A generation ago when a couple divorced, the custody arrangement was fairly standard – the kids usually lived with their mother and saw dad every second weekend.
Times have changed, families have evolved, and increasingly separating couples are moving towards a shared parenting custody arrangement. Changes to the Family Law Act in 2006 which saw the introduction of the ‘presumption of equal shared parental responsibility’ have led to this change, as has the increase in women in the workforce.
So does shared parenting work? As with any family dynamic there are situations where the families are as blissfully happy as the Brady Bunch and others where a Dr Phil-style intervention would not go astray.
The rest of us fall into the middle ground – sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.
Now that my children are adults, I have the benefit of hindsight to understand what worked and what I would change if I had my time over.
My top 3 tips for a shared parenting arrangement
1. Revisit the arrangement regularly
One of the biggest mistakes I made was thinking that the arrangement we had decided on when we first separated would be suitable throughout their childhood.
My sons were 6 and 4 when we separated so spending extended time away from either of us was quite upsetting for them. We therefore had an arrangement where they spent half the week at their dad’s home and half at mine.
We continued with the split-week situation right up until the kids were teenagers. It was only when one of my sons suggested that we change it to a week on, week off scenario that I realised that we were sticking to an arrangement that was well past its use-by date.
As teenagers the kids wanted greater stability and less back and forth between houses. We changed it to week on, week off and everyone was happier with the outcome. I just wish we had revisited the arrangement a lot sooner.
2. Different parenting styles? Suck it up
Another thing I would have let go of was my frustration at the difference in parenting styles.
It’s hard enough to agree on parenting decisions when couples are together. However all bets are off when you’re separated. Your views hold no weight when it comes to how the other person chooses to parent.
If they decide to feed your child takeaway on a week night and you’re vehemently against fried foods, too bad.
Of course, if the other parent is letting your five-year-old smoke cigarettes and wander the streets at midnight you’ve got the right to intervene. However, if the other parent simply allows your kids to stay up later then you would, that’s their prerogative.
I had to accept that he was entitled to parent the kids in his way, as long as he wasn’t harming them.
And as for those who think different rules in different homes is confusing for the kids, it’s not at all. My boys soon learnt that there were different rules at each house and adapted accordingly.
3. Try to live as close to each other as possible
While you don’t have to live in the same street as your former partner – there is such a thing as too close for comfort – if you can live close by then it makes life a lot easier.
My ex-partner and I always lived within a 10-minute drive from each other so that our sons were close to their school, friends and sporting clubs.
It also helped when they left something important at the other parent’s home. At least retrieving the forgotten item only involved a short drive rather than a mad dash across the city.
Of course, living close to the other parent won’t work for everyone. Changing lifestyles, a new partner, a job transfer can make it difficult to stay in the same neighbourhood. But if you can, it certainly makes life a bit simpler.
The last word…
My sons are now adults so I asked them their thoughts on shared parenting. Of course, that’s all they knew growing up so both sons saw it as their ‘normal’.
For my oldest son the biggest downside was the disruption of moving back and forth between two homes. “You never really feel like you’re at home – you’re always on the move.”
Inconvenience aside he believes it was the fairest approach, one that has resulted in a good relationship with his parents and his step-parents.
So if you’re facing the prospect of shared parenting, rest assured that with a bit of compromise and negotiation it can work for everyone involved.