stepparenting-2With little doubt, parents are the best care-providers for their children—unless there’s some circumstance compromising their ability to care for their kids. So, why wouldn’t we build in a “first right of refusal” clause in our parenting plan?

First right of refusal is a term found in some Parenting Plans that refers to a requirement that the residential parent must offer residential time to the other parent before contracting for childcare with a babysitter or any third party.

When co-parents focus on their children and take the steps to build a strong, functional co-parenting relationship, they’ll want their children’s other parent to be at the top of list for childcare. BUT, that doesn’t mean the only option, nor the first option in every circumstance. Let’s look at some typical two-home exceptions:

  • “Mom, can MacKenzie babysit us?” Just because children live in two homes doesn’t mean they stop enjoying those few special hours on a Saturday night when they have a pajama party with their favorite teen babysitter—who arrives with arts and crafts and the capacity to provide undivided attention and fun.
  • “Rob, when you leave on your next business trip, how about your dad and I fly down and take care of the kids for the weekend?” Grandparents still hope for their special planned and unplanned opportunities to have the grandkids to themselves.
  • “Dad, Mrs. Kim told me I can just spend the night at their house and hang out with Josh.” As children get older, their own social options include sleepovers and swapping back and forth, spending the night like an extended sense of family with peers, which can obviate the need for childcare and transitioning from one parent’s home to the other’s.

Legislating that a parent MUST offer residential time to the other parent pre-empts the ability to use good judgment and flexibility in establishing how childcare is managed in each home. Conflict and tension often result between parents feeling controlled by a “rule.” Children are burdened by the ensuing tension and by being transitioned from one home to the other in ways that appear to meet the needs of a parent more than the kids!

If you are considering ‘first right of refusal’ or if you already have ‘first right of refusal,’ consider how to implement with kids front and center.

  • Consider exceptions that allow Grandparent/extended family overnights to maintain kids bonds with their bigger family,
  • Allow children to settle in to their other home and support constructive use of neighbors, babysitters, and other childcare options that actually expand the kids’ sense of support and relationship with other caring teens/adults. Some parents opt to have a parenting plan agreement to maintain a “list of agreed upon childcare providers.”
  • Set time-frames that trigger ‘first right of refusal,’ such as greater than eight hours (which allows for a Saturday evening out for a parent, without having to transition children) or over nights. This ensures that parents aren’t pulling children back and forth during residential time in a way that actually disrupts kids’ opportunity to settle in and enjoy their other home.

The best way to make sure your kids get the best of each of you, is to build a strong co-parenting relationship where you respect each other’s decision making on your residential time, and constructively loop each other in on child-care with a clear focus on “what works best for kids.”