Post-divorce parenting may not be easy, but with minimal conflict between parents and a reasonably balanced amount of time with both parents, children can thrive. These are personal accounts of families who made post-divorce parenting work through shared parenting. As these stories show, the benefits to children provided by shared parenting are more than worth the inconvenience.
A grown child of divorce comments on shared parenting:
Q: Well, put yourself in your kids place. How would *you* feel about being shunted between two different homes making sure that each parent has an equal amount of time?
Well as someone who did it for going on 12 years of her childhood, I'd say that I'm in a pretty good position to talk. And its not being "shunted" - the kids have two homes. They have two caring and secure parents who are willing to accomodate them. Neither parent gets to be the "fun" parent - the one who gets summers and weekends. Neither parent is solely in charge of decisions.
I'd say its a lot more secure than being separated from one of your parents because of divorce. Its a lot more secure than getting a sense that one parent is more important and more valued than the other. It is more secure than having to travel across distances or time. I was one of those kids who spent half a week with my Dad, and half with my Moms. There was nothing "shuttling" about it - I had too houses and strong, consistent schedule. My parents had space away from us. Frankly, if I weren't so committed to being married to my husband, I'd say its a damned good way to raise a kid.
Father of a young girl:
The week-on/week-off thing seems to be working well with me and my S2BX. I don't think that I could stand to be away from my daughter for a 3 or 6 month stretch.... and the idea that young girls should be primarlily raised by a woman is, I'm sorry to say, so much hog-wash. I've been the primary care-giver for my daughter since she was born, due to my more flexible work schedule, and she's turning out just fine.
Father of an 8 year old:
My son lives with me every other week, for one whole week at a time. This works well because my ex lives a few miles away within the same school district. My son has school friends in both neighborhoods. At first it was somewhat of a hassle. He was taking stuff back and forth. Now he has everything he needs at both homes and little goes between. Although me and my ex avoid talking to each other as much as possible, we have learned to deal with it and we do talk when it comes to our son. Things seem a lot more reasonable and peaceful now.
Mother of a young daughter:
My daughter is with me 4 days a week, she goes to her dad's on Tues at 5pm one week and 5pm on Wed the next week, etc. That means I get her 3 out of 4 weekend days of 2 weeks, which is fine with me, but I miss the school days I do not have with her...but again, she is in school those days! We have 3/4's of weekends together to be together. AND her dad gets half the schooldays as I do...If you think about this, I have her for 5 straight days one week which I relish, and 3 straight days the next, but that is okay, cuz the next week it is 5 days again! I mean, what can I say? I did not have this child alone. We planned to have a child, we did, we failed at marriage, and we are succeeding at shared parenting...which does not mean being best friends, of course.
His Mom, although she works part time needs to leave him with her Mother for long periods of time. So in truth with both probably both spend about an equal amount of time with him. In any case from what I've seen he is doing very very well with two parents with near equal parenting time.
Father of two:
My ex-wife and I share the custody of our two kids on a split week basis and alternate weekends. This works out to be exactly 50/50 and has some significant advantages. At the changeover, one party drops the kids off at school in the morning before work and the other picks them up after work from their after school caregivers.
A split week means you are guaranteed free time on at least a couple of nights per week. This allows for a regular activity on those nights. Conversely the alternating weekend means one can't establish a regular weekend activity. After the kids have been away for 2-5 days I look forward to having them again. After I have had them for 2-5 days I look forward to them going to their mother, whom I imagine is looking forward to having them. While the kids (boy 7, girl 10) are with me they get my close attention and overall they get much better parenting I reckon - apart from the absence of role model of mum & dad being together.
My kids get to have two quite distinct homes. My wife's small sterile urban house, and my large, shambolic rural one. The kids can probably see good points in living in both dwellings. As far as I can tell there are no obvious signs of the kids suffering as result of the split - they are doing well at school as ever, have friends, hobbies, and love both their parents.
We presented our split as a change in our lives, a new experience, not a terrible trauma and we don't run each other down in their presence. The disaster comes in these situations when the kids are used as a battleground and custody battles are fought. Unless there are clear problems or reasons or dangers why one party shouldn't have custody or part custody, it is obviously better for the kids have some sort of shared arrangement subject to domestic constraints. Am I stating the obvious?
A mother of two young girls answers some common questions:
Individual personal style between adults is different between all parents (whether currently married or not) and this has been a great joy for my children. Even in "intact" households, Mommy and Daddy approach things in a different manner (unless of course they are clones)
Q: What is the justification of joint cusotdy ?
Quite simply, a belief that children need TWO parents. Period. It is no more complicated than that.
Q: What is the benefit of being torn between two homes ?
I will skip the "being torn" reference, as I believe I have already established that we are not having a discussion about children who are torn. However, the benefit of two homes are many:
1. Children have two loving role models to help them grow into their world
and their potential.
2. Two homes make the difference between surviving divorce and becoming permanently wounded (as often is the case when you throw in abondonment issues) - and coping with changes in their lives and thriving.
3. Children learn how to disagree with being disagreeable. Through the many negotiations that are inovlved in running two households, they learn how to handle disagreements and move forward.
4. My children actually change homes on Saturday and Wednesday _every week_. They get the added bonus of the very powerful blast of love from parents who are always ready to see them and have missed them. We rarely get burned out because the stretches that they are with us are still abbreviated due their age. Children in intact families -- or families with more traditional custody schedules -- don't often receive this powerful self-esteem blast. Sole and primary physical custody parents often burn out - and the Disney World Dad/Mom syndrome doesn't is often clouded by guilt and remorse,making the NCP scattered and unfocused (or overly focused) onthe child because none of _their_ needs have been met. If you would like about 40 more reasons on how they benefit, I could have you talk to my children. : )
The first six months may seem like an endless series of adjustments, but as I look at my children's contemporaries, they actaully had no more adapting to do than other children going through a divorce. (in some cases less - because they knew they could count on strong loving connections with BOTH parents on a regular basis)
If you can communicate with the other parent (a lot), if you can put the children ahead of your own struggles (because you will have to swallow A LOT of feelings about your X until tempers cool) and if you think both parents are truly ready to separate and move forward with their individual lives (otherwise the kids become the sticky link), then try it. You don't have to be friends with your X to make it work (although a friendliness has certainly developed in our case) you just have to be dedicated to communicate about the kids. It can be a rewarding, loving expeience for children - giving them a true sense of family instead of feeling fractured or cheated. A book I found useful was "Mom's House and Dad's House.
Father of three:
Just wanted to contribute another experience/opinion on this subject. I've had Joint legal/physical custody of my son now 5 for the last 3 years. Speaking from experience joint custody can work regardless if the 2 parents get along wonderfully or not, seen both sides of this. One of the most difficult aspects is the differences between the two environments...discipline, values, etc. One of the most common assumptions I hear is that joint custody must involve a certain level of co-parenting, I don't feel this is essential though. Actually in my case trying to attempt this caused more problems than anything. Once we agreed to each do things our own way in our own homes and accept and respect the differences the disputes decreased significantly. I'm not saying you have to like or agree with everything that goes on in the other household. I just have to remind myself that I can only control what goes on in my household. We make it very clear to our children (2 from my wife's previous marriage also) that we do things the way we do in our house and even if this isn't the same as in their Father's or Mother's house that's the way it is. There are behaviours that are acceptable in the other households, but not in ours and we've had to go to great lengths in explaining to them why, but it's payed off.
Another thing I've heard from people is that these poor children shouldn't have to get bounced back and forth between households and it's confusing to them. From my experience this is a paradigm that mainly exists in some adults heads and is based more on the societal view of the nuclear family than anything. All three of our kids live in 2 different homes at varying schedules/times. They have come to accept this and display no confusion at all. They know where they're going to be when, they have very clear understanding that they spend different portions of their life in different homes and are very comfortable about it. I'm not saying this happened immediately upon separation, but their resiliance and adaptability is amazing and not to be underestimated. Now the adult's perception and adaptibility is a whole nother thing!
The biggest key IMO to making this work is establishing good communication with your kids. Talk to them a lot about it and listen to them even more. Keep things in perspective between your house and the others regarding what you can control and can't. Set limits with the children and the ex's. Finally respect your children's relationship with their other parent and allow them to form their own opinions on their own and keep yours in check.
Just some of my thoughts and opinions.....your milage may vary!
Emily and Sara's parents (Jack and Kim) share custody of the girls 50/50. Each has a residence within a mile of the elementary school and daycare the girls attend. Every weekend the girls switch houses. I became aware of this when holding weekly scout meetings: One week Jack would bring the kids, one week Kim would bring them.
The parents have handled this very maturely and matter-of-factly. I have never seen any jealous bickering or petty arguments between the two. The girls are well behaved, well adjusted children who don't seem to think there's anything unusual about their arrangement. It is my opinion that the mature manner in which this arrangement has been carried out has led to children who feel secure and are well adjusted.
Another who grew up with shared parenting:
I lived in joint custody with my parents from ~age 12 until I left for college. My sisters are 5 and 6.5 years younger than I am and had correspondingly longer time in joint custody.
My father got a job in another state; my mother agreed to follow him. They worked (harder than I'll ever know) to make that custody arrangement work. So did we. It started out with 2 weeks at Mom's and 2 weeks at Dad's and RAPIDLY moved to a month each place. By the time My sisters left for college it was about two months at each place. It was a pain moving back and forth, but I have a relationship with my Dad I'd have NEVER had with the traditional custody arrangement. So do my sisters. We NEVER would have had this great Dad for a friend wthout that; we never would have gotten to know mom so well, either.
There's a down-side for parents, though. Half the time you will be alone in your house without your kids. What do you do with that time? You can't start a (for example) semester-long class, five days a week, to fill the time, because then your kids never see you when they are at your place. Do you stay home and do nothing, because if you book that time, you'll be gone when they're at your place? A balance MUST be acheived between your kid's need to be with you when they're at your house and your need to have activities and socialization when they're not.
None of us ever carried the alimony check from Dad to Mom. He always mailed it or gave it to her himself. None of us ever carried messages like "Mom wants to talk with you about such and such" - she always called him herself if she had stuff to discuss. And vice versa.
One word of warning, though. I remember wanting to go to a slumber party at a friend's house. Dad's parenting philosophy did not encompass slumber parties at the house of a male friend, despite the fact that his parents would be there and there were both male and female friends going. Mom's did. I 'transferred' myself to Mom's custody a week early so I could go. Ditto when I wanted to miss one day of school to attend an event in Canada.
Now, Mom did not let me do this. I was in Dad's care. Dad let me do the transferring thing. But if you do joint custody, be prepared to have your kids pull similar stuff on you. Communication between you and your ex-spouse are critical here. You are no doubt going to find youself having to back his or her decisions, even if you don't agree with them.
Consistency is important. So is not undermining your ex-spouse's authority.
Sorry this is so long, but in many debates I've seen about joint custody, I've never read about the *kid's* point of view.
Q: Kids want to be with their friends on the weekend, not in their makeshift home for the weekend. Think about it
A father responds:
I think about it on a daily basis. That is why they have toys, cloths, pets, etc... at both houses so they know it is home no matter where they are. As long as a parent is in the house it is home. If they want to play with friends, they make arrangements and see them. They have friends spend the night at both houses and I take them to ball games, doctors exams, movies, Birthday Parties, meetings, choir, church, soccer practice, baseball practice, scouts, indian guides, and I still have time for a job and a personal life. It all depends on your priorities and mine are right in the middle of my childrens lives. When they are older and want nothing to do with me, I will be able to spend more time on my career, my love life, my house, or my hobbies, but right now I see my Ex on a regular basis, even when it kills me, because that is what is best for my children.
Please do not tell me about how my feelings are harming my children because they can see through any act. I do not act in front of them. When I am mad at my Ex I tell them so they do not think it is directed towards them. By showing them that I am not happy with her but I can still talk to her and work with her, I am showing them how to be real adults. I am showing them the correct way to grow up.