Joint custody, with shared parenting where children go back and forth between two parental households has been in vogue in the Unites States for a while. Most often it is the children that relocate to the other parent every few days or few weeks. This means the children have two homes, two bedrooms, two sets of belongings, two schedules, and two household routines to adjust to every few days or weeks.
Divorcing parents agree to these arrangements as a way of giving each parent fifty percent of their time with the children, an even-steven split. Court mediators and judges uphold and even push for these arrangements citing their “fairness” to each parent.
But, what about the children? How “fair” is this joint physical custody with constant relocating for them? After forty years of practice doing psychotherapy with these children and their parents I find these children suffer emotionally from these arrangements. First of all, they feel tremendous expectations are placed on them to please each parent and do what is expected. They feel pressured emotionally and are physically exhausted. Secondly, adjusting to two different parenting styles is arduous. When their parents were married usually only one of them ran the children’s schedules. With divorce, the children see more clearly how each parent operates on his/her own.
Most children convey to me a very disorganized, erratic existence with one parent and an organized, predictable experience with the other parent. They are thrown back and forth between these two extremes with each relocation. As a result they suffer anxiety, depression, academic failure and loss of self-esteem in trying to cope with being overwhelmed by meeting their parents’ needs for “equality.”
Only if a parent understands himself and has empathy for his/her child will he not undertake shared custody and pressure his children to meet his or her needs.
What has your experience been with shared physical custody? How well do your children cope? How did you cope if you experienced shared physical custody?