Parenting Apart: Coping with Visitation and Your Baby

by Brette McWhorter Sember

It's no one's dream to be a single parent, but since half of all marriages do end in divorce and at least as many unmarried couples break up, single parenting is reality for many mothers. Separating or divorcing while pregnant or with a baby or young toddler can be stressful and difficult. Arranging visitation is easiest if you remain flexible and patient.

Two is Better Than One

Unless the other parent is abusive or dangerous, it's usually best for a child spend time with two parents. Develop an ongoing parenting partnership with the other parent. Even though you are no longer a couple, you will be parents together for the rest of your lives. Put aside your personal problems and work together as a parenting team.

Sharing and Preparing

If you are separated or divorced during pregnancy, you can begin to create a two parent life for your child before birth. Include the other parent in childbirth classes and the birth (even if you choose someone else as your primary childbirth support partner). Share information about your health, the baby and your due date.

Discuss how to share time with your child after the birth. Think about your schedules, driving distance between your homes and the needs and routine your child is going to have in the first few months. Remember that no schedule should be set in stone. It is essential that both of you remain flexible.

Make sure the other parent has the necessary baby equipment and supplies. Some separated parents-to-be attend infant care classes together or separately.

Baby Equipment Alternatives for a Visiting Parent

It is usually not practical to transport needed baby equipment with your child, but the parent who has visitation can still be equipped without purchasing an entire duplicate set.

  • Instead of a full size crib...he/she should have a folding travel crib
  • Instead of a high chair...he/she should have a booster seat with tray
  • Instead of a changing table...he/she should have a folding changing pad
  • Instead of a baby bathtub...he/she should have a foam kitchen sink liner
  • Instead of a jumbo pack of diapers...he/she should have a small pack of diapers
  • Instead of a toddler bed...he/she should have a bed rail
  • Instead of a deluxe stroller...he/she should have a lightweight folding stroller
  • Instead of a complete layette/wardrobe...he/she should have a a few items of size appropriate clothing to keep at home

Items to Transport With Your Baby on Visitation

  • Car seat (unless each parent has one)
  • Pacifier
  • Special blanket
  • Special toy
  • Diaper bag with a few diapers and wipes for use in transport
  • Breastmilk if nursing
  • One or two bottles for use during transport
  • Sweater or cover up
  • A change of clothes
  • Any necessary medication

Dealing With Legalities

Going to court is a necessary step in organizing your child's life. You need an order spelling out custody and visitation. Get a referral to an attorney from your local or state bar association. You may also use a mediator, who can help you and the other parent create an agreement yourselves (contact the Academy of Family Mediators at (202) 667-9700 or www.acresolution.org).

If you do not create your own agreement, the court will create a visitation schedule for you. It is important to remember that you and the other parent can alter this schedule (as long as you both agree to any changes) as your child grows and as your lives change.

Getting the legalities taken care of will offer you peace of mind. "I'd recommend making sure you have all of your legal ducks in a row and also have a good support system to help you through it all," says Marie Lafferty of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose son began visitation at birth.