Imagine the following scenario: every few days you have to pack up your clothes, effects, and important documents, put them in your car, and go sleep in a different house. Then after a few days, just when you are getting comfortable, you have to pack up your clothes, effects, and important documents again, put them in your car, and go back to the other house. Then, after a few more days, just when you are getting comfortable, you have to pack up your clothes, effects, and important documents…you get the idea.
Sounds crazy and exhausting, right? But it’s hard to know just how displacing it can feel unless you experience it yourself. Why would anyone want to do that? Nevertheless, that is exactly what children of divorce are called upon to do under many typical shared parenting plans.
Recently divorced herself, a friend and divorce professional had the “gift” of learning how such disruption feels when her newly purchased home required far more work than anticipated upon purchase. After moving from the former marital home, she spent several months living out of a suitcase which she dragged around in her car.
Every few days she had to move between her mother’s apartment on her off-time and her ex-husband’s apartment for her parenting time (during which her former husband graciously vacated and stayed with his girlfriend). Despite the kindness and hospitality of her mother and ex, the frequent displacement made it difficult for her to relax or sleep, make plans, or stay organized and focused on important tasks. As a result of such experience, she developed a new empathy for her children and children of divorce, generally, that she simply could not fathom until she went through it herself.
When parents are negotiating parenting time, the children’s perspective regarding frequent switching between residences can get lost in pursuit of the reasonable principle that children are best served by frequent contact with both parents. But how to fix it when parents have equal or close to equal parenting time? After all, there are only so many ways to skin a cat… and none of them are good for the cat.
Following are a few solutions co-parents can use separately or in conjunction to solve the problem of too-frequent travel and transition for children of divorce:
Maintain homes within walking distance of each other. The advantages are many: children can go between houses on their own when they are old enough. They can easily retrieve forgotten items from the other parent’s home; they can readily visit a parent for short periods when they are with the other parent; their neighborhood friends will be able to get to both homes easily; and they will not need to endure long car rides between parents’ homes.
Lengthen parenting time from only a few days with each parent to a week or more. Longer increments of parenting time results in fewer disruptive transitions, which can occur exclusively on weekends rather than on school days. Parents can arrange daytime or evening visits with the other parent or share school and activities transportation so that the children will not go too long without seeing either parent. This arrangement can be especially beneficial when parents do not live very close to each other.
Nesting. Children remain in one home, frequently the former marital home, and the parents spend their parenting time with the children at that home, leaving to go to another residence on their off time. Such residence can be with friends or family, an alternate residence that parents share, or they can each have their own separate residence. The great advantage of nesting is that the children get to have stability and consistency in their surroundings, remain in their familiar home, while the parents absorb the disruption of frequent travel and change. Although nesting can be a wonderful solution for children, co-parents will need to maintain a high level of cooperation and a certain amount of financial entanglement with each other as long as the nesting lasts. (Ideally, parents should have a previously agreed-upon “Plan B” in the event that the nesting arrangement becomes uncomfortable for one or both parents.)
In sum, when considering a parenting plan, parents and divorce professionals are well-advised to think of parenting time from the children’s perspective. There may be better solutions than carting children around every few days.