One week at dad’s, one week at mom’s, two houses, two families and everything in duplicate (clothes, comforters, games…): more and more children experience this situation after their parents separate. Alternating custody of children seems to be a fair formula, which does justice to both parents and their children and which is defended by psychologists, lawyers and family court judges. It allows for real co-parenting, unlike sole custody (usually for the mother). But this situation is not always easy to set up and must meet certain conditions to be well lived by all, because it is an adaptation at any time: back to school, vacations, birthdays, weekends… Here are some advice is drawn from parental experiences and opinions of specialists in law and child psychology so that alternating custody and co-parenting take place as naturally as possible.
A good understanding with respect and politeness
it is certainly not easy to demand this after a divorce or separation, but ex-partners remain parents and must be able to communicate effectively and serenely in the event of alternating custody. Every detail (schedule, availability, domestic organization …) must be discussed to avoid them turning into a problem. Moreover, the child needs to have a positive idea of each of his parents, and this requires mutual and cordial respect between the ex. Thus, it is necessary to tolerate and allow the child to talk about the “absent” parent and to communicate with him/her during your time of custody, without it upsetting you or making you angry.
A liaison book
even if it may seem too cold or too formal, sometimes it is a practical solution, which does not exclude direct communication but allows a rigorous organization. This simple and clever notebook avoids tension, forgetfulness and misunderstandings. Moreover, written dialogue avoids outbursts and conflicts in front of the child.
Respecting geographical proximity is a constraint, but an essential condition for a successful alternating custody. Ideally, you should be close to the school and the child’s usual living quarters. Even if living in the same neighborhood is not an easy thing, not moving too far away allows the child to keep his landmarks, his friends in the neighborhood, to avoid that the breakups or the uprooting from his environment do not add to the divorce of his parents. Moreover, proximity facilitates the management of daily life, for example when a child forgets an object in the other house, or has to go to a birthday party of a neighbor of the other parent…
A room in each house
The child must have his or her personal reference points in each house, so as not to break the continuity of his or her life each time he or she goes to the other parent’s house. Having a bedroom in each parent’s home is an important requirement for the balance of a child in alternating custody.
Flexible and practical alternation
Ideally, you should listen to the child, his needs and his ability to adapt. The schedule should not be a constraint, but on the contrary, a way to simplify everyone’s life. Organization is necessary, but it must be modular and flexible. Furthermore, the schedule for childcare, school vacations and weekends must be established in advance, at least in broad terms. It will be modified as needed.
Switching at the right time
The best time to switch from one home to another is certainly not on Sunday evening! After a “weekend” with mom or dad, it will be difficult for the child to “leave” the parent and start a new week knowing he or she is “alone”. To avoid the Sunday night blues for both parent and child, it is best to switch to a weekday. Thursday seems to be a good compromise, after the rest of Wednesday afternoon, the child will go from school directly to his second home where he will spend the weekend and start the week.
Dual homes, but a single upbringing
Divorce (or the separation of parents) is a time of extreme tension when differences of opinion, principles and even philosophies of life resurface. But this should not affect the child in any way. Even if differences exist between the two households, parents have a duty to ensure educational consistency. Each parent must set limits and impose principles and rules to follow, in the interest of the child and in harmony with the other parent. The main thing is to be in continuity and coherence on the main principles and the main lines of education to structure and reassure the child, while avoiding big deviations (laxity or military discipline, forbidden or unlimited screen/TV, strict vegetarianism or junk food…). Furthermore, it is important to avoid criticizing and denigrating the other parent and his or her rules in front of the child.
Stay tuned to your child
Each child has his or her own needs that vary according to age and personality. Thus, alternating custody should be avoided before the age of 6 and respect the “notion of attachment” that goes from 0 to 3 years for the baby. At this age, the mother is generally the attachment parent. A separation of more than two days, in this case, can lead to sleep disorders, psychosomatic pain, anxiety about abandonment, stomach ache… Later on, the child will express his need to see his father or mother more often or to change the alternation rhythm to 15 days, and this need must be met without questioning oneself or feeling rejected.
The old adage that says “He who has two homes loses his mind” is fortunately not an immutable truth. More and more families are choosing, at the time of divorce, to have two homes for their children and alternate custody. This way of life has several advantages:
- The children are reassured and relieved of their guilt because they do not have to choose, or take sides, between mom and dad.
- The child will benefit from the presence of both parents and both families. Each parent will have a role in his or her education and in the transmission of values, tastes… which are the pillars of his or her personality.
- Alternating custody allows the child to maintain his reference points (school, neighbors, friends, hobbies…) and not to disturb his daily life.
- Alternating custody also allows each parent to start rebuilding and to have a space for his or her private life, which can be more complicated in the case of sole custody.
Under optimal conditions, with communication efforts on both sides, alternating custody is a childcare method that helps preserve family ties. It allows the child to keep his or her bearings, and to move smoothly, without guilt, from one parent to the other. It is the ideal custody method to adapt to the double life and family rearrangements that result from a divorce or separation.