Although they recognize the benefits for kids, parents can sometimes feel that their lives are dictated by children’s extra-curricular activites. Dance classes, hockey practices, guitar lessons, martial arts, and on and on. It’s tough enough in families when the parents are together, can communicate fairly easily about these issues, and can “divide and conquer” to get different children to different events.
However, when parents are separated, there are additional layers of complexity.
- Can the parents afford the activity, given the realities of supporting two households? If there are financial challenges, should the parents stretch to meet the expense anyway, so that the child doesn’t have to lose an activity that they love just because of the separation? Is it paid out of regular child support, or is it treated as an extra expense and shared between the parties. If so, who pays what share?
- Can the parents commit to getting the child to the activity? There can be multiple challenges with this – for example, children in different activities on the same night. Distance can also play a factor, when one parent moves away and the commute to the activity is challenging.
- Dealing with equipment can be challenging – what happens when the goalie equipment or dance shoes are left at one parent’s home, and the child is being brought to the next practice by the other parent?
- Do the parents share the same views about the activity? Many times there are disagreements about whether a child should participate in an activity, or the level or participation (for example, house league hockey is all right with one parent, but he or she does not agree with rep hockey).
- What about the issue of who may attend? Can either parent attend, regardless of whose night it is? What about grandparents, new partners, etc.?
- Competitions and tournaments can throw a wrench into regular schedules. For example, if the parents are spending alternate weekends with the children, and an away tournament requires travel, how will that be handled – which parent will take the child? What about the other children? How will the costs be met?
There is no doubt that these activities are full of potential landmines for separated parents. Details at this level are usually not captured in separation agreements, or if they are, there may have been changes over time as the children’s interests have changed.
In cases where parents get along well, the issues are minimized. However, many people separate because of communication problems. And these continue through separation.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the children should be free to enjoy the activities that they are enrolled in. They should not bear the responsibility or the worry about the arrangements. That responsibility is on the parents. And the parents need to manage it in a way that protects the children from conflict. They should not be made to feel different from the other kids, because their parents have separated.
When parents are struggling with communication about these issues, it can be helpful to sit down with a mediator to discuss them, and explore options that they may not have considered. A small investment of time and money can prevent a lot of arguments and hard feelings for parents as well as children.