If you want to see me passionate about a subject, get me talking about 50/50 shared custody. I have no problem airing my opinions on the subject. It has nothing to do with me advocating for moms to have more time than dads. I’m not partial just because I’m a mother. It’s about the child – period.
Now I don’t think anyone can dispute the importance of fathers for all children. Children of divorce are no different. But equal physical custody? You know what that means, right? It means three nights at mom’s house this week and four nights the next. Or maybe it means this week at mom’s, next week at dad’s. Having all your time split evenly down the middle. Living precisely one half of your life in one residence and one half in another. Sound like fun? Would you want to do it?
So I wrote my comment <on a message board>. I simply questioned the need for a 50/50 split and stated that although I had extenuating circumstances that made my paternal visitation less than most, I was glad not to have had to endure that. And boy, the father’s came out swinging! It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. I hadn’t paid close enough attention to my wording. And in a polarizing argument, wording of course is everything.
I thought I was being misunderstood. It seemed the father’s were mostly angry that the courts tend to automatically choose the mother as the primary custodian, when they were just as capable. And to that I can only agree. If they want to be primary caretakers, they should have an equal opportunity for that. If it’s legal reform that’s needed; go lobby. Chances are, they’d find me supporting them all the way. I don’t really care which parent the child resides with. Only that in end they reside with one of them.
Because we all need a home. A place that is ours. And I feel that no matter how well you try to duplicate it, a 50% arrangement robs a child of that sense. Not to mention the continual upheaval; the back and forth. I also brought up how difficult it would be for kids to answer one of the basic questions of kid-dom. “Where do you live?” The question that answers whether they reside in close enough proximity to be playmates. I know things have changed. That children of divorce are more mainstream now. But this is a gateway question for kids! Who wants to explain their family drama after initial introductions?
Because in the end I don’t really care about the fathers who feel slighted and disadvantaged at being called ‘secondary’ or feeling like a visitor. And I don’t care about the mother’s who feel that being primary during marriage entitles them to remain primary through divorce. I know both ache to be with their children. I know it kills them to give up any time. But I care about the child. Whatever age they might be. And the biggest problem here is that you can’t ask them. Because the child of divorce aches to be with both of their parents too. And they will always put their own needs aside in the name of time with a parent. So if continually jumping from house to house is the price of spending time with them equally; it will be paid. Without nearly a thought and even dressed up with assurances that they’re okay. They’ll pay the price and make it look like it cost them nothing at all.
And there is my point. Why must they pay? Can’t the child of divorce have both? Mom and dad present in their life and a stable ‘home base’? Don’t they deserve it? Oh I know it won’t be easy, parents. You want to talk co-parenting? There it is. It would require whoever is ‘secondary’ to make more phone calls, attend things their child is attending, have them over for evenings and (oh no, not the dreaded!) visit their child at their ex spouses home along with enjoying their scheduled visitation. It would also require the ‘primary’ to aid, accommodate and welcome those things. Equal parenting doesn’t have to depend on equal physical custody. All it really depends on is co-parenting.
What might a life like that look and feel like for a child? Do the courts think about that? Because it used to be what’s best for the child, not what’s best for the parents.
Would they like living out of a suitcase? Would they like not being able to tell people where home is? Would they like never to know where they’re going to wake up? Would they like never to have a space to call their own – never to retreat to when they need time alone? And don’t give me this “they’re resilient” stuff. They’re considered resilient because they have no other choice. The next time you’re held at gunpoint, let me know if you had the choice between living or dying. Drastic analogy, but so is the excuse of resiliency.
I guess I have empathy in a non-empathic world.
I guess I can remember what it’s like to be a child, being forced to ride on the backs of your parent’s poor choices. I don’t know about you, but my mind goes here:
-I had a bad dream last night about a dinosaur hiding under my bed. I didn’t know who to shout out to -mommy or daddy- because I couldn’t remember where I was. I squeezed my eyes together to try and focus on what was in the room and I saw a bird hanging from the ceiling over my bed. Is the bird at mommy’s house or daddy’s house?
-I was reading the book Are You My Mother? with my daddy before bed tonight. Is the lady here my mommy? If so, then who really is the one I call mommy? I’ll ask them both: Are you my mother
-Daddy always has to be on time. Every night, I take a bath at 6:00. If I don’t eat fast enough, he tells me, “Hurry up and eat. It’s time for a bath!” Mommy doesn’t watch the time. She puts me in the bath after we finish eating dinner. Sometimes it’s at 6:30, sometimes it’s at 7:00. If we’re having lots and lots of fun and I fall asleep in the car, sometimes we take one the next day. It’s so different at mommy and daddy’s.
-When I’m with daddy, we stay at home a lot. When I’m at daddy’s house, I’m a big sister. Sometimes we go to the park, but he says it’s too hard to go lots of places when you have a little baby. When I’m with mommy, we do lots of stuff like fishing, going to baseball games, going to the park, and visiting friends and family. My big sissy helps me a lot because when I’m at mommy’s house, I’m a little sister. I used to call my big sister, sissy, but daddy calls my little sister, sissy, too. They’re both named Sissy?
-Daddy has a lady at his house that speaks different words. I don’t understand them, but they keep saying them to each other and trying to get me to say them too. My mommy doesn’t say those words when I’m with her. Am I supposed to speak them at mommy’s house too?
-Daddy pays a lot of attention to my little sissy. She cries and cries and cries and he feeds her “porridge” and plays with her so she’ll stop. Maybe if I cry like my little sissy, he will hold me and rock me and feed me a bottle, too. When I go back to my mommy’s house, I’ll try the baby cry too. Maybe my mommy will rock me and hold me like a baby all day.
-In pre-school, we talked about where we live and we had to draw a picture of it. I cried because I don’t know where I live. My teacher told me I could draw two places, but everyone else only had one.
What do you do when you see that this lifestyle is difficult for your child? Well, you can’t change the fact that it’s happening. Unfortunately, this is another consequence of divorce. But, you can accept it and try to make the best of it.
I’ve outlined 10 things you can do to cope with shared custody:
FaceTime is your friend. Call at least every other day if possible. Show your child that you’re thinking about them. While you’re at it, show them some of their things. I like to show my daughter her stuffed animals and tell her they can’t wait to see her again.
Make plans of things you can do with your child when you get them back. Take advantage of the time you do have together.
Keep yourself occupied. Start a new hobby, join a club, or volunteer in your spare time.
Start a work out routine. Physical activity is proven to make people feel happier. Take your stress and leave it on the treadmill or the track or wherever you need to go to get it done.
Journal- Even if you’re not a natural writer, writing your thoughts down can be very therapeutic. Sketch a quick picture to go along with it.
Take a ton of photos when you have your child and make a book of your adventures together.
Find support in others who are experiencing the same thing. Heck, send me a message. I’d be happy to let you vent.
Create a transition activity for your child. Teachers do this all the time in a classroom as some children find it difficult to transition from one activity to another. This could be drawing a picture together, having a discussion about what’s about to happen, or singing a song together.
As difficult as it can be, try to get on the same page regarding your child’s schedule to create some consistency for them. It may be an inconvenience for you at first, but it’s better for them.
Do as you would want done to you. Sure, their mother or father may accuse you of telling your child things you never told them, but you’re going to have to try and hold back the urge to fight back. I haven’t always conquered this, but I just try to think about how it would make my daughter feel when she’s older. I don’t ever want to give her the excuse to say I’m not respectful to her daddy.
Have any other ideas? How do you cope with shared custody?