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!

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • A.J. says:

    I think you raise an excellent question, Susan.

    Last week, my husband was traveling, but insisted that my stepson come to our house for his regular night. (There’s a 20+ minute drive between our house and mom’s house.) So, stepdad dropped him off at our house at 7:45. I put him to bed at 8 p.m. My husband arrived home late that night and took stepson to school. Quality time, indeed. He was “with us” long enough to sleep and ride with dad to school. That set-up didn’t benefit anybody.

    I think it hurts the kids the most. The parents are so busy battling over who gets more time, but the kids never get the benefit of a stable schedule. It creates more stress. It wears on both households. The kids spend more time in the car than anywhere else and they don’t know from one day to the next where they will be.

  • Susan Wisdom says:

    A.J., you offer a perfect example of what concerns me. Any ideas or stories of doing it differently so as to avoid these exhausting shuttles back and forth. Thanks for reading and expressing your thoughts.

  • A.J. says:

    I think the best thing to do is to not push for more time, but make sure the time you do have is true quality time. For example, if dad only sees the kids on weekends: It is exhausting to rush from activity to activity all weekend with the kids — only to not really feel like you had a chance to spend real time with them. Watching a kid’s basketball practice is not true quality time, in my opinion.

    I think stepfamilies would be better served by scheduling less and enjoying more. Spending a saturday in PJs and playing board games together is time much better spent than rushing all over town from one pre-scheduled activity to another. I would wager that those PJ Saturdays (or Saturdays playing catch in the park, what have you) will be remembered by the kids long after the memories of basketball practice have faded.

  • Ten says:


    This is a great post. My steps are with us every other week for a week and it is just awful. They are shuttled between homes and my stepdaughter in particular is getting more and more resentful. I don’t think this is in their best interest, but more about Mom and Dad “getting back” at each other. The divorce was contemptuous and filled with bitterness and anger. It is a shame as it is their kids that are paying the price.

    It would not matter what was suggested. Both are stubborn enough to not change the situation.

  • Amy says:

    This is an excellent topic and one that I have raised to my DH on more than one occasion. My SD lives 4 hours away. This was not always the case. WHen I met DH they did the 50/50 split. Literally every night the child slept in a different bed! CRAZY! She was only 2 at the time, but THEY were satisfied. Anyway, once she moved we were getting her every other weekend. Thank goodness it got to be too much for everyone. Imagine every other Friday on the road for 4 hours. She would get to our house, go to bed, spend Sat., then back on the road Sunday afternoon. Now we get her every third weekend and it is a little better.
    My children only see their dad a few times a year when he comes to visit them. We do not have any “visit drama”. There is no bitterness or hard feelings between my ex and I. Lots of time and distance have healed wounds. The kids always are excited to see Dad, have a great time, sad to go, but eager for the next visit.
    We never know what mood sd (7) will show up in. We can have a good weekend or our entire household can be turned upside down by her presence. My DH makes feeble attempts at parenting but is too often controlled by “guilt”.
    I often ask myself if my kids don’t have the better situation!

  • Susan Wisdom says:

    Everyone’s story is different!! This is one of those things about stepfamilies that has to be worked out to satisfy the needs and desires of EVERYONE…which is almost impossible. Just when you think you’ve got it right, someone’s life changes or moves away or the needs/desires of the kids change. It’s a moving target. Flexibility and cooperation is important, I think.
    What do you think?

  • Nikki says:

    Me and DH, along with BM live in the same community. Their custody agreement is tied to the community we live in. Right now, both DH and BM share custody, she’s the school residential parent. This means if she moves out of the community, DH is he school residential parent. The reason for this is b/c BM is from another state. SS has been attending the same school district all his life. We went back to court 3 years ago to get more time with SS. BM had every weekend and most of the week. DH only had one overnight but SS came to our home after school until 5:30 p.m (that’s when we dropped him off to BM).

    I know this arrangement does not work for everyone, and it may not be realistic for some families. But being that I was a step-child and now I am a SM, I think that when it comes to visitation the kids have to come first. Living 4 hours away or even on the other side of town and shuffling kids to appease the parents is ridiculous. If I were the stepkid, I would be upset and resentful too. How are they suppose to develop roots, friends, a routine if they are constantly shuffled from one parent to another.

    I think my SS has done well since we all live in the same community. We all know the parents of his friends, know what’s going on and have quality time with him.

    I have seen that “fair” or “equal” to the bio-parents is often not the case for their children. And that creates problems.

  • Hi Susan,

    I stumbled here through your comment to La Belle Mere. It’s nice to *meet* you. I actually wrote a post about this exact topic last summer here –> It’s such a difficult issue. Like you wrote, each parent wants their share of time, thinking that’s what is in the best interest of their child. But at what cost?

  • Susan Wisdom says:

    You said it. It is difficult and there are costs.
    Good to meet you, Carolyn.

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