How to Build a Better Parenting Plan

Posted on: January 2nd, 2013      

Parenting, like life, is full of the unexpected. Just as we should always remember to take time and learn the lessons of life, everything we go through whether good or bad will serve a purpose for us down the road. Either we’ll have great memories that we can think on when the storms of life are raging or we can use the bad experiences to learn lessons so that our future and the future of our children will be made better because of them.

These pieces grow exponentially as some families face the trials of parenting separately. The law in North Dakota requires parents who seek the involvement of the Courts through divorce, paternity or other custody actions to formally put into writing a parenting plan that attempts to forecast and define the many ‘what if’s and ‘how to’s that otherwise challenge parents.  Fortunately mediation services are available to help them chart their goals and craft their plans to achieve each goal.   In my work with hundreds of such parents, I’ve found that the task of building a parenting plan is a lot like building a jigsaw puzzle.  Each piece–each parent’s part– is essential for a complete plan.  A quote I frequently share with families below provides the basic outline to build a better parenting plan:

 JIGSAW PUZZLE WISDOM Everything I Needed To Know About Life, I Learned From A Jigsaw Puzzle.

 1. Don’t force a fit. If something is meant to be, it will come together naturally. Jigsaw puzzles are a lot like life. The rules you follow, the way things fall together, the dance you do with a jigsaw puzzle can be applied to the rest of your life.  Start with the strengths of each parent, and what has worked well for your family. Do your homework in terms of work schedules, children’s activity schedules, and discuss the pros and cons of alternatives to the tasks behaviors or things that don’t work well. Communication is crucial.  Build from there.

2. When things aren’t going so well, take a break. Everything will look different when you return. Parenting like puzzle work is easier when you work on it and find that groove where you are focused and the pieces and spaces seem to just come together well.  But after a while, inevitably there will be those moments when you can’t find squat.  At this point, you have to walk away and give it a break. If you’ve gone a few rounds but you just can’t agree on anything, walk away, shake it off, have some iced tea, make a sandwich, watch a Disney movie.  When you come back to the table, don’t be surprised if you get a piece right away! Everyone needs a break. A refreshed mind is a more productive mind.

3. Establish the border first. Boundaries give a sense of security and order. As an adult, you need to suck it up and do the hard parts first. Build the edges and frame it out, so that the entire thing is laid out and organized. Once this framework is in place, communication becomes smoother, and the rest of the plan can be built and implanted.  More than just creating the outline, it establishes expectations.  Sometimes you find you’ve built the boundary upside down, or slightly crooked.  As things develop, don’t be afraid to switch things up or adjust them a little.  And have faith that with some work and concentration, it WILL work out in the end.

4. Be sure to look at the big picture. Getting hung up on the little pieces only leads to frustration. The clues of building a puzzle are all on the front of the box.  Sometimes we need to take a step back and look at the whole picture.  In my experience, every single parent loves their children.  Every parent wants what is best for them.  Thus, even in the most difficult of situations, there is always agreement on this.

When the details become points of conflict, it is often helpful to look back at the box for the clues, and then think outside of it.  Just because it is a little unorthodox, does not prevent it from being a good solution in this case.  Look for the creative, the unique, the fit for this situations, keeping in mind the big picture.

5. Variety is the spice of life. It’s the different colors and patterns that make the puzzle interesting. Working together with friends and family makes any task fun.  Puzzles can be sneaky little critters. Often you look and look for the right piece that someone else finds immediately.  Use all of your resources.  Ask your friends an family for help and ideas with your parenting plan.  Yes, it can be a big complicated job by yourself, but with help and creativity it becomes fun and exciting.

When my kids are looking for something in the house and they claim that they’ve looked everywhere it could possibly be, I tell them to look in places it couldn’t possibly be. “That doesn’t even make sense,” they’ll tell me. “Why would my shoes be in the silverware drawer?” Because you’ve already looked in all the places that make sense and that shoe exists somewhere on the earth right now, so it must be somewhere that doesn’t make sense. Yes, I intend to take this analogy to a jigsaw puzzle and all of life. And, no, the shoe is not going to be in the silverware drawer, but it will be somewhere equally as bizarre. Sometimes the piece you’re looking for is on the floor under the dining room table. Sometimes #%^! just happens. Learn the lesson, look for the humor, save the memory, and keep building.

6. Don’t be afraid to try different combinations. Some matches are surprising. Perseverance pays off. Every important puzzle went together bit by bit, piece by piece. When one spot stops working, move to another. But be sure to come back. Move on. When you find the piece that does fit, you’ll have that Aha! moment and you’ll understand that it had to be this way. Sometimes you don’t get the moral of the story until the show is over, and then it all makes sense. The creator of the puzzle gave you the picture as a guidebook.

7. Take time often to celebrate your successes – even little ones. Anything worth doing takes time and effort. A great puzzle can’t be rushed.  Great parenting can’t be rushed, and a great life can’t be rushed either.  If you rush, you miss all the fun parts.

Sandra K. Kuntz


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