In the old days, my lawyer friends tell me, child custody/visitation agreements used to be vague and loose. It was common for the non-custodial parent, almost always the father, to have the kids on alternate weekends with seasonal and reasonable longer visits in the summer. Divorced couples usually alternated the holidays. Sounds fair, one would think, back then.
But times have changed. More visitation is exercised now…. and they don’t call it “visitation” in the court system. They now call it “parenting time” so as to put everybody on equal footing. Divorced couples today demand more. They claim, “It’s only fair that I get the kids at least half time!” Take Bill for example. He and his ex wife live miles apart, completely across town from each other. They share custody of their two school aged children with a 50-50 time split. During his weeks with the kids, Bill is on the road early to take the kids to school and returns again in the afternoon to pick them up. He shows up at almost all of their games and after school activities. He and his new wife live in a big new house with her two children. He desperately wants his kids to feel welcome and at home in his new stepfamily.
That’s what’s happening these days. It takes a lot of sacrificing and work to get enough time with the kids. As parents they naturally want to provide the best the best. It seems equally important, however, for some ex-spouses to compete with each other over the kids. My question is what drives this need and is it in the best interest of the kids? And how does it affect new stepcouples and stepfamilies?
I’m amazed to see how far parents will stretch themselves to be what they think are good parents after divorce and remarriage. I suspect some want to make up for what they weren’t before? Somewhat guilt driven, they try harder. But is it good parenting to exhaust yourself and the kids by driving back and forth between homes, schools and after school activities like this? Precious time is lost when kids are always on the run. It’s anything but quality time. The important question is “Can children stay connected, feel loved and cared for by divorced bio parents… but not have to be driven grueling long distances to accomplish this?
These are hard questions with no easy answers.
I would urge all parents of back and forth children to do some serious soul searching about what is truly in the best interest of the kids. Begin by having a conversation with yourself and your partners. Understand the difference between ‘quality time vs. quantity time’? Put yourself in the kids’ shoes. Kids don’t want inconveniences. They want to be with their friends. And yes, they need to be with their biological parents. They want to fit in and belong in both families. But mostly they want normal and happy lives…don’t we all?
To be honest, solving these almost impossible problems and making everyone happy is just about as easy as solving our health care needs in this country. But don’t give up trying!
Licensed Professional Counselor