The most important negotiation that divorcing parents undertake is developing a parenting plan –guidelines and expectations regarding schedules, responsibilities, and decision-making. This can be a particular challenge for couples negotiating their own divorce through an online divorce service.
Although parents often aren’t sure how to develop such a plan, their children have the answer. Observe how young children build something together with wooden blocks. As a psychologist, I’ve had the opportunity countless times. Let me tell you, first, what they don’t do.
- They don’t draw a detailed plan before they start assembling blocks.
- They don’t try to build something by working with all of the blocks at the same time.
- They don’t always take turns, and
- They don’t remain so wedded to their first ideas about what to build that they can’t take it down and start over.
So how do they go about the task?
- First, they negotiate: Will it be a zoo, a ranch, a castle? Sometimes it is one objective, sometimes two side-by-side. This is their discussion about interests and goals. Once they have an objective,
- They begin to arrange the blocks – but not all at once. They start with two or three, try different arrangements and then start adding some more. Sometimes they divide the effort, each working separately; sometimes they build together, alternately placing blocks. This is their brainstorming: placing blocks, moving them around, removing some and replacing them with others, sometimes knocking it down and starting over. Approaching the task as a “work in progress,” they start by trial-and-error, but
- Increasingly organize their efforts around a definite shape. Some blocks become immovable keystones while others are constantly rearranged or thrown aside. This is their agreement stage. Having settled upon a goal and the basic structure to get there, their construction becomes increasingly complex and interesting.
- And they keep at it. They never completely finish the project. An improvement here, an adjustment there – endless variations.
Parents can create a parenting plan in the same way. After establishing their goals, parents can use trial-and-error to begin tentatively proposing pieces of a plan – but knowing that these pieces can be removed or re-positioned, just like the blocks in their children’s play.
As one parent noted, “You have to start somewhere.” But remember what children teach us: Placing the first block starts a process rather than the shape of the final solution. The block can always be moved or removed later on. Similarly, the first pieces of a parenting plan don’t have to determine the outcome. As the discussion proceeds, parents can move things about until a final shape makes sense. And when circumstances or developmental needs change, they can “knock it down and start over.”