what kids really need from their parents after a divorce

spoiler alert:  It's NOT an exact 50/50 split of overnights

I witness many parents fighting tooth and nail for 50/50 parenting time; investing tremendous amounts of time, energy and money into ensuring a perfectly equal distribution of their children's time and location.

And as a divorced parent myself, I am intimately familiar with the fear and anxiety that drives the fierce determination to be an "equal" parent.

But here's the good news and the bad news:  We are using the wrong variables in this calculation.


The number of hours or overnights you spend with your child each week is NOT what determines your importance or relevance in your child's life.  Instead, the quality of your relationship with your child is directly tied to the quality of your attention, affection, and emotional availability.
 
So let's measure the right stuff here. You can be a terrific parent regardless of how many nights your child sleeps under your roof if you:

- respond to your child's developmental needs (i.e. waiting to initiate overnights until the appropriate age based on studies of attachment and bonding and your child's individual temperament)

- are flexible with scheduling and willing to maintain the routines your children find stabilizing and comforting (so they don't have to miss a soccer tournament on "your" day)

- can hear or witness your child's affection for their other parent without feeling angry or upset (and if you aren't there yet, you are actively seeking emotional support in order to achieve it)

- support their relationship with the other parent by never disparaging them, speaking for them, or asking your child to align with you against them

- track important events and milestones in your child's life, like finals week or the big game, and connect with your child during those times by phone 

- leave no room for your child to doubt your love and affection for him/her

- listen attentively when your child talks to you

- read, study and learn about parenting (there's a wide and growing body of current research that invalidates some parenting strategies that were popular when we were kids)
  
And you can be a crummy parent even if your child spends every single night at your house if you do the opposite of these things.

So please don't get hung up on the numbers as an indication of your value or significance to your child. Protracted parental conflict over nights, hours, or percentages does more harm to your child than good. Instead of fueling ongoing legal battles trying to acquire more time, commit to creating the very best relationship you possibly can with your child.


Here's some related research if you are interested:

http://clallamcountybar.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/McIntosh-Post-separation-parenting-arrangements-and-developmental-outcomes-for-infants-and-children-Collected-Reports-2.pdf

And my favorite quote from the link above, culled from the interviews of Constance Ahrons, I believe:
  
Parents agonize, argue, negotiate and litigate over the minutia of how much time their children will spend with each of them....

But.... [e]specially as they get older, they want to have their needs considered more by their parents and be able to transition between households on their schedules, not their parents’....

[They were] far less concerned about the specific number of days per week or month they spent living with one parent or the other than ... about how their parents’ relationship infused the emotional climate surrounding their transitions between parental households....

Most of all, what children want is to have relationships with both of their parents. ....

At whatever developmental stage, children want to know that their parents will care for and love them while they continue their daily lives with as few interruptions and stresses as possible. (p. 6667)

For more information about Karen's parenting or interpersonal communication consultations by phone, visit www.karenalonge.com

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