Is switching homes too often detrimental to his development or is this acting out a phase?
April 8, 2011 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Children in Divorce: 3 1/2 year old acts out, Mommy thinks it's because he is switching homes too often, wants to change visitation schedule to have him overnight every night. Is switching homes too often detrimental to his development or is this acting out a phase? What can I do?

Currently, I have my son Monday, Wednesday of one week, then Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday of the next week. We have joint custody with a 50/50 parenting agreement. I love my son, and I don't want to relinquish overnight time. Her problem is that she thinks my son doesn't get enough sleep, acts out because of the constant shifting of homes. In reality, he only switches frequently during the Monday and Wednesday portion of the week. No other time.

In any case, she believes it is the reason he is acting out. She's willing to throw up our pediatrician, therapists, etc. to defeat me in court should I go there. She wants to have him over night every night because he's a three year old that acts out.

Is this possible? Is there some research out there I can look at somewhere? I would prefer to never give up any time with my son, but I don't want to hinder his development. I suggested a week to week schedule, but she shot that down. She wants to have him sleep at her place all the time. I still get him on my days, but he never sleeps at my house (we live roughly a mile apart).
posted by MMALR to Human Relations (58 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Would it be possible for the child to stay put, while the parents move back and forth? That's a lot of disruption for a little kid.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:45 AM on April 8, 2011 [10 favorites]

You might want to talk to a therapist. However, it is hard to say given the little information you have here to weigh in. Please remember one thing. The child is 3 1/2. Kids that age act out. So, it may be normal toddler behavior or it may not. The key will be to determine if it is normal and if so, then it is not going to change if he stays with Mom every single night.

Please continue striving to be an active, participatory parent to your child. It sounds like you are and that's worth your weight in gold.
posted by onhazier at 5:46 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Why don't you just solve the problem by alternating complete weeks instead? You'd still have 50/50 time, and your son wouldn't have the disruption of so much switching. (Kids that age really like routine.)
posted by Kololo at 5:47 AM on April 8, 2011 [18 favorites]

That stinks. I'm really sorry.

A 3 1/2 year whose parents divorce is going to hurt, no matter what the schedule. Things will not magically be better if mom gets her way.

The schedule you outlined does seem hectic though. The every other night thing sounds stressful for everyone. What if you modified your schedule to have more consistent chunks of time? My ex and I have 50/50 custody and we do 3 days one week, 4 days the next, but the days are consectutive. If I was switching houses every day like that I would be acting out too!!
posted by ian1977 at 5:48 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is switching homes too often detrimental to his development or is this acting out a phase?

Well, I fucking hated it, and I made it known. Give the poor bastard a home.
posted by pompomtom at 5:49 AM on April 8, 2011 [10 favorites]

Wow, that schedule sounds exhausting and I'm not even 3 years old. Although, I don't think it's a lack of sleep, it is probably more to not having a consistent life. I don't think 3 year olds are capable of understanding consistency on a 2 week cycle. It sounds more like he doesn't feel he has a stable life and from the little I know, it's consistency and stability that they really need at that age.

On preview: onhazier also makes a good point that coincidentally this is also the age kids start to push their boundaries anyway so there's probably a good deal of that going on as well.
posted by like_neon at 5:49 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Switching houses 8 times every 2 weeks sounds pretty nutty. Surely there's a middle-ground solution between this and your ex-wife's preferred solution?
posted by jon1270 at 5:49 AM on April 8, 2011 [12 favorites]

Oh! Sorry. Saw that she already shot down that option.

I think that sleeping at her place every night is a fairly clear violation of '50/50 parenting', and would probably create more propblems by creating a 'home handoff' every single day he's with you. The alternate week thing seems fair, solves the switching problem, and can probably be backed up by a therapist (or a lawyer, if need be.)
posted by Kololo at 5:49 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Consistent bedtime is a biggie for little kids. But taking a kid away from a loving parent isn't the answer. The answer is for you & mom to work together to make sure junior's bedtime routine is very similar in both houses. Same time to head upstairs, same bath routine, same choice between two paris of PJs, same phone call to the other parent, same number of storybooks, same coming back to tuck him in 10 minutes after lights out, etc. Obviously with variations here and there, but the consistent routine and the harmony between two loving parents is what he needs, not removal from one parent's home.

I would suggest having your lawyer/mediator/whoever write up a proposal and send it to her so that if/when she rejects it, and if/when she drags you into court, you can show a good-faith effort to work with her.

Full disclosure: Your ex doesn't know how good she's got it. I've been the custodial parent since my boys were tykes and I just hate seeing either parent decide unilaterally that taking a kid away from the other, loving, parent is ever a good thing.
posted by headnsouth at 5:50 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, she agreed to a 50/50 custody. The judge would not take that lightly.
posted by ian1977 at 5:51 AM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was a one-week on, one week off child from the age of four. My mother said she realized it was a mistake when I had to be sent home from pre-school because of hysterics triggered by the assignment "draw your house." Here is my take: switching houses is ***TERRIBLE*** for children. There is no stability, you grow up feeling like a pingpong ball, you can never adapt to the differing set of expectations fast enough, and it is a miserable existence for a little kid. One parent has to lose out on time. It's the only way to give the child the stability he/she/they need. I'm sorry. Stop this horrible, horrible game with your child. Find a better way.
posted by Ys at 5:55 AM on April 8, 2011 [18 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, he isn't switching 8 times a week as one person suggested. On the weeks he stays with me over the weekend, the switch is on Friday. I pick him up from daycare that afternoon and have him Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.

Take him to daycare on Tuesday, he stays with mommy that evening, I pick him up Wednesday from daycare, I have him that evening, then he goes back to mommy for Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun. I then get him Monday. And the cycle repeats.
posted by MMALR at 6:10 AM on April 8, 2011

Well, he isn't switching 8 times a week as one person suggested.

Check again. It was 8 times in 2 weeks, which is exactly what you've described.
posted by jon1270 at 6:14 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, so, he has 5 switches in a two week period.

Well, he isn't switching 8 times a week as one person suggested. On the weeks he stays with me over the weekend, the switch is on Friday. (ONE) I pick him up from daycare that afternoon and have him Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.

Take him to daycare on Tuesday, he stays with mommy that evening (TWO), I pick him up Wednesday from daycare, I have him that evening(THREE), then he goes back to mommy (FOUR) for Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun. I then get him Monday(FIVE). And the cycle repeats.

Still a lot.
posted by Kololo at 6:14 AM on April 8, 2011

Have you ever heard of nesting? If you are only 1 mile apart and otherwise get along and both of you are really all about the kid, then it's possible that it could work for you. Essentially it means that the kid stays in one place and the parents are the ones in & out on a week-by-week or day-by-day schedule.
posted by headnsouth at 6:15 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

You're going to want to talk to your lawyer about this. The question here is what's in the best interests of the child, not what your ex thinks is causing his behavioral issues. The courts are pretty sensitive to the idea that having both parents is important, so you've got something to work with. But defending that proposition is going to probably require some legal maneuvering, for which you need a lawyer.

I have to say though, the current arrangement does sound pretty chaotic. Alternating entire weeks does sound like an easier option for everyone involved. But again, selling that to the judge will probably require a lawyer. If having your son stay with you is important to you, you're going to have to fight for it.

Also: he's three and a half. It would almost be abnormal for a kid that age not to act out, particularly in a stressful situation like this one.
posted by valkyryn at 6:15 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you revisit the week at a time thing? For 50/50 custody and minimal disruption, longer periods with each parent would be ideal. Your ex-wife sounds like she's just trying to find ways to take the kid from you.
posted by Anonymous at 6:16 AM on April 8, 2011

You should talk with your lawyer immediately, and you should probably stop posting about this on the internet unless your lawyer tells you it's okay. You need legal advice badly. Yes, it's possible that your child is suffering the effects of your custody situation. It's also possible that he's just going through a toddler phase and is fine. But none of us can tell you that, nor can we tell you how to gather evidence about that without jeopardizing your custody situation. Only your lawyer can tell you how to prevent your wife from taking your child from you as you try to figure out what's going on here.

(Honestly, if I were you, I'd ask the mods to delete this question. Your custody arrangement is unusual enough to be recognizable to anyone who knows you or your wife, and you definitely don't want to be in court and be asked "On April 8, 2011, did you post on the internet that you were afraid that sleeping at your house would hinder your child's development?")
posted by decathecting at 6:23 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I was already likely going to talk to a lawyer, but I suppose the question is whether this is actually detrimental to his development.

@decathecting Hmmm... I never actually said I was afraid that sleeping at my house would hinder his development. I'm simply asking if the premise of the discussion is warranted.
posted by MMALR at 6:26 AM on April 8, 2011

the fact that she shot down a week to week option makes me think she just wants what she wants, which is her child at home and not that she is thinking of what is best for the child or what might be causing the acting out.

it is a reasonable compromise and would be less confusing for a small child. talk to your lawyer. he needs both of you so don't back down on your time with him, however it is hammered out.
posted by domino at 6:29 AM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not a parent, but was a child of separated parents.

Frankly this arrangement does sound terrible to me, too many changes and no stable home base. But I also don't think the week to week thing sounds good... I think as a child constantly going a week without seeing the other parent would be terrible. Little kids miss their parents.

I don't really remember what my parents did before I started school, but once I did they worked it out so that my dad picked me up from school on Friday and dropped me off on Monday morning each week. I'd say they both got fairly equal time with me - my mother had me more days, but since I was at school for a big chunk of the days she had it evened it up a bit. Could you do a half-week each arrangement where the blocks are straight e.g she has him Monday-half of Thursday and you have him the other half of Thursday-Sunday?

I think regardless of what you do now you're going to have to work something different out once your son starts school. Keeping track of where their homework, notices from school, etc. are is hard enough for young kids without constantly moving houses thrown into the mix. So even if it's not the cause of his acting out (and I think it's probably at the very least a contributing factor) I think it would be beneficial to your son if you do try to find a different system.
posted by lwb at 6:37 AM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: @lwb Actually, that is fairly close to what I believe is a solution.
posted by MMALR at 6:39 AM on April 8, 2011

I suppose the question is whether this is actually detrimental to his development

No one here is going to have the information necessary to give any kind of reasonable answer to that question. Is switching households twice a week a big deal to a pre-schooler? Yes. Is that worse than spending less time with his father? Who can say?

Really though, the fact that she's unwilling for the kid to spend any nights with you is kind of a red flag. That's not what one would consider to be a reasonable position from which to negotiate. Kids whose parents are divorced spend nights with both parents every day of the week, and the negatives associated with mere fact that they're "living" in two places is rarely enough to convince a judge that they outweigh the negatives associated with not spending time with both parents.
posted by valkyryn at 6:41 AM on April 8, 2011

I was 16 when my parents separated (my siblings were 13 and 10), and I think that schedule would have been exhausting for us, and we fully understood what was going on.

I think a one week on/one week off schedule sounds a LOT better. If she doesn't have a logical reason for shooting this down, you might want to try again.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:43 AM on April 8, 2011

MMALR, if you end up in trial over this, and it sounds as though your ex-wife wants to, it doesn't matter what you actually said. It matters how her lawyer will try to characterize what you said to make you look bad and make the situation look unhealthy for your child. Again, unless your lawyer tells you to, I wouldn't keep posting here. None of us can tell you what's going on with your child, and neither our speculation nor yours is going to help your legal case.
posted by decathecting at 6:45 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

lwb: Could you do a half-week each arrangement where the blocks are straight e.g she has him Monday-half of Thursday and you have him the other half of Thursday-Sunday?

MMALR: @lwb Actually, that is fairly close to what I believe is a solution.

Hmmm, weekends with dad (FUN!) and school days with mom (RULES!). Not sure that's fair either.
posted by headnsouth at 6:45 AM on April 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Kids are pretty flexible. Yeah, he's got to adjust to the changes, but after a while, going between the two houses is going to be his normal. and he'll be ok. Mom wants him to sleep every night at her house because it's easier for her - well, tough beans. You have your rights too, and she doesn't get to unilaterally decide. I would talk to your lawyer, present her with a couple of options - week to week, with phone calls or other contact so he doesn't miss the parent he's not with too much, or the half week thing suggested above (but rotated so that mom get some weekends too). She agreed to 50/50 custody, it's what's best, and you should vigorously defend it. Joint custody doesn't put her in charge - please do stand up for what will be best for your son in the long run, even if there are a few bumpy spots as everyone adjusts.
posted by lemniskate at 6:50 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

My parents did this to me (I was a little older, but not much). I hated it. My mom has since said that she thinks it was a bad idea and has read research saying that kids need a lot more stability than this type of arrangement provides. I'd strongly recommend a week-to-week or month-to-month plan or an arrangement where the adults are the ones moving.
posted by mkuhnell at 6:59 AM on April 8, 2011

SOME kids are flexible. Some have a very hard time with transition. And others who might ordinarily be okay with some amount of transition may find themselves struggling with it because in a situation like this one, it's a more tangible, practical, logistical thing to react against than a larger sense of sudden instability.
posted by mothershock at 7:00 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had about the same number of switches in my custody schedule starting when I was 6, and I hated it. It was emotionally taxing, I spent way too much time in the car, my friends never knew where to find me, my stuff would end up at the wrong house.

However, your kid's mom's suggestion sounds actually much worse. Instead of decreasing the number of switches, it doubles them - to your house and back every night you would have custody, instead of just going to your house and staying there. It may lead to fewer problems about where his favorite shirt is, but emotionally changing houses is still changing houses. On top of which it kind of leaves you acting as a babysitter instead of a parent. If you want to decrease the switches, go to a schedule like 3 days on, 4 days off, or alternating weeks.

I would also like to say that I don't know much about 3-year-olds' development, but for my brother and I, our acting out around house-switching transitions seems in retrospect less like it was about the logistical difficulties of moving house and much more attributable to the emotional difficulties of being trapped between parents who were openly at war with each other, and who had seriously divergent opinions and desires about our behavior and personalities. These are not conflicts that can be resolved by changing where one sleeps.
posted by unsub at 7:02 AM on April 8, 2011 [9 favorites]

My parents did two weeks with dad, two weeks with mom from the time I was 2 1/2 till I started kindergarten. There are no stories of me having meltdowns (there are from the K-12 years of every-other-weekend, summers-and-every-other-Christmas, etc.)

I don't think your situation is a great idea; I remember being very stressed about things like "what pajamas are clean at Mom's house" and "I miss my stuffed doggie because I couldn't bring him to school" and "I don't have the right clothes for picture day because I stayed with Mom this weekend." Not to mention the fact that I never got invited to sleepovers or playdates because none of my friends' parents wanted to schedule around my relatively straightforward scheme (there were also always questions over which parent they were supposed to go through.) Only people who knew both of my parents from when they were married were ever up for dealing with it, though part of that was that my parents hated each other and were unhelpful.

Anyway, kids at this age are usually a handful, and you're putting him through an awful lot of transitions, and it can't help that you and his mom are apparently not so great at communicating in good faith and solving problems.

(I also think you should get a mod to delete this question.)
posted by SMPA at 7:12 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

One quick way to see if this is really about your child, or just about her own desires. is to offer to be the one who takes him every night. Same stability, same rationale, only she's the one with less visitation. If this is completely unacceptable to your ex, listen to how she couches her argument. There's your answer.
posted by Mchelly at 7:23 AM on April 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

Stability is important, but flexibility is too. I would hate that arrangement, and my younger siblings HATED my parents' solution to this problem- 4 days on, 4 days off. But kids hate all kinds of things. Who is to say they wouldn't be just as miserable with everyone under one happy roof? How you deal with it, and how you teach them to deal with it, is much more important.

Not to mention, the more buzzing around that the parents do, treating him like the Stanley Cup, the more likely he is to be messed up.

Lesson: whatever the solution, it has to be one that works best for all the people in the family, not just the individuals.

(I also think you should get a mod to delete this question.)

Why? Because of some fear of lawyers? It already exists, it can be found, deleting it just makes it look like there is something to hide, and deleting it in fear of legal recourse could be construed as obstruction of some kind.
posted by gjc at 7:39 AM on April 8, 2011

When I got divorced, I had that exact same arrangement! One of the hard parts is that any clothes that I bought ended up being worn and then taken off at their mom's and then I would never see the clothes again. Also, the kids were probably confused about when they would see mom or dad. Soon after, we switched our agreement so that I have them on Monday and Tuesday, she has them Wednesday and Thursday, and we continue to swap Friday through Sunday. I think it's a lot easier on everyone.

The other suggestion we've considered is swapping weeks, but that has two problems as I see it. 1) I don't want to be away from my kids for a week at a time / nor do I think they want to be away from me for a week at a time. 2) It's difficult to have regularly scheduled activities / work schedules / day care schedules / bus schedules for both kids and parents.

The kids were 3 and 4 when we first got divorced. They're 9 and 10 now. But during the first couple of years, they did tend to act out more -- it's definitely rough on them switching houses, just like it's rough on us being on-again and off-again parents. And when we switched to the new schedule, they still had more acting out on "transition days" -- Wednesdays when they were leaving me, Fridays when they were coming back to me to stay for the weekend, and Mondays after they'd been with my ex for the weekend.

We also made agreements about swapping major holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). And I more recently include Halloween, because I wanted to be sure have them at least every other Halloween.

Like I said it's rough on everybody. But I think it's worth fighting for, keeping that initially decreed 50/50 custody arrangement. There's a financial incentive too, of course. But mostly to continue your ongoing relationship with your kids.

Rather than give in on her idea of keeping the kids, I'd suggest a counter-offer of stringing more days together. I'd also suggest not bringing lawyers into it but trying to settle it between the two of you. If you come to an agreement, make a written copy, each of you sign it maybe get it notarized (witnessed).
posted by indigo4963 at 7:41 AM on April 8, 2011

It isn't about how many switches, any more than it's about equity between parents. It's about kids functioning better when they have ONE home base. One baseline of expectations, one model on which to build their mental world, one place that they can completely power-down and know that THIS is where they belong, today, tomorrow, a thousand years for now. ONE place they belong, even when mommy or daddy is angry, even when they are upset and don't want it, even anything. It doesn't work well with two. I've been there, I've lived it, and I know I'm not saying what you want to hear, but it is the God's honest truth. One of you has to make a sacrifice so that your precious child, who is right now learning *everything* about how the world works and where they fit into it, can develop a solid, unshakeable, baseline for what is normal & where they fit in the world. Do not do one-on/one-off parenting. It is bad for your child. Your ex wife's instincts are correct: Something is not going right, and it is rooted in where your child goes home to sleep at night.
posted by Ys at 7:42 AM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: @Ys That sort of logic seems incorrect, but perhaps I'm wrong. Wouldn't switching him constantly every evening be more detrimental to his development?
posted by MMALR at 7:47 AM on April 8, 2011

Response by poster: @Mchelly Heh, that suggestion has been shot down for the obvious reasons. It wasn't acceptable to her. Plus, I doubt I could pull that off as she is the custodial in the agreement. Although, that would be something to look into.
posted by MMALR at 7:51 AM on April 8, 2011

Ys: "It's about kids functioning better when they have ONE home base."

Do you think maybe you are generalizing your personal experience to a universal?
posted by Chrysostom at 7:55 AM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I grew up switching houses from @ age 7 to age 14. Half the week with my Dad, half with my Mom. It was very difficult for me at times, and by the time i got to high school I forced a custody change so I could actually live at one house most of the time like a normal person.

I imagine it's much more difficult for a toddler that's just starting to understand his world. This is a really hard situation and there is no easy answer but I urge you to keep his welfare (not your desire to see him) foremost in your decision.
posted by gnutron at 8:20 AM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

In terms of development, you want something consistent and predictable. As long as that holds, everyone is better off. The current arrangement hurts my head to think about. The kid needs you and needs mum. I'd split every week (pretty much what I've done).
posted by idb at 8:27 AM on April 8, 2011

My partner's kids are under the same arrangement. Have been for three years now. They're fine. Kids adapt, and they act out. Your ex is using this as a wedge. Don't let her. Fight it, or you will never get the kid back.
posted by Etrigan at 8:35 AM on April 8, 2011

Good luck. This sounds so sad for everyone. I hope you figure something out.

I just wanted to say that I had a very happy childhood as the child of divorced parents and the key to my routine was that it was consistent.

Every morning Dad would come and pick me up from Mum's house and drop me off at school. Weekends were spent with Dad. These two things were absolutely non-negotiable and never changed throughout the whole of the time I was in school (the divorce happened when I was about 6).
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:40 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds awful for a child of that age. yes, 3 year old act out a lot but you're not making it any better (and I mean both of you, both you and your ex-wife). When you say he's "acting out" though, what do you mean? There's a wide range for what that could mean and on the extreme end, I definitely think all that switching back and forth could be contributing. Kids that age crave routine and stability. Please put aside what you want to have and make sure you're giving your child what he needs.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:10 AM on April 8, 2011

Best answer: Sorry in advance for the novel. I have a lot of firsthand experience with this.

Ys, I'm with Chrysostom. I feel great sympathy for your experience but I believe it's clouding your ability to answer with much objectivity.

MMALR: I am a parent in a blended household. Our situation is extraordinarily similar to yours. My child is now a teenager. Feel free to MeMail for additional details if you like; I don't want to go into great detailed depth publicly.

Your ex is playing games (albeit certainly out of a position of love and concern). The fact is that three-year-olds simply act out, and children who are dealing with divorce simply act out. Your child would be acting out regardless of the custody schedule. You mentioned your pediatrician and therapists... they should be able to back this up. (Does your son have his own dedicated therapist? I highly recommend getting one right now. A counselor who can serve as your son's advocate no matter what the parents have going on will be useful for the next 15 years, I promise you—as will getting your child accustomed and comfortable with talking to a shrink who can be neutral ground when he feels torn between Mom and Dad)

That said, there are indeed things you can do to make it easier on your child. Right now, what is killing you all is the Mon-Tues-Wed blocks, to my eyes. I think it's impossibly hard on any household to have a kid flip-flop like that.

The flip-flopping was especially difficult on our kid. Her parents accepted the "expanded standard possession" schedule that Texas courts issued at the time, and she was miserable. It wasn't for want of the other parent... it was the lack of routine, the lack of stability and uncertainty.

We went to "Week On, Week Off" when she was 7, at her request. She knew a classmate who did it successfully and she came home from school one day and asked us if we could switch. We sat down with her therapist, and then the attorneys, and everyone signed off on it. It was a god-send and truly has made life better for everyone involved. Kiddo comes home after school to our house on Fridays, returns to mom's house on the following Friday after school. No nasty interaction between the exes at drop-off, no worrying over where the homework assignments or backpack are, and the only clothes to go missing are the ones she wears to school on the Friday at the end of our week. (And we solved that by simply sending her to school in something that was Mom's but ended up in our laundry from a prior switch anyway)

Does she miss the non-custodial parent at times? Of course. And we resolved that by creating a total-access policy. At dad's house and miss mommy, even in the middle of the night? You can pick up the phone and call her any time, no questions asked. At mom's house and miss dad? He can come by after dinner and take you for ice cream.

Something else that we found wildly useful, and still use years later: a big 2' x 3' wall calendar hung in a place that everyone can see. Nights spend at our house have the date circled, uncircled nights mean kiddo is at mom's. This gives her a way to always access the information about where she'll be and when. We do it at least a month in advance so she can see as far out as she likes. Kids can't remember "first, third, fifth weekend and every other Thursday"—but they can look at the calendar in the kitchen at breakfast and know where they'll be sleeping that night. And now as a teen, she still uses the calendar regularly. If she has a sleepover invite or an extracurricular practice for some day next week, she can check the calendar to see who to ask for permission or a ride.

Points I want to highlight and emphasize from other commenters:

>> "Your custody arrangement is unusual enough to be recognizable to anyone who knows you or your wife"

Actually, not really. This is a fairly standard custodial arrangement for 50/50 parents. I can tell by the days you specified that you are almost certainly not in Texas, but other than that, every state has some variation of joint custody that looks mostly like this.

ian1977 is spot on. Fewer changes by going to consecutive days with a 3-4 split is what would be best for kiddo plus fair to mom and dad right now. (Though I advocate moving to WO-WO as soon as you can. And I agree with headnsouth that it's not at all fair for one parent to be Fun Weekend Parent and the other to be Mean Schoolnight Bedtime Showering Homework Parent.)

Kololo said "I think that sleeping at her place every night is a fairly clear violation of '50/50 parenting', and would probably create more propblems by creating a 'home handoff' every single day he's with you." Totally completely agree with this.

You need to also be wary of setting precedent. If you feel so sad for your little guy now that you just say, "Eh, well, he can have 5 nights a week with mom and I'll be 'weekend dad' for just a little while till things get more settled for him," I guarantee your ex (who has already indicated that she's happy to run to courts, doctors, shrinks, etc. rather than collaborate on a solution) turns up in a year with a petition to reduce your decreed 50-50—on the basis that you already agreed to give it up, kiddo is so much happier now, and why rock the boat.

You need to stay firm and strong. Don't fall for "but he neeeeeeeeds his Mommmmmmmyyyy". He needs his Daddy just as much right now. He needs to see that both parents still love him and are still going to always be in his life.

Precedent is everything in family court. Family judges want to disrupt kids as little as possible. I hate to sound so aggressive but you simply must not budge one inch on your 50-50 time. You and your ex can arrange that 50-50 time in such a way that it works best for all three parties—but if you give up any overnight custody days now, you must accept the possibility that you'll lose them forever.

I disagree with the posters who've said that the only "right" thing to do is for kiddo to be in one consistent home all the time. As Ziggy500 illustrated, what a kid needs is access to both of his loving, concerned parents... and he needs a stable routine where he feels safe and loved. Households all over the country are successfully providing those things without having to resort to one parent losing all custody or both parents having to co-habitate again in the nesting scenario.

Custody changes are an awful fact of life after divorce; frankly I think custody issues are the most awful result of divorce. But the alternatives—where one parent has to settle for less time with their child... or a miserable, arguing, hateful couple staying together "For The Children".... or a child staying put in one place while adults move in and out around him like orbiting planets—are far worse. The sooner all three of you get used to it, and accept it as the new reality, the easier and healthier it will be on your child.

And at the end of day, take comfort in two things:

One—your child is going to learn resilience, thanks to this. There are so many children out there living in nuclear perfect families who are handed every comfort and every rescue in the world, lest they dare suffer inconveniences or unpleasantness. Those kids are going to fail and crash when they hit the real world. Of course you never wished it for him, but divorce has one silver developmental lining: that these circumstances will help your kid learn new ways to be strong and brave and independent.

And, finally, something that a very wise child psychologist told me years ago and that comforted me many times over the years: custody battles are, at their very core, the problem that befalls a child with two parents who love him so much that they disagree about how best to proceed. In the grand scheme of things, when you consider the kids whose lives are wracked with alcoholism, abuse, abandonment, homelessness, hunger... this is a better problem to have.

Good luck. Go straight to your experts—the ones who would be testifying for you should it come to that. Don't just accept your ex's authoritative declaration that giving up dad time is what's best for your son—you'll be letting him down in the long run if you do that.
posted by pineapple at 9:19 AM on April 8, 2011 [26 favorites]

AnectdoteFilter: Friends with a four year old had a similarly-hectic schedule when they divorced. Worked fine for a month or two, then the kid just melted down. Trauma, drama, trauma, add in a therapist and some lawyers - out the other end comes a court-ordered arrangement where the parents are ordered to give the kid his own bedroom in each house that he can assist in decorating himself (he'd been sleeping in bed with Mom...) and consistent custody swap on Mondays after preschool. No exceptions, no excuses. Mom's pissed as hell, BUT... the kid's happy and settled.

I'm glad my only dependent is yellow, has floppy ears, and will do anything I say to get peanut butter smeared on the inside of a Kong...
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:47 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

My parents split up when I was in my late teens and my younger siblings ranged from elementary school through high school age. We had a setup not unlike what you have now - I think it was MWF at one house, Tue/Thurs at another house, and then there was this complicated weekend arrangement, and I think which parent got the extra weekday also shifted based on whose weekend it was.

It was a lot to keep up with for me, as a senior in high school. It pretty much broke my youngest siblings. Who were not toddlers. While I'm happy that we got to maintain close ties to both parents - and I think for someone like me maybe it was worth all the forgotten math homework - the schedule was insane. It would have been better to switch off weekly or maybe even bi-monthly. Just so that you could sleep in the same bed for two nights in a row, or know that if you put clothes in the hamper at dad's you wouldn't be out of clean socks at mom's by the end of the week.

I cannot imagine what this would do to a younger child.
posted by Sara C. at 9:50 AM on April 8, 2011

OP: I sent you a me-mail
Chrysostom: Of course I am generalizing my experience. But I wouldn't share at all if I thought my experience were unique. I am ardently convinced that ping-pong custody is a Bad Thing, the result of chalkboard logic that doesn't play out well in real life.
posted by Ys at 10:02 AM on April 8, 2011

I was 11 when my parents split up. For a while after the separation I lived primarily with my mother, they alternated weekends, and once a week my dad would come get us for the evening and then take us home.

The days when we woke up at home, went to school, went to Dad's, and then went home were the really exhausting ones. I can't imagine what it would have been like to do that half time. Crazy. No way, no.
posted by galadriel at 10:03 AM on April 8, 2011

Ys: "Chrysostom: Of course I am generalizing my experience. But I wouldn't share at all if I thought my experience were unique. I am ardently convinced that ping-pong custody is a Bad Thing, the result of chalkboard logic that doesn't play out well in real life."

Fair enough, and sorry if I came off hostile. But generalizing from my own experience as a child of being 100% with the one parent, I think lack of balance and a reasonable amount of time with both parents is also a Bad Thing.

I guess the issue is that we have people saying:

* Lack of parental presence in the kid's life is bad.
* Too much switching is bad.
* Not having a set home base is bad.

I feel like we're trying to square the circle.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:13 AM on April 8, 2011

My parents were separated and lived across town when I was 5. I spent weekends with my dad. I don't consciously remember any ill effect from 'switching houses'. Obviously there are individual differences, but on the surface, I think the argument that "it's bad for him to not have a home base" is rather baseless when you live A MILE APART. You could literally walk him to each other's houses if he was having some kind of crisis and needed to see Mom or Dad. I think as long as both homes are equally "homey" - he has a bedroom, not just a couch; he has rules, etc.- a kid, especially that young, can adapt to two home bases. Plenty of families move around A TON with children, for all sorts of reasons, and they usually turn out OK.

You don't mention how long you've been divorced. It's going to take a kid that young awhile to process 'divorce' in general; regardless of how/when he visits you. Maybe a child psychologist could help figure out if it's actually the moving around or just generally accepting that Mom and Dad don't and won't live together anymore. Ask the kid how HE would ideally want to visit both of you. And be prepared to sacrifice if he feels safer/better sleeping at Mom's all the time.

I do think it sounds more stable and less stressful to do a one-week-with each parent arrangement. The fact that your wife shoots this down without even trying (or asking your son) seems to suggest more of a power struggle than a desire to keep 50/50 custody intact. (For one thing, I think it sounds just as stressful and disruptive to have a whole day with Dad and then have to go to Mom's house to go to bed, as it is to switch days off like you have been).
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:12 PM on April 8, 2011

valkyryn: Really though, the fact that she's unwilling for the kid to spend any nights with you is kind of a red flag. That's not what one would consider to be a reasonable position from which to negotiate.

Unless you know the OP and his ex, you have no idea if it's reasonable or not. (This was my mother's position when I was a child, and she was absolutely right -- I should never have been forced to spend time with my a-hole father.)

But to agree with many others, this is too much switching. Give the kid a (happy) home and keep him away from -- and out of -- any disagreements. Even if it means letting go, or disappearing altogether.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:13 PM on April 8, 2011

It's 5 switches one week and 3 switches the other.
That is 8 nights out of 14.

Build some consistency into his life, please.
posted by SLC Mom at 1:22 PM on April 8, 2011

I think you're stuck in some kind of "all or nothing" thinking. This schedule involves a great deal of switching back and forth, and you don't want it to get framed as "THIS schedule or 100% at his mother's house."

You say your ex-wife has "shot down" every-other week, but why? Can't you formally propose that through your lawyers? Is there any good reason you have the schedule written as it is? It seems deliberately designed to switch him as much as possible. After working it out on three sheets of paper with two different color pens, I think I understand it -- you alternate days within weeks M-Th, and then alternate between weeks Fri-Sat-Sun -- but even the simple schedule change of having him stay with one parent M-T and the other W-Th would eliminate HALF of the switching.

My point is, you may want to actually take the initiative on "this schedule isn't working".

She's willing to throw up our pediatrician, therapists, etc. to defeat me in court should I go there. She wants to have him over night every night because he's a three year old that acts out.

It's really unclear what this sentence means, but it's what made me think you're thinking all-or-nothing. Have you talked to his "team" on the subject? What have they actually *said*? I don't mean to imply your ex is being dishonest, but people often interpret messages to mean what they want to hear. His "team" may actually be saying that yes, this very switchy schedule is bad for him. That doesn't necessarily mean they're on "her side" -- in fact, if you want to modify his schedule to something with longer periods, they may well be on "your side".
posted by endless_forms at 3:26 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are so many other ways to do 50-50.

I'm not going to type them all out, but google parenting schedule, or just ask your lawyer.

But beware -- in some states, overnights determine the precedent for the custodial parent as well as child support.

Get with your lawyer on this, and give up 50-50 at your peril.

Your kiddo will get through this.
posted by freshwater at 5:44 PM on April 8, 2011

The nigHt and sleep thing makes me wonder if there is a major difference between amount and or quality of sleep between the two houses. Kids need a ritual or routine of sleep and losing that absolutely affects behavior.
posted by geek anachronism at 6:30 PM on April 8, 2011

I know I suggested 50/50, but on reading other's responses I think it is telling that the children of divorced parents are almost universally saying "Switching was incredibly tough at best, agonizing at worst" while the divorced parents themselves are saying "It's OK! They'll adjust!"

I know who I would listen to, but it's probably not who you want to listen to.
posted by Anonymous at 7:16 PM on April 8, 2011

I have a friend who has shared custody of their now 4.5 year old, the divorce happened when she was 3. Dad picks the kid up on Sunday morning, and Mom picks her up from daycare on Tuesday evening, every week. The kid does fine. But when they deviate from that routine, the kid has a really hard time adjusting.

My husband is sitting here playing Angry Birds, and I told him about this question. His parents divorced when he was 18 months old, and he's always dealt with joint custody arrangements. He says "The worst year of my life was the year my parents tried to do 50/50 custody. It was horrible. I didn't have two homes, I had two aways. It was like living in hotels all the time. I don't know about the OP's kid, but I did way better when I had one Home and one Away, even if I was at the Away for a couple days a week."
posted by KathrynT at 10:47 PM on April 8, 2011

I will offer myself as a counterpoint to all of the anecdata from folks who grew up experiencing difficulty with 50-50 custody arrangements. My parents divorced when I was three, and shared custody equally until I was around 7. I did fantastically well with that, and felt like my life fell apart when 50-50 was lost (due to my mother and stepfather wanting to move, which my father agreed to). It took over 15 years for my relationship with my father to recover. Even though it was an agonizing decision for him, I didn't know that at the time, and I grew up wondering why I was so unimportant to him that he'd let my mother take me away. Switching houses is hard for a kid, but feeling unimportant to a parent is a hell of a lot harder.
posted by amelioration at 10:07 AM on April 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

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