Michigan is trying to set a new precedent for how parenting is divided after divorce. They want the division to start from a 50/50 standpoint. While it is important for children to have a strong relationship with both parents, is splitting the time in two homes equally really the best way to accomplish this? There is no perfect way to decide how a child is parented after a divorce. Everyone is trying to seek out the best solution.
However, I do not know if this is it. Here is why:
Is it for the child or for the parent?
Too often during divorces parents use their children as pawns. They want more time with the child to hurt the other person or to feed their ego that they are the “better” parent. Parents fight to get equal time with their child even though that is not always in the best interest of the child. For some reason people think that their child will automatically prefer the parent with more physical time. Sharing time in the same home as a person does not equate to sharing a bond.
Before you go this route, make sure you truly believe it would benefit the child, and not just you. Think about all the factors involved. What would this do to the child’s current routine? They are already going through a lot of loss with a divorce. Do not make them lose everything they can find comfort in. Your child will surely appreciate a parent who forsakes some of what they want so the child gets to be happy. Most parents want to make sure they are in their child’s life, but there are often better ways to do this.
Time does not equal bond
I have witnessed many instances where children have strong relationships with their parents even if they are not in the same home with them equal amounts of time. Think of military parents who may be deployed for periods of time or parents who travel a lot for work. They still have strong relationships with their children because they make sure when they are with them; it is quality time. These parents know the value of making the most of the time they have with their children. It is not taken for granted.
Parenting is quality over quantity really. That is why parents who are stay-at-home and parents who work may not get to physically be with their kids the same amount of time, but it does not make the child have less of a bond or relationship with either type of parent. It is about how engaged you are with your child when you are with them. You can call your child and have a thoughtful conversation, or you could be in the same home and be watching television and not paying attention to them. The ideal situation is of course to have everyone happily together. When that cannot be attained it is just important for the child to feel loved and supported by both parties. But that sometimes means forfeiting physical time.
Lack of consistency for children
Two households means two sets of rules and two sets of expectations. That is a lot for a child to handle. At mom’s house maybe they can help themselves to snacks if they are hungry and at dad’s house there are set times for snacks and an adult has to get them. One house may have certain channels that the child’s favorite show is on and the other does not. These may seem like small things to adults, but to children these are not small things. Children lose the opportunity to focus on developing the skills they need when they are constantly stressed by these inconsistencies in their environment.
This is compounded if the child has any special physical or emotional needs. The small changes from home to home are difficult for all children. For a child who is already trying to overcome other challenges these changes may put them over the edge. For instance, children with autism thrive on routine. When their routine is changed, they struggle greatly. While the two homes may even be willing to work together to make the environment as similar as possible, there are some things that cannot be replicated. One parent will have a more patient and calming nature than the other. The rooms will be different. The atmosphere will be different. The child will pick up on all of this.
If one state decides to make a drastic change, then other states will pay attention and may choose to move this direction as well. If you are going to pioneer something, you better make sure you have the right idea. In my opinion, having a preconceived goal to split parenting time in half is not the right idea. I do not know that any preconceived goal could ever be when it comes to the lives of children going through an already difficult situation. There is no perfect division of parenting in these situations. The goal should be meeting the needs of the child, and that will be ever-changing.
The long-term effects of having children spend equal amounts of time in two homes needs to be considered. Because this practice is not currently the standard, no one knows the answer to this question. We can look at instances where children lived under these circumstances and look at the big picture, but that never tells the whole story. Could those kids have been more successful if they had an alternate living arrangement? Would they have a different personality? No one will ever know the answer.
What needs to happen is the courts need to interview children (or people who are now adults) that have lived in these situations and see what they have to say. There should never be an across the board arrangement set before the individual circumstances are looked at. This is a dangerous starting point when considering it is children’s lives being altered. Children who depend on adults to consider what is really best for them, not for their parents or the court.
What are your thoughts? Should splitting parenting time down the middle be the goal in most cases?