Almost a quarter of kids today are being raised by single parents. Most custodial parents are women, but joint custody is becoming more and more common. “Kids need both parents,” experts are quick to assert. It’s what seems fair, in a world where fathers are increasingly expected to equally share parenting within a marriage, and mothers are more likely to work.
It seems fair, but is it right? Behind all those numbers and theories are the wrenching realities of kids with two homes. Anne Trubek explored her own shared custody situation in Salon this week. As a stepmother and a child of divorce, her story went straight to my heart.
My stepson lives most of the year in Colorado with his mother; he spends school vacations with us in Boston. It wasn’t always this way. For the first years of my marriage to his dad, she lived down the street from us. We had joint custody. We’d pick him up from aikido class on Tuesday evenings, and drop him off there the following Tuesday.
That worked beautifully in many ways. He had a home and a rhythm with each parent, and a chance to really settle into a routine before everything changed again. It kept both his parents involved in the every day drudgery of schoolwork and doctor’s appointments, and gave both parents a chance to play with their kid on the weekends.
When she remarried and moved further away, the schedule shifted. We started picking him up from school on Fridays and dropping him off there again on Monday mornings. Almost fifty-fifty, almost fair. And actually awful for everyone. Sharing custody began to feel like the Judgement of Solomon, cutting the baby in half to satisfy the parents.
Instead of ever having a routine in one place, our son was being uprooted every few days, needing to adjust to a whole new set of household rules, expectations and space. By the time he settled into one place, he needed to pack his bag and leave for the next.
Since he moved with his mom to Colorado, we’ve missed him terribly when he’s away for long stretches – like he is right now. I haven’t seen him in six weeks. Will he be taller when he visits next month? What will he be reading? How is he doing in school? Who does he hang out with? I’ve never seen his new home, and I hate that disconnect.
On the other hand, when he’s here, he’s really here. He has his own friends here, his own routines, his favorite summer programs. Spending our time together in longer chunks lets us get used to each other and grow together as a family.
I still miss the simple days of 50/50, when we just swapped on Tuesday evenings without fuss. But I don’t miss at all the weekends of rushing to and fro trying to cram all our time into a few precious hours.
I see a lot of my friends sharing custody now, and every family has a different routine that works for them. Or doesn’t. A lot of divorced families just seem to be perrennially dissatisfied with their custody arrangements.
As Trubek says in her excellent essay, it will be a long time before anyone knows if joint custody was the right choice for this generation of kids, or for any kid in particular. For some, it’s seems like a graceful solution while for others it truly is a Judgment of Solomon.
Do you share custody of your kid? Or did you go between parents’ homes as a child yourself? What do you think the right solution is when parents separate?
Photo: Fast Eddie
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