Working as a child specialist, divorce coach, and mediator both in and out of the Collaborative process for the last 15 years, I have seen a LOT of parenting plans. During this time, I have come to feel more strongly about the importance of the flexibility in parenting plans. It is vital that parents realize that the parenting plan will need to be adjusted as children get older and parent circumstances change. While some might find that frustrating, I feel that openness to adjusting the plan is the beauty of the parenting plan creation process.

This brings me to my drive to Madison about a month ago. I was listening to an NPR program, On Point, with Tom Ashbrook. The program featured guest Dr. Robert Emery discussing his new book, Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime. (Access the program.)

I have had the privilege of hearing Dr. Emery speak at a conference and appreciate his style which includes research laced with personal experience. It doesn’t hurt that Dr. Emery’s approach is congruent with my own in regard to creating plans for families that can be adjusted over time as children age and families change. Parenting plans are a starting point, and parents can expect to adjust and change their parenting plans as their kids get older.

My clients ask me,” What’s a good plan for my child or children?” I invariably answer, “It depends.” It turns out that Dr. Emery gives a similar answer. Dr. Emery, like me, wants children to have a childhood. In order to do that, parents have to do their best to prioritize their children’s needs over their own. Dr. Emery outlined how parents need to look at different needs based on developmental stage. The only parenting plan that will last a lifetime is one that changes with the changing needs of kids. What works for a 2 year old does not work for a teen. He suggests that parents be ready to “tweak” a plan.

The best approach is to look at this as a parent and not a litigant. Parents need to be parents so their children can be kids. This is easier said than done, but it is possible given the right resources. Collaboratively trained child specialists and divorce coaches often have expertise in child development, from infancy and attachment to adolescence and emerging adulthood. Using the Collaborative process provides you with a team of professionals who realize it’s normal and necessary to tweak a plan over time and encourage and easily enable you to do so. This is congruent with the desire of most parents: to take care of their children today, as well as in the future.

-Josie Cusma, LCSW