This month’s blog post is written by a Mum in Bristol who has followed the route of shared parenting for over two years now since separating from her husband.
Of course, all separated couples will have a different experience of shared parenting and the way they choose to do things but the following insights are true experience and will be useful to anyone considering shared parenting or any couples who are experiencing it for themselves.
Experiences of Shared Parenting from a Mum
Shared parenting seemed the only option to myself and my soon to be ex-husband when we decided to split. We were in the lucky situation that we both agreed we needed to put our differences aside for the sake of the children and do everything we could to make the split as easy on them as we possibly could.
We were able to remain friends and be united in our determination to continue to bring the kids up as a joint effort even if from different houses. The experience so far has been mainly positive for all of us but not without its drawbacks, hiccups and issues:
The benefits of shared parenting
We did a fair amount of research before we made the decision. There was actually quite a lot of negative arguments against the idea of sharing care of the children, as some experts claim that it is more traumatic for young children to try to live in two houses equally. They state that one parent’s house should be regarded as home with most time spent there.
However, for us it was the best solution in our minds for our children and it has not been without its stresses, but we live less than quarter of a mile from each other meaning that we are in close proximity of the kids’ schools and all of their friends and peers. So at least we didn’t have to deal with distance issues as many couples do.
The benefits and advantages of the arrangements we decided on were briefly as follows:
- We would both see the kids an equal amount of time. We would have every other weekend with the kids as well as sharing the more mundane parent duties throughout the week.
- Neither of us would spend more than 3 days apart from our kids on a usual week, which was important to us especially with our youngest who was 4 years old at the time and was the most affected by the separation.
- The children would retain the care from both of us that they had experienced previously (very hands on Dad).
The financial aspects of shared parenting
The finances we kept very simple, the cost of raising the children would be split equally between us; we would both obviously pay for our own house and the food supplied within it. As the split was 50/50 there was no maintenance to be paid to the other by either of us.
However the following things require a bit more organisation and planning:
- School dinner money
- School trips
- Clothes and shoes
- Pocket money
- Birthday and Christmas gifts
The key to making this manageable is communication and trust. We started off being very organised and had a shared online spreadsheet where we would both put down anytime we spent something on the kids ie. New shoes or paying of a whack of dinner money.
After a few months we stopped though, partly due to both being very busy with work but also because we soon realised that we were being very fair about things. We let each other know if we had bought something and then it would be the unspoken rule that the other one of us would foot the bill next time it came around.
We both realise that we are lucky to have maintained this relationship and that many separated parents do not have this luxury. Don’t get me wrong, we have not been without annoyance for each other over some of these issues, but any cross words are never spoken in front of the children and we have managed to bring things back on course quickly after a disagreement.
Holidays and shared parenting
Both being working parents again made sharing the care over the holidays something that needed to be planned so as to allow both of us time with the kids but also managing the school holidays around our work commitments. We are now over two years into the experience of this and have found a rhythm.
We take it in turns to take the children away on a proper holiday in the summer and also give each other time to have a holiday without the kids with our respective new partners.
Top tip here is to have a shared online calendar which has the rotation between parents set out in the diary for infinity. In this way we can plan around weekends, holidays, festivals and camping trips far in advance and discuss any changes in the pattern well before they were going to need to happen.
Practical problems of shared parenting
The first thing we found once we had set our arrangements was again the need for organisation, planning and communication. And believe you me we still don’t have it perfect – I mean who realistically could with 3 children ages 13, 11 and 6! Here are some things to think about:
- Swapping houses every two days in the week means you can guarantee that some piece of homework or gym kit has been left at the wrong house. The older two have had to try to plan for this but I still get panicked facetime calls from them at 8pm from their Dad’s requiring some urgent item for the next morning. Annoying but potentially unavoidable at this stage.
- Equally, swapping houses every other weekend means that someone needs an item of clothing, wellies, coat or a toy from the other house. Such is the trust between my ex and I, we hold keys for each other’s houses so that these disasters can be averted. The older two also now have their own keys too so with permission they can collect themselves.
Emotional difficulties of shared parenting
- Both households will undoubtedly be run with slightly different rules. For example, the children’s recent visit to the dentist highlighted that too many sweets and sugary foods were being eaten and too often. When discussed with the kids, you get the response: ’But dad lets us!’ The emotional pressure the children know how to apply to either parent is delivered with precision, especially if you are feeling a bit low. However, all kids try to play parents off each other whether they live together or not.
- For all the kids, it has been hard making the transition from each house to the other a few times a week. My ex-husband is a very doting father but it means the kids often get whatever they want from him. Large gifts that have not been previously discussed with me will suddenly appear. Other examples are that he will read the youngest 4 STORIES at bedtime and then sit with him till he falls asleep, as you can imagine that makes my swifter bedtime routine seems rubbish in comparison.
- Our youngest child still sometimes says whilst crying: ‘I want Mummy and Daddy to live together again’. This is always a heartbreaker as of course you feel massively guilty for inflicting the pain on the kids. These outbursts have become less as time has gone on and acceptance is nearer than ever before. I think for younger children they don’t understand the complexities of adult relationships and from his point of view he sees me and his father getting on well
- Having a teenage daughter also brings high emotion as you can imagine and there have been many moody door slamming sessions where I am obviously the worst Mum in the world and Dad is wonderful.
At the end of the day all parents struggle with bringing up children whether they are still with the other parent or not. I am sure we will encounter many other issues as time goes on but a willingness from both of us to make it work for the children’s sake keeps it flexible and friendly.
Can we help you?
Here are some other articles we have written which may be of help to parents going through separation:
Here at Progressive Mediation we are experienced with family separation situations and the conflict that can occur as parents try to work out finances and children’s’ arrangements. If you would like advice please call Frances on 0117 9243880.