The Responsibilities of the Custodial Parent

Here's advice to help the custodial parent adjust to single parenting after divorce.

In this article, you will find:

Family meals; latch-key kids

The Responsibilities of the Custodial Parent

If you are the custodial parent, you will be spending more time than your ex-spouse does getting the kids off to school; buying their clothes; and taking them to the doctor and dentist, after-school activities, and friends' houses. But, hey, you were doing all that before.

What's really different for you now? For one thing, you won't have backup for discipline on a daily basis. You might be the one helping the kids with their homework all the time. If you haven't so far, maybe you will be the one pitching them balls or shooting baskets with them after school.

These changes are not all bad. Your relationship with your children will get even closer than before, when you might have pushed them along to their other parent, so he or she could play his or her role as “mother” or “father.” Now, you can explore the other side of parenting.

“But when will I get a break?” you might ask. Your break comes when your kids are with their other parent. That's a nice, solid break. Enjoy it!

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry

It might take some time to adjust to having meals with one parent missing. Not only will it remind you of your new marital state but, after a while, you might crave the company of other adults. What to do? Invite friends or neighbors over for dinner once or twice a week. Take your children out to restaurants so you can be surrounded by people, or just enjoy catching up with your kids' daily activities. Don't park them in front of the TV while they're eating. Have your meals together. That will give all of you a chance to talk about the day's events and will provide a stronger sense of family.

Working Single Parents and “Latch-Key” Kids

You Can Do It!

As an experienced parent, you have probably checked out the range of organized activities available to your child during after-school hours. If you haven't found anything that works, be sure to contact the local YMCA or Boys and Girls Clubs, your church or synagogue, and your child's school, which may well offer enrichment activities, intramural sports, or clubs. For older children, volunteer activities organized by youth organizations can be ideal.

Custodial parents who used to stay home to raise the children may now work outside the house to help make ends meet, or even to fulfill their personal or professional aspirations. Either way, this situation increases the number of “latch-key kids”—children who come home from school to an empty home. Of course, the number of families in which both parents work has increased to 68 percent as of 1998, according to the US Census Bureau. So it's not just the children of single parents who let themselves into the house or apartment to care for themselves until a parent gets home. Entire books have been written on this phenomenon and its impact on society. We don't have the space for such analysis here, but we would like to present some basic guidelines:

  • Common sense dictates that very young children should never be left alone. Beyond the obvious danger, it's illegal.
  • Many states allow children aged 11 and older to stay home alone, but laws differ from state to state. If you are unsure of the laws in your area, contact your local District Attorney's office.
  • Even if leaving your child home alone is legal, you must still make sure the circumstances are secure and that your child is comfortable with the idea. Do you live in an apartment building with a doorman the children can call on if there's a problem? Are there adult neighbors your children may contact? As a general rule, children need the security and experience of an adult nearby through the early teen years, especially if the parent will be away for an extended period of time.
  • Finally, if you plan to leave your older children home alone, make sure they are armed with emergency phone numbers and strategies for dealing with an array of situations, from physical injury to prank phone calls.
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