Adina Lebowitz – Preparing for Co-Parenting with Less Stress & More Peace

Below is the transcription of this interview with parenting coach and mediator, Adina Lebowitz. For more information about Adina Lebowitz please click here. To contact her directly please call  (612)-499-8418.

Transcript from Interview

Christopher Bruce:

Hi everyone. My name is Christopher Bruce. I’m a marital and family law attorney in South Florida, and today I have the pleasure of being joined by Adina Lebowitz. Adina is a co-parenting educator and a family mediator.

Christopher Bruce:

What we’re going to be talking about is co-parenting with less stress and more peace, which I think is a subject that a lot of people stand to benefit from, whether they’re divorced or not, or separating from the other parent of their child or children or not. It’s just a really practical, great topic. And for those of you who don’t know Adina, she is somebody who’s completed the training with Dan Simon on Transformative Mediation. She does a lot of work with couples in conflict, and strives on helping people find less stress and more peace in their life. She focuses on coaching people in situations around divorce and including on parenting issues, which is how her and I first connected.

Christopher Bruce:

So, Adina, before we get into the subject matter of all this, maybe just give everybody a little bit of a idea about your background and what you do, and then we’ll get into the meat of the discussion here.

Adina Lebowitz:

Yeah. Okay. Well, thanks for having me today, Chris. I’m a divorced mom of three kids. All my kids are grown now. At the time of my divorce years ago, I had a busy travel with my job implementing software all around the country, so I completely understand when people find co-parenting challenging. My goal is to help families find less stress, less conflict, and more peace in their co-parenting, and I do that through teaching community education classes on co-parenting, individual coaching, and also family mediation.

Christopher Bruce:

All right. And I guess when it comes to the subject of what we’re talking about, which is co-parenting with less stress, I think ultimately making things better for both the parents and the children. For those people who are listening to this and they’re making, or about to make, the transition from a married family or a family unit into two separate family units or households, do you have any, I guess, tips or best concepts for how to make this transition as smoothly as possible?

Adina Lebowitz:

Sure. Some of my clients have been married two to five years, some 10 to 20 years, some never married, and some same-sex couples. What they have in common is they share kids whom they love. The best way to transition to shared parenting after a divorce is to have been sharing parenting and housework all along from the day the kids were born. So, we establish a new cultural norm that both parents are equally involved in caring for the children, and then the courts have no problem dividing time equally.

Adina Lebowitz:

When parents split up, the most important thing is to shift the relationship from an intimate romantic one to a more business-like relationship with the common goal of raising whole, healthy children to adulthood. Studies show that it’s the intensity and duration of the conflict that is so harmful to children of divorce.

Christopher Bruce:

So when it comes to, I guess, this division of households, ultimately people have to come up with a schedule, because the kids are going to … In most of the places … You’re in Minnesota. You just showed me the snowing around, kind of out through that window out there, and I’m down here in South Florida on the other side of the country. But in both of our places, the courts commonly are having children see both of their parents, usually pretty frequently after a divorce or a breakup of a family. When it comes to the actual schedules, do you have any suggestions for what schedules are usually best and for what situations or periods of a child’s life a particular schedule might be best?

Adina Lebowitz:

Sure. There are so many ways to slice and dice 50/50 and call it equal. Some parenting time schedules are more prone to conflict than others. One-day ping pongs are particularly hard on kids, a typical non-custodial schedule of one night a week, and every other weekend. Kids need some time to settle in when they go back and forth between one parent’s home and the other. No one ever said, “It’s easy for kids to have two homes.” Let’s not make it harder with these one-day transitions in the schedule. Some parents split the school week, Monday/Tuesday for one parent, Wednesday/Thursday for the other, and then alternate weekends.

Adina Lebowitz:

We can learn a lot from what other states are doing, so I really appreciate being able to talk to Chris in Florida while I’m here in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. I think Arizona, actually, has one of the best guides to appropriate parenting time schedules for different ages and stages of child development, and I’ll share that link to that guide with you, Chris, so you can share that as well.

Adina Lebowitz:

Toddlers and preschoolers do better with transitions every few days. School-age kids may do well with what’s called a 5-2-2-5 schedule, while teens often prefer as few as possible transitions, maybe week on, week off, if the parents live close enough to the child’s school to make that possible. Even a simple change in drop-off time, like Sunday, 4:00 PM, instead of 6:00 PM, can make things go a little easier. With a 6:00 PM drop-off right in the middle of dinner, if the parent’s dropping off is late, that can create stress all around. 4:00 PM allows a little bit of a cushion so the transition can go more smoothly. If there’s traffic issues, weather issues, somebody doesn’t want to cooperate with getting their stuff together to get going, it’s just less stressful all around. It also gives the child time to settle in at the other parent’s house so mealtime can be more welcoming, less stress time.

Adina Lebowitz:

I’m going to share my screen here for a second so you can see something.

Christopher Bruce:

Perfect.

Adina Lebowitz:

All right, so here’s a few examples of some schedules that are kind of common here. They might be as well out your way. In the yellow at the top here, we see a typical 5-2-2-5 schedule alternating between mom and dad. If it’s mom and mom or dad and dad, that’s fine too, but just for ease of display here, I used different colors and used mom and dad in the example. 5:00 PM exchanges on the school days, alternate weekends.

Adina Lebowitz:

What I really like about this schedule is there are consistent weekdays, so if the child wants to go to gymnastics with mom on Mondays and religious school with dad on Wednesdays, dad doesn’t have to chauffeur to mom’s activities, mom doesn’t have to chauffeur to dad’s activities. The child can do what they want with that parent, to have some special time, some consistent time with that particular parent.

Adina Lebowitz:

Eight exchanges per month-

Christopher Bruce:

[crosstalk 00:07:05]

Adina Lebowitz:

… mostly on school days, not face-to-face except two times a month on Sunday afternoon. So, before the COVID times, school was a really, really nice place to be able to have those transitions, not have to do them face-to-face.

Adina Lebowitz:

This middle schedule in the green, every other week, definitely preferred by teenagers. If the parents live close enough, they just have fewer transitions. And as teens, with their friends that are so important, they don’t really care about going back and forth between mom’s house and dad’s house. 3:00 PM exchange on Friday, alternate weekends, just a bare minimum, four exchanges per month. The challenge here is that you’re on duty as a single parent for the entire seven days, and then there’s no consistent weekdays. Both parents have to chauffeur to all activities on their week. So for some people that’s a challenge, for others, no problem. They can do that whole week on/week off.

Adina Lebowitz:

And then this last one at the bottom, as Chris and I were speaking about a little bit earlier, this might be more appropriate for a very young child, toddlers and preschoolers. They just don’t have that memory concept yet of where that parent went to. Did they completely disappear if they’re gone for a really long time? So a little bit more frequent exchanges for the younger kids. Again, it’s going to take some really, really good communication between the parents and an agreement to cooperate on raising the child because this schedule has 12 exchanges per month. And as we know, every exchange is an opportunity for conflict, so we want to shy away from having too many exchanges. And so-

Christopher Bruce:

[crosstalk 00:08:40] Maybe if you don’t mind, if I could stop you just for a second. For the people that are watching this, looking at the schedule, who knows, maybe there’s a couple of couples out there that are trying to co-parent already and are watching this together. Which of those schedules is typically best for different age groups? Because my impression was what might be necessary for a toddler might not always be most recommended for somebody who’s a middle-school-aged child or a teenager. And if you don’t mind maybe just speaking very briefly on that, and I think some people might benefit from it.

Adina Lebowitz:

Sure. I’m actually going to scroll up on this for just a second.

Adina Lebowitz:

Here are some things to consider when you’re creating your parenting time schedule. So say you’re talking about 50/50 with your child’s other parent. Here are some things to consider. First off, can you communicate about the kids’ needs without conflict? That is number one. If there’s a lot of conflict, the judges don’t care what your schedule is, it’s the conflict that’s going to get in the way.

Adina Lebowitz:

How close do you live to the other parent? Within five miles, less than 20 miles, in another city or state? How old are your kids? Toddlers may need different schedules than teens. Where are the children’s school? Are they all at the same school? Do you have one in preschool, one in grade school, and one in middle school, different locations, all over the place? Do you work, either or both of you work, days, nights, weekends? Totally going to depend what your schedules are like what’s going to work for your parenting time schedule. Do you travel for work? That’s the one that tripped me up. My schedule changed every month, so that was really hard to get a consistent schedule on paper. And then really important, do kids have special needs, behavioral issues, learning issues, dietary, auto-immune issues, gluten issues, all kinds of things, or frequent medical care? So the general schedules that I’m going to show you here, you absolutely have to consider your own kids and what their needs are.

Adina Lebowitz:

I’ll put this out there too, Chris. This is about the transitions. Four or fewer is good. Eight’s okay. Try to stay away from the one-night overnights. School transitions, like I said, before these COVID times, that was really nice because you weren’t face-to-face with the other parent. Mealtimes are hard, so consider not transitioning right at the mealtime. And if transitions face-to-face at the door become really difficult or downright hostile, the court may order curbside transitions or suggest a third-party drop-off or pick-up, like the grandma’s house or something.

Adina Lebowitz:

So with these here, the bottom one, the blue one, is generally for the younger toddler/preschooler age. The green one is more for your teens who are really independent, and by the time they’re 15, 16, they’re driving themselves back and forth and they don’t really care what you’ve got on paper, as long as you know where they are and when they’re coming back. And it’s the yellow one is really the most common that we see here in Minnesota, generally for anyone from probably four to 12. It’s 5-2-2-5. If it works out with you live and what your work schedules are and all that, this is generally a pretty satisfactory set-up.

Christopher Bruce:

I gotcha. And I guess you’re talking a little bit about the transitions or the time-sharing exchanges, what we seem like we call them down here in my neck of the woods. But any tips on … Right now, we’re recording this in the middle of COVID or mask-me or whatever you want to call this stuff. Any tips on how to make those transitions a little bit better in this phase of time that we’re going through right now?

Adina Lebowitz:

Yeah. So I was going to say, I hope you include some language in your decree that says you’ll revisit your parenting time schedule every three to five years as circumstances change. And this is definitely one of those big changes.

Christopher Bruce:

Oh, yeah.

Adina Lebowitz:

Other changes might be people move, change jobs, get into new relationships. You know, the other parent moves, that might change your schedule too. The kids mature, so the schedule that you agreed upon years ago may need some updating. So, definitely for these COVID times.

Adina Lebowitz:

Thankfully, our state governor specifically mentioned divorced families in his COVID orders and said that “adhering to court-ordered parenting time schedules is essential,” so I’m really grateful for that. Yes, some parents have found this challenging. Maybe one parent works in healthcare and has a lot more contact with sick people. Can the kids transition to that parent’s home? Think about the fact, if you were still together, still married, and one of you worked in healthcare, would the kids be able to spend time with you? Well, of course they would, so having two households should not be different.

Adina Lebowitz:

Some parents don’t think the other one’s following the safety guidelines as they should, and they’re putting the children at risk, and so they start withholding the children, not allowing them to transition. You know, people can go off, “She’s crazy,” “He’s irresponsible.” I know we’re several months into this pandemic, but it’s best to nip that kind of behavior in the bud. It’s the conflict that harms the children, not that they touch something at the playground, right? It’s the conflict that’s going to be so harmful. So if you are on completely different planes, I’d suggest scheduling a mediation to find some common ground and refocus on caring for the children you both love.

Adina Lebowitz:

What I’ve seen most problematic during this pandemic, with all this distance learning and work from home, is that there are more transitions, and we’ve talked about the fact that every transition is an opportunity for conflict. If one parent is more available to supervise the distance learning, sometimes you’re having daily transitions. One parent’s dropping off at the other instead of dropping off at school. And so they drop off in the morning, they pick up in the evening, that’s there two days, then the other two days is with the other parent, then they’re back for the weekend. So this can be really, really challenging. Give yourself some grace. We’re doing the best we can in this most unusual time.

Adina Lebowitz:

But definitely I suggested mediation, if the parents are not on the same plane, because otherwise, it just creates too much stress and anxiety. All right.

Christopher Bruce:

Oh, yeah. I think it’s usually better to talk about it before it goes too long. And if you’re having trouble talking about it, that’s where the people like you can come in, I think, with or without attorneys. It can be tremendously helpful in helping people maybe find some common ground with this tough stuff, and not just during COVID times, but you know, in a lot of other times too.

Christopher Bruce:

And I guess as it gets to that, and maybe this is just more of a general question. But for the people listening to this that want to do as great of a job as they can co-parenting with their soon-to-be-former partner or spouse after the divorce, what tips do you have for us? I mean, what are some of the best practices or things that people can do for successfully co-parenting after the divorce?

Adina Lebowitz:

Yeah. I’m going to share about five things that I suggest.

Adina Lebowitz:

Number one is to have a regular time to connect, weekly if the children are very small or monthly, anything probably over four or five years old. Just a regular time on your calendar, coffee date, whatever you want to call it, to talk about what’s coming up for the next month. You know, so-and-so’s got a big project, or they’ve got a weekend away with their church, or maybe there’s grandparents are going to be in town. Something’s going to be a little bit different about the schedule. So just talk about that in advance. Give the other one a heads-up about what’s going on.

Adina Lebowitz:

Definitely having a shared calendar. There are several online co-parenting communication tools, as we call them. One that’s really popular here in Minnesota is called OurFamilyWizard. It’s a messaging tool, so you can keep track of what did you say to that other parent? And did you say it nicely and politely? Rather than doing it all in email, it’s a little easier to gather your notes if you do need to go back for a hearing. It has a calendar of activities. You can keep track of which kid’s going where, when. Even if the other parent has some out-of-town business travel or something, it’s a record of payment of expenses, so you can keep track of all that, how you’re splitting up expenses. And a way to conveniently track children’s health information, so regardless of which parent is taking them for an appointment, you have that on your app, on your phone with you when you go to that appointment.

Adina Lebowitz:

Be the one to take the high road always. Stay focused on having a business-like relationship with your co-parent with the common goal of raising whole, happy, healthy kids so you can both be there for everyday activities, a sports event, a concert, and for those very special milestones in their lives. Whether it’s a confirmation or a graduation or a wedding, you both want to be able to be there. And if you set that really good foundation when they’re young, you will be there to celebrate those special times with them.

Adina Lebowitz:

Be at your best and be present for your kids. I know, super challenging right now with all the work at home and distance learning and everyone’s stressed out, but do your best to be present. And you do that by taking care of yourself, by eating right, getting fresh air and exercise, and good sleep, so you can be the best parent you can be.

Christopher Bruce:

I think those are excellent tips. And I mean, I really think, and what stands out to me, and maybe it’s just because it’s what I do running my law practice, but I think having those regular meetings or the monthly meetings, I’ve never actually heard that suggested. I think a lot of people would benefit from doing that instead of having last-minute things come up. Maybe you’re regularly in contact about not only how are the kids doing, but what’s coming up on the agenda. I think that’s a really a great tip there. And I guess for the people that are listening to this and they’re thinking, “Well, gee, I think some of this could be helpful if I had a little bit more personal coaching or attention with this.” Maybe tell everybody a little bit more about you and what you do and how you help people with this type of stuff.

Adina Lebowitz:

Okay. Thank you, Chris. I teach co-parenting classes for our local school district. During these COVID times, these are group classes online, via Zoom, so people can log in from anywhere. Our next six-week series is starting very soon, November 4th through December 16th. And if the holidays tend to be a particularly challenging time for your family, consider registering for the series so you can have less stress and more peace during the holiday season.

Adina Lebowitz:

For those who need more support than what’s offered in these classes, parents can purchase individual coaching sessions. These are offered in packages of six, 12, or 20 sessions, which expire one year from date of purchase. They’re individual sessions of about 45 minutes each. And you can use them once a week, you can use them once a month, yeah, depending on how often you feel that you need to meet to help you stay calm, stay centered, and be able to be present for your kids.

Adina Lebowitz:

And then hopefully in the classes and coaching, I provide the communication and conflict resolution skills you need for day-to-day decisions. But if you’re facing a bigger issue such as rearranging your parenting schedule due to a move or a job change, if you need to find a care provider to address a specific health challenge or find help with a child struggling in school, I offer mediation, a safe space where the parties are empowered to express what is deep in their hearts, really listen to what the other side is saying, and be open to considering options for the focus on what’s best for the child.

Christopher Bruce:

And for the people who are thinking, “Hey, maybe I should be working with you,” maybe if you could just briefly mention how they can get in touch with you, where do they find you and that type of thing? And we’ll have the information up, and of course on the page where the video is as well.

Adina Lebowitz:

Yeah. I will just share my screen again so that you can see that. All right. My company is Elan Health Twin Cities. You can reach me by phone, (612) 499-8418, by email, adina@elanhealthtc.org, or at my website, elanhealthtc.org. You can find out information about the classes, the coachings, and the mediation on the website.

Christopher Bruce:

Well, that’s perfect, even with the slide. Nobody’s brought the slide up before. That makes it easy. Everyone, my name again is Christopher Bruce. I’m a divorce lawyer in South Florida, and I’ve had the pleasure of being joined by Adina Lebowitz. I hope that this has been helpful for you.

Christopher Bruce:

And if you’re liking what you hear and think Adina could be of more help to you, I really encourage you to get in touch with her, and don’t wait to do that type of thing. I think, really, just from what I see in my law practice, it’s really important to set precedents in the beginning of your co-parenting relationship because it’s a time of transition. And you want it to go as well as possible, not just for yourself, not just for the co-parent, but really for your children. So, I encourage you to get in touch with Adina, and I’ll look more into this and I hope this has been helpful. Thank you, Adina, for taking the time to be with us here today.

Adina Lebowitz:

Thank you, Chris.