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5 tips for making parenting time work when the kids are in school

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You and your spouse are splitting up, and your kids are old enough that they go off to school every day, but not old enough to drive. It means they're still very dependent on you. Though it's easy to get distracted by dividing assets and protecting yourself financially, it's important to make a solid plan for parenting time. This plan makes your life - and your children's lives - easier for years to come.

Parents are often concerned about splitting up weekends, working around extracurricular actives, and planning for holidays and school breaks. These tips can help all year around, on all fronts:

1. Plan ahead.

Lack of planning leads to increased stress levels and arguments with your spouse. Try to plan everything at least a week in advance. If you want to change the plan - maybe something came up and now you can't take your daughter to her basketball game, for example - tell your ex as soon as possible.

2. Communicate.

After a divorce, a lot of couples stop communicating. It's understandable that you want little to do with your ex. You don't have to talk about everything. When it comes to your kids, though, keep those lines of communication open. Be flexible. Cooperate. Remember, even if you don't enjoy it, it helps your children.

3. Give and take.

You're frustrated when your ex wants to change the plan. You thought you had the weekend off, but suddenly he or she is asking for you to help out or take over with the kids. It's annoying. But refusing to take makes it harder to give. Remember that you're eventually going to need your ex's help. If you cooperate and keep the relationship from becoming strained, it can help in the long run.

4. Think about each child's needs.

Your parenting plan may not be able to treat all of your kids the same. Remember to focus on each child's needs. Older children may have more extracurricular activities, while younger children need to be watched more closely on the weekends. Think about what will make life most enjoyable for your kids and craft a plan that really delivers - even if that makes it harder for you and your ex.

5. Talk to your kids.

Give your kids a say. Do they want to spend weekends with you or your ex? What about holidays and school breaks? What do they prefer in the summer? No, you're not going to give the kids everything they want at all times. You're the parent and you remain in charge. But you need to make them feel heard and really listen to them because the plan impacts them just as much as either you or your ex.

Parenting can be tough with school-aged children who have shifting needs and desires. Make sure you really put in the time and effort. Know what rights you have, what rights your kids have, and how you and your ex can create a viable parenting plan for all of your children.

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