Of course the most important decision we had to make with regard to our future lives as co-parents was how we would split our time with our son, Ian. Again, the words “you’re going to miss half of his life Teresa!” replayed in my head over and over again cutting through my soul each time I allowed the thought to enter my head.
I talked to a few friends who were divorced to ask what their arrangement was. Mind you, since we were in our early 30s, many of our friends hadn’t even married yet much less had kids or gotten divorced. So I had few people to ask. There was the typical arrangement of the State of Ohio (common in many others as well) which the majority of people still defaulted to, probably only because it was easier than taking the time and energy to discuss the situation with your soon-to-be-ex. That would require communicating with one another after all – the very reason many end up in divorce to begin with. The default arrangement works like this: The mother is granted full custody of the child or children with the father getting visitation every other weekend and Wednesday evening from 6-9PM.
For me, the word visitation just pisses me off. It is so negative, evoking visions of either prisons or hospitals. It is not an appropriate term to associate with the hopefully happy time a father spends with his children. And the allowance of time? I was heartbroken when I thought about taking that much time away from Ian and his dad. I just couldn’t do that.
For those that opted for arrangements other than the default, one option was the six months in one home and six months in another approach. No way was I going to do that. I would rather die than be apart from my son for 6 months at a stretch.
Then a friend told me about “Shared Parenting”. Now this isn’t a legal definition. So please consult an attorney. But the general idea is that you really are sharing the parental experience and responsibilities. Many do a week on / week off arrangement where one parent has the kids Sunday to Sunday and then they trade off. My friend who had this arrangement with his ex decided to modify this to a Friday to Friday arrangement. That way, they could start the weekend off happy to see their kids rather than spend Sunday dreading they were leaving. As a bonus everyone could get ready to start their work or school week without the added turbulence of switching locations that evening. This sounded pretty good to both of u. So Bob and I went with a Friday to Friday arrangement. Although we did make one more modification.
I simply could not come to terms with not seeing my then six-year-old boy for seven solid days at a time. So I suggested a mid-week switch. We lived close enough that this was easy to pull off. Yes, our residential choices were already about to pay dividends. So either Tuesday or Wednesday each week, Ian would go to the opposite parent’s house to spend the night. He would then return to the other house for the remainder of the week the next day. As I usually became uncontrollably weepy by Monday night due to separation anxiety, we opted for Tuesday during most of the time we maintained the midweek swap.
When Ian got into middle school and was involved in a few activities, we all mutually agreed to forgo the midweek swap. Sure we had duplicated a lot of things. But not everything. So it was a consummate challenge to make sure the soccer gear and band equipment – especially the small yet significant stuff to a 7th grader was in the right house at precisely the moment he needed or wanted it. And let’s be honest, at least from my experience, most guys and boys don’t check if they have everything they need for any activity until about 5 minutes before they actually needed it. As such, there was the inevitable panic that set in for both child and parent when either realized 10 minutes before the start of practice or, worse yet, game arrival time, that the only set of shin guards for soccer were at the other parents house and that parent was not at home.
Of course, thankfully do to our carefully orchestrated arrangement, we had even found a way to deal with these last minute snafus which seems like yet another obvious solution but not one everyone is either comfortable with or thinks about. We gave each other a means of accessing the other parents home either with a key or using the key pad on the garage. Now you have to have a pretty high level of trust in your ex-spouse to literally give them the keys to your home and granted this isn’t for everyone. But if your only hesitation isn’t a trust issue but rather an unnecessary belief that this isn’t appropriate or “people just don’t do that”, you’re just making life harder on yourself and your child for no good reason.
Some might also say that you could just deal with the issue by giving the child the access and of course you could. However, let’s be real. If the child has the key or code, then the ex-spouse has the key or code. Going further, if the other parent is forbidden from accessing the ex-spouse’s home and the child is young, there are at least a couple of situations you could encounter, some of which we did. There were times Ian would go into his dad’s house to pick up something he needed ABSOLUTELY NOW and in full blown panic, of course, couldn’t find it. Mom (or dad) was there to calm the situation down and help him focus on finding this item that, to him at that moment, was the difference between life being perfectly fine and the impending end of happiness as we know it.
On the more extreme end of the spectrum, one that fortunately we did not encounter, what if the child goes into the home without the parent and something awful happens? Maybe he injures himself as he climbs a piece of furniture to grab something. Or maybe he turns something on that, if left unattended would cause a fire after we’ve left. Sure we try to teach our kids how to avoid these situations. But everyone can make a mistake and one of our biggest responsibilities as parents is ensuring the safety of our children. So you have to consider that a young child is not mature enough to be saddled with so much responsibility without as much as a second set of more mature eyes walking behind him in such situations. At least that’s my belief.
In addition to our week to week and mid-week swap arrangement, both Ian and I, and Ian and his dad spoke on the phone every day for several more years to further perpetuate the parental bond during absence.
I can’t express here how far this arrangement of week-to-week shared parenting, the midweek swap, and shared access to each other’s home contributed to a smoother, more relaxed, and happier existence. But hopefully, this gives you some idea of what can be gained from considering it. If you have younger children and are in the throes of deciding on your child-parent visitation, or as I like to call it, shared time, I would highly recommend trying it out to see if it works for you.