Amongst other things I am a Family Lawyer- a divorce lawyer who day in day out works with families to try and assist them through the legal issues that surround a marriage breakdown. Often this will involve advising on and negotiating the future living arrangements for young children- children that I will rarely meet and who I know perhaps only a little about. Over the years I have seen all sorts of ways that the 7 days and 7 nights in a week can be ‘carved up’ supposedly to create what is said to be the best living arrangement for children in each different family.
If only there were 8 days and 8 nights in a week. An even number… or perhaps weekends could be 4 days of the week rather than only 2! It would certainly make it ‘easier’. Easier for me that is but probably not for the children who experience these arrangements day in and day out.
As a child I was the kid that called mum and dad first thing on a Sunday morning after a sleep over asking to come home. I hated being away from home at night. Why? That sense of security, my home, my routine, my things. I cannot imagine what I would have been like and how I would have managed moving around each week or fortnight between two spaces. I cannot imagine it as I have not had to do it. I am a lucky kid, my parents have an amazing marriage based on love, respect and partnership in every sense of those words. My brothers and I have experienced the concept of ‘family’ in the perfect sense. I consider myself truly grateful every day for this.
As I assist parents negotiate the division of weeks or months between them I often stop, close my eyes and try and imagine myself as a 5 year old, what I was doing then and what the arrangement these parents are suggesting might have meant for me.
Kids are resilient little things- that is what we are told (or perhaps tell ourselves). I am sure kids can be resilient but I am not sure that they should be placed in living arrangements that suit their parents in the hope that their resilience will get them through.
As a mother I cannot imagine what it would be like to return home some days of the week and to know that I won’t be able to see or hear my daughter. This for me would be the most difficult part of any separation. For almost every parent, the physical time you spend with your children after a marriage breakdown will be somehow different and will mostly be ‘less than before’.
We now live in a world where ‘equal time’ arrangements for children are becoming more and more common in my country. Equal time- 7 nights here/ 7 nights there, or perhaps 14 nights divided into some regime of 3/4/4/3- any sort of division of nights that in essence creates a sense of equality. This equality is often important to parents and not as important to children. We learn very quickly in life that equality equates with fairness. We therefore are also very aware that the sense of an unequal outcome often can be associated with a win or a loss.
I sense that for a lot of parents who are trying to establish a post separation parenting arrangement there is a lot to be said for the notion of ‘fairness’. Equal time can be interpreted to mean that each of the parents are equally capable of parenting their children- they are perhaps both just as good as each other and hence the ‘equal’ involvement in their children’s lives.
On the contrary the idea that a parent might have less time with their own children than the other could be interpreted to mean that this parent is somehow a ‘lesser parent’- that their time with their children will be less as the other parent is somehow ‘better’.
If parenting was all about the time you spend with your children then I am sure these concepts might have some truth, but it is not. Parenting- good parenting- is about so much more than ‘time’. My mum was at home with us all the time- she was the regular taxi service- she gave up so much of her life to ensure my brothers and I could participate in so much- at school, after school and on weekends. Still to this day she selflessly provides this same level of love and care, now also for her grandchildren. My father however worked hard, he regularly travelled and was not able to spend as much ‘time’ in the physical sense with us as children. It was their partnership as parents that made it all work. I never questioned their love whether there were there or not. I did not mind my dad travelling and working hard- I have learned so much from watching him. I have also learned so much from my mum’s devotion and her 24/7 job as a parent.
I feel for the parents that come to my office. I can read all over their faces the sense of loss they feel knowing that the physical time they spend with their children is about to or already has changed. What is so important is that the sense of ‘time’- numbers of days or nights in my legal world- is never equated with a parents ‘value’. ‘More or less’ time does not mean a ‘better or worse’ parent.
I would say I had ‘less time’ with my Dad growing up but I would never say he was any less of a parent than my mum. In their partnership they each took on different roles and it worked. They were and are amazing parents each bringing different skills, love and attention to each of us as children.
Post separation parenting arrangements are and will always be very difficult for parents and more so for the children that have to live them. What is essential is that we as parents ensure that we are creating a childhood for our children, no matter where they are living, that enables them the best chance to achieve their dreams.