Long gone are the days in which fathers were merely visitors in their children's lives — and this is a good thing. Children need both parents, and they need to feel as if they can have healthy and positive relationships with both parents without any guilt or grief. Divorce is hard enough on children. However, there is a growing trend of 50/50 custody, and while it has its drawbacks, it is mostly positive. Even with 50/50 custody, there is a custodial parent (the residence that dictates where the child goes to school), and then the two parents share joint custody, meaning both parents are actively involved in all decisions regarding the child's welfare.
While our child is preschool age, her father and I have decided to split her time. As she approaches elementary age, we will transition to one stable home base (Mom) and plenty of time with Dad as well so as to eliminate the stress of juggling homework and activities while going back and forth between houses. If you are considering 50/50 custody or are unsure if this split works for you, here are some things to consider when making a custody schedule with your ex.
Did your kid leave her science project at Dad's? What happened to your daughter's weekly reading log? Who has it?
School projects and work can be difficult if a child is bouncing from home to home. It is stressful for children. They have so much more work today than we did as kids, and to require a child to keep up with work between two homes is a bit much. However, if you and your ex have a consistent and predictable schedule that is easy for your children (and their teachers) to follow, 50/50 can work but will require hard work. This type of custody schedule requires two very communicative coparents, and only you know if you and your ex are truly communicative! If you aren't able to get along well (which happens), how will you two manage to deal with all of the extra variables that elementary school and beyond bring? It will be challenging. It's much easier to share little ones when there aren't any school projects or work to be dealt with.
If a child is allowed to have a lot of time with both parents, this gives him or her a chance to be close to both parents. The reality is that it's not the amount of time we have our children but what we do with the time we have that helps us develop bonds with our littles.
A child split in half can be confused, tired, and emotionally drained simply because living in one home and learning one set of rules is a challenge for a child in itself. Add in another home with different rules, a different structure, and a different environment, and it can be demanding emotionally on a child. It can also teach great flexibility and expose children to many different types of people. In all situations of divorce, it's important to find the silver lining.
In the past (and still for many divorced parents), mothers would take the weekday shift and dads were the "weekend fun dads." This still happens, and for some parents, it's what works best for them. I truly believe every family, whether married, divorced, or otherwise, should do what works for them, but . . . I highly recommend that single moms do not become the bad cop (doing all the school work and leaving Dad to have the fun weekends) and miss out on each weekend with your child. Fifty-fifty custody means both parents are in charge of school or day care pickups and drop-offs and gives moms and dads a chance to have fun weekend relaxing time with their children. Giving up all weekends is a bad idea because children today are so hectic. As moms, we also need fun time with our little ones. Sharing duties also teaches our children that both men and women (in the case of heterosexual divorce) are capable of doing any role in the home. A child of divorce sees the mom who does yard work and cooks, as well as the dad who cooks and fixes the faucet.
If you're splitting custody down the middle, establishing routines can be hard, so it requires two parents who are very structured and consistent. Children need structure, end of story. Certain parents may not do as well as others with 50/50 custody.
Not Missing Either Parent For Long
Fifty-fifty means children are rarely apart from any parent for long, which means less time to miss a beloved parent, but it also means a child will often feel — literally and metaphorically — split in two. My daughter often shares with me that she feels this way, and it is hard for me to imagine how tough it must be for her. Even if a child gets "used to" something, it doesn't mean it's challenging.
No matter what you and your former spouse or partner decide when it comes to custody, always consider these factors:
- What will help your child thrive?
- How far do you live from each other? What is realistic for the two of you and your child in terms of travel?
- Are both homes stable?
- Are both parents communicating well or in a nontoxic manner?
- How can you help your child have a good relationship with both parents?
- How can you minimize school stress when sharing custody of a school-aged child?
The bottom line is the child comes first. Even if it's an ugly divorce, everyone should set aside his or her emotions in order to help the kids thrive.