning the activities, the better.
  • Avoid discussing your divorce or airing any resentment that you have toward your ex-partner. The children are already in a difficult spot because they are caught in the middle, so focus on the positive. Do not ask them questions such as “Is Mom/Dad seeing someone?” Respect your ex-partner’s privacy and do not turn your children into informants.
  • Have a bedtime routine. Consistent, repetitive activities help prepare children for sleep by having them wind down. A bedtime routine might include a snack, brushing teeth, putting on pyjamas and reading a book. These activities should always be done in the same order, culminating in lights out at an established time. Make sure the routine allows the children to sleep for the recommended amount of hours for their age.
  • Consider arranging a time that the children can call your ex-partner. Sometimes talking to the primary caregiver will make them feel more secure about staying at your home. If that happens, do not listen in or ask what they talked about after it is over. If the call goes on too long or is interfering with the bedtime routine, politely suggest it end. Before the next visit, discuss this issue with your ex-partner to avoid similar situations in the future. Ideally, phone calls from the other parent should be done at a consistent agreed-upon time.
  • Complete any homework or school projects that need to be done. Your children will appreciate assistance with the work and you can reward them afterward with a movie or some other positive gesture. This also represents a valuable bonding exercise. You do not want the other parent to tell the teacher the homework was not done because the children were staying at your home.
  • Take care of yourself. While your children are your number one priority, you cannot be an effective caregiver if you are not getting proper sleep and nutrition during their visit.

After the visit

  • Think about what went right and what went wrong and make the appropriate changes. As children mature, the way you structure the overnight visits will change, so be open to modifications.
  • Consider inviting extended family members over during future parenting times. It is important that your children stay in touch with your family members. You can invite their grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews to your home during your parenting time or arrange a meeting at a park or restaurant.

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