You've just picked your kids up from school and your youngest enthusiastically demands they want to join the football team ... when only last week they wanted to join the chess club! "Ok honey, let's chat about this when we get home," is your immediate answer, as what was once an easy decision becomes slightly more complicated now that you're separated! Negotiating with your co-parent can sometimes be like negotiating a convoy of aid through a war-torn country, so here are three tips to reaching an agreement on extra-curricular activities for your children.
1 . Listen to your children
It's so simple but sometimes we don't listen to what our children want to do. Even if you loved tennis as a child, why push them into something when they aren't as enthusiastic as you? If they're expressing an interest in trying something new, it's important that they feel heard ... but yes, you can say no to horse back riding or space camp! If your child has their heart set on just one activity, ask them to write a letter to you both, listing all the reasons why they would love to join the dodgeball team or the swim squad. It’s better coming from them and not you.
2. Avoid a tug of war
If there are a few options on the table, there could be a difference of opinion with your co-parent. So stay calm! I repeat, stay calm. If your co-parent decides that out of the two perfectly reasonable choices, they are going to hold strong on their opinion, it's up to you to not start a tug of war. If your child was keen on both choices then be prepared to concede. It’s better they do something rather than nothing at all.
3. Make sure you are clear on the details
Understanding all of the details for the new activity and pre-empting any objections from the outset will not only help you know what’s required, but also enable you to clearly communicate with your co-parent. The two key issues are typically time and money. How much will it cost upfront, and what are the ongoing costs? How will the kids get to the activity after school, and on weekends? Can you just drop them off, or do you have to stay? Are you prepared to pay for more than 50% of it if it ensures your co-parent agrees? Can you organize car pooling so it simplifies the process; and can uniforms or equipment be shared; or will you have to buy two of everything? If you can answer all of these questions, you’re 80% there in reaching an agreement quickly.
The bottom line
Although we have gone into a lot of detail around issues that might arise, the common thread as always is communication. Keep it friendly, or at the very least neutral, and hopefully you can reach a decision quickly.