I asked if she felt responsible for their happiness in any way. She thought a long time, and finally said no. She did everything she could to make them happy, but she knew it was ultimately up to them. When I asked about what she did to make them happy, she practically shouted that she spent as much time with each of them as possible, because she knew that’s what they wanted and needed. When she realized she had basically given up what she wanted or needed—such as friends, volleyball, etc.—to be there for her parents, she cried. And cried. And cried.
I probably don’t have to say much about our work from there. We focused on Lannie’s learning to recognize and work on her own needs, her own happiness. On letting her parents be responsible for themselves. It was difficult work, to be sure. But worth it.
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In one of the many conversations I had with Lannie, she said something I hadn’t heard before. She had spoken so often about how much she cherished spending equal time with both parents. And while I know this was true, I also know that she likely had some feelings about it that weren’t quite so positive. One day, she looked me straight in the eye and said she hated going back and forth all the time.
It had nothing to do with how she felt about her parents. She has insisted from day one how much she valued her time with both of them. It was the physical toll of traveling, of not being sure who would pick her up after school, of being away from her friends—and their subsequent moving on to new friends simply because she wasn’t there.
And that’s when it really hit me. I had worked with so many children, couples, and families going through divorce at that point. And I had heard both horror stories and happy stories about how they dealt with the aftermath. Before Lannie, I had not seen such a positive example of shared-parenting.
But as much as shared custody and equal time with the kids may make sense in a courtroom, the reality of splitting time between parents is tough on the kids. Though the courts often work hard to ensure the “best interests of the children” are being upheld, the irony is that what they are often focusing on is the best interest of the parents. And that’s exactly what Lannie had done.
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It’s not that I think shared-parenting arrangements are inherently bad. And children do need to spend quality time with both parents—assuming “quality-time” is an accurate descriptor. But parents also need to understand that the logistical and physical demands of going back and forth take their toll. Even in the best-case scenarios. Children get tired. They get confused. They often become sad or angry. They sometimes stop doing the things that used to be important to them. They sometimes act out in ways that are surprising. They miss their friends. And they lose their friends.