Should we revise the custody schedule?
September 13, 2021 7:50 AM   Subscribe

My son seems to be having some difficulty with the 50/50 custody. I'm not sure if this is an adjustment period that we need to power through or if it's worth changing the schedule?

My ex and I have 50/50 custody of our two sons, 2.5 and 7 months. We alternate on a 3/4 schedule with one of us having 3 nights/week and the other having 4 - then it switches the next week.

This a relatively new schedule. My oldest son has been doing the 3/4 for a couple months now but I would still see him each day because I had to pick up our youngest who was only with his father after daycare and didn't do overnights yet. We built up the number of overnights over a couple weeks until we are where we are now. In the beginning, I was really worried about the schedule for my youngest but didn't think it would cause too much issue with my two-year-old. Now I'm wondering if I was wrong and should modify the schedule?

Now that both kids are on the 3/4 schedule I don't see them until it's my time again. I still do video calls to say good night and such but I don't see them in person. It's been about a month of this. Whenever I get my 2-year-old back he seems to really want attention and refuses to do anything alone. He won't go to the bathroom on his own anymore - he's mostly potty trained - and keeps having accidents (but just with me, nowhere else). He's up a few times a night and is upset that I'm not in bed with him - he usually just climbs into my bed now in the middle of the night. He wants to breastfeed and wants to be carried and held all the time. When I do video calls with him he talks to me for about 30-35 minutes which is super atypical - he usually can only talk for like 10 minutes max. Really he just seems to need a lot of attention and reassurance at the moment but from me in particular not his dad.

When he goes to his dad, he's been saying he doesn't want to go sometimes and lately I've been getting calls after he's been gone for an hour or two because he says he misses me. Yesterday, I had to drop something off at his dad's house and he was there. He was excited to see me and when I told him I had to leave he was pretty upset and asked me to stay for a while and play. When I finally did leave he cried.

My ex pulled me aside and asked about changing the visitation schedule since it seemed like our son didn't want to be with him and he didn't want to force him to. I think it also might have hurt his feelings a bit.

For background, I've always been the primary caretaker for my kids. My ex and I split up last year when I was pregnant with our youngest. We'd been living together but he effectively moved out of our apartment and only visited (this was before our breakup). So it was mostly my son and I. Since this was during covid and daycare was closed he was with me all the time. I ended up moving out and buying house across town closer to my family. The house had to be renovated and we spent about 3 months living with my family until I delivered my youngest son.

After he was born we moved into the new house. For the first few months dad visited until we arrived at this custody schedule with the help of the court system.
I'm thinking that this is too much change for our son to handle, even if he loves his dad and has spent time with him. I'm not sure what to do because, I don't want to stress our son out more but I also feel he needs to have a relationship with his father.

His father requested 50/50 custody but I think he's been struggling with it's demands at times ( as all parents do). A part of me wonders if his request is really asking for reprieve instead of him digging to make our son feel more comfortable instead of just calling me though that may be irrelevant. I'm not sure what's best at this time?
posted by CosmicSeeker42 to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
50/50 custody is totally reasonable for you but a lot of moving around for the kids. That’s a lot of back and forth, quickly, and the days aren’t even the same week by week. I had roughly that schedule when I was a kid, and I could be over personalizing this, but it was not good for me. I would think about either extending the days with each parent - like 7 and 7 so you still have equal custody - or giving the kids some stability by temporarily altering the balance of physical custody. That’s just one person’s opinion and I’m in no way any kind of expert.
posted by kerf at 8:37 AM on September 13 [7 favorites]

That is a lot of change, along with the moving and the pandemic thrown in. Is there any chance the kids could stay in the same place 100% of the time while you and your ex cycle in and out according to the schedule? That would eliminate a lot of the churn and lessen the start-stop-start feeling the kids may have about changing households. It's not for everyone, though.

My kids were initially on a similar schedule (they were older) but that 3/4 to 4/3 switch from one weekend to the next meant that school and friend scheduling was a nightmare. Eventually we pared it down to the same schedule every week, or changed things wholesale (alternating whole weeks with one parent for a little while).

For some of the sadness and separation, could you try recording your video calls instead of calling live, so your son can choose the time when he "sees" you? This may give him some much needed control, while also reducing his anxiety, since it's not a set-up where he can really get you to stay or appeal real time. (I mean, this is obviously not the ideal because I know you also want to connect with him but, as a fellow divorced mom this is sometimes where we end up.) Your ex should absolutely be thinking about how to acknowledge your sons' emotions about missing you, coming up with ideas for reducing the sadness, helping the kids manage their emotions over it, and distracting them--ideally with fun or meaningful rituals of their own together. This will all need to be developmentally appropriate to be effective, but again, that's the work we do as parents about any kind of upset and sadness. So -- maybe your ex can build some skills there. Maybe you can leave a special shirt, or pillowcase, or fragrance, or stuffed animal that's your "stand in" so your kids can feel your presence. Maybe you give them a special bedtime book and cereal bowl to make the day begin and end with your love. Maybe after video calls with you Dad has "dance party kitchen" or "shaving cream bath time" or "bubble blowing around the block." Stuff like that, plus a little magical thinking at that age, can go a long way.

Regarding your ex's suggestion to change the schedule, I don't personally think a month is long enough to gauge how it's working for the adults unless there are some real work/health/mental health issues for the adult. That is, your sons' experience may demand a schedule change, but your ex's should not. It's ok if his feelings are hurt (one, stop taking it personally and two, get used to it). It's ok to parent through your kids wanting to be with the other parent. And parenting your kids alone as a divorced parent isn't "forcing" them to be with you. (I'm assuming there's no concern about your ex abusing, neglecting, etc. the kids.) This may sound a little "tough love" but the alternative (for you to take on more of the childcare, more of the family administration, more of the "knowing what Toddler and Baby Cosmic like/need") is often a tipping point into dads truly not having a real relationship with their kids and not knowing how to handle basic needs due to a lack of mundane daily connection and confidence. So if the change is mostly for your ex, then I say hang in there until you hit your stride and can be sure you're not changing things just because it's unfamiliar or uncomfortable.
posted by cocoagirl at 8:47 AM on September 13 [14 favorites]

Is your pediatrician someone you're comfortable talking to? It seems like they would have a feel for what works best at what ages/maturity levels, and then maybe a referral to a child development specialist to get some feedback and maybe training for the adults on what kind of messaging and techniques to use to make this easier.

I don't doubt it's going to take several months for the dust to settle, you definitely shouldn't decide it's not working just yet.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:50 AM on September 13 [1 favorite]

We are doing a 3/4/4/3 schedule, but it wouldn't work for everyone. Parent 1 has the kids Sunday - Tuesday, Parent 2 has the kids Thurs - Friday, Wednesdays alternate. This helps address the scheduling nightmare. It's worked well during the pandemic (but I only have experience with pandemic-based custody).

We started with a 2/2/5/5. The 5 days were too much (for both parents and the younger kid). I've seen that kids shouldn't be separated more days than their age. So, an 8 year old could to week on/off, but not a 5 year old. That said, shuffling every 2 days for the two year old sounds impractical.

My youngest had a hard time when I was around and couldn't stay or wasn't taking them home. So, I tried to avoid situations where I would need to be at my ex's house but not stay. I also rarely do calls with them when they are with my ex. It was too hard to say good bye to the kids. It took several months for the youngest to adjust to where having me drop by wasn't a big deal. Everyone seems to be better adjust now - 18 months into the custody schedule.

I agree with everything cocoagirl has said as well - especially the bits about encouraging your ex to find new ways to comfort the toddler. The parents set the custody schedule. My ex had a hard time, but he's stuck with it and is doing OK. It's too soon to shift away from 50/50 unless there is a mental health crisis or other extenuating circumstances.
posted by skunk pig at 9:05 AM on September 13

Would your ex be open to a revised schedule where he has the kids for after school and dinner and then they go home with you for bedtime? At their young ages and with bedtime routines already difficult to adhere to I think that they'd do better knowing that they'd be sleeping in the same bed each night.
posted by mezzanayne at 9:13 AM on September 13 [19 favorites]

You have a lot of good suggestions already.

You haven't said much about what activities and routines happen in each respective house. I'd suggest arranging some fun activities that only take place at Dad's place, and/or arranging for Dad to duplicate some of the activities that the kids like at your place.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:30 AM on September 13

In my jurisdiction that schedule would not be considered ideal for the 2.5 year old and unthinkable for the 7 month old. Your child is telling you it isn't working - what a great co-parent that your ex acknowledges that it isn't working either. I assume your ex will be fine with paying [increased] child support once the schedule is no longer 50/50 and that CS was not a factor in them requesting 50/50 parenting time.

Having the same nights be the "Daddy nights" give the children certainty. and a connection to their father without being away from their primary parent for too long. The every other weekend/one night a week schedule is popular for a reason - it gives the children a "home" (wouldn't YOU be discombobulated by so many changes weekly?) but parenting time with both parents.
posted by saucysault at 9:38 AM on September 13 [18 favorites]

When my son was younger (started at 3) we did 2-2-3. If your 2 year old wants to see both of you more, you're relatively close to each other, and low conflict it's a good schedule to try, it lets them see both of you a lot. It's hard to schedule things and requires a lot of communication though. We moved to a 3-4 schedule with consistent days and that's worked well since my son was 5 or 6. My 10 year old is still not ready for week on/week off.

All that said when my son was younger I wanted a 60-40 schedule or similar to meet my son's needs and would have been happy to have dad come by for dinner or do the school pick up and hang out until bedtime versus a full switching of houses, 2 is so young to be away from their primary caregiver for more than a couple nights. If you have the support from your family and your ex is committed to being there for his kids consistently I'd be open to working that out, but he has to really want to be there and you have to be open to adjusting as they get older so you're not doing all the heavy lifting and he gets to be the fun weekend dad.
posted by lafemma at 9:43 AM on September 13

Oh wow, this is really tough. I too think it admirable of your co-parent to notice this and bring it to you for shared problem-solving. I suspect given your kids' ages that you need a combination of calendar adjustment and some powering through.

My children were 16 months and 5 years when my husband moved out and we started sharing parenting time on a 2/2/3 schedule, operating on the assumption that at their very young ages, going more than two days without physically seeing their other parent was not ideal for them. We FaceTimed every single night and frequently included the other parent for lunch on "our" weekends. It was still hard on them, there were definitely tears and clinging when it was time for the other parent to leave, but they dissipated fairly quickly. If they were sobbing for hours afterward or unable to be comforted by the other parent, we definitely would have reevaluated the wisdom of those dynamics, but the benefit from seeing us frequently always seemed to outweigh the pain of separation.

We prepped and worried about our 5yo a ton but weren't sure what we could do, if anything, for the 16-month-old particularly since he was largely pre-verbal. I naively thought that since he was so young that he would be mostly fine, but he wasn't. His sleep was terrible, his appetite changed dramatically, he started biting at daycare. At that age, their routine is all they have and we had completely disrupted it. It took a solid three months for things to begin to calm down, and six months before we all felt more or less used to it. I am not surprised at all your oldest is having a lot of difficulty only a month in.

A few books geared toward children helped a lot: Two Homes, My Family's Changing, Mom and Dad Don't Live Together Anymore. I will never forget the way my daughter abruptly sat up, stared hard at the book, and then turned to me with amazement in her eyes and said, "This book is just like OUR family!" I felt something shift in her after that, just seeing her situation represented somehow brought more comfort and clarity to her life.
posted by anderjen at 11:03 AM on September 13 [3 favorites]

I split with my kid's dad when they were 4 and 7, and he only had them every other weekend, and the transitions back to my house were always hard. I planned for it, and we did very low key things- which mainly was staying at home, and allowing for much more vegging in front of the TV then was regularly allowed during the weeks when they were with me. To me it was super important that my kids have a consistent relationship with their dad (I didn't with mine, and I have lots of feelings about it), and I also wanted him to actually parent his children- this was a huge issue in our relationship breaking down. I insisted we keep the schedule, and I did not allow any changes at all until the kids social and extra curricular became more important to them. You might not be to this point yet with your kids being so little, but my kid free time was one of the best things for me to regain a sense of myself and to figure out what was next for me. My TLDR is transitions are hard, and your kiddos responses are developmentally appropriate, but that doesn't mean you need to change the visitation.
posted by momochan at 6:28 PM on September 13

I remember your previous questions about your children's father. A few questions:

How well does your eldest really know his father? Given his age and your timeline, along with what you say about him not really living with you while you were still together, he may seem like a visitor instead of a parent.

Does the father of your children actually have parenting skills for a toddler and infant? Like, does he just plant the toddler in front of a screen or does he interact and do age-appropriate stuff? Does he feed him age-appropriate food and bathes him and get him to bed on time? (I remember you had issues with him refusing to take care of your son's hair.). Does he have the patience to deal with a crying baby -- has he ever even been around a baby and a toddler at the same time?? Is he doing this on his own or does he have somebody helping him when the kids are there?

It sounds like a combination of your little guy not being ready and his father being overwhelmed. So, perhaps a re-evaluation of your custody agreement is in order.
posted by dancinglamb at 3:32 AM on September 14 [1 favorite]

dancinglamb's response got me to look at your other questions. I'll revise my response based on those previous questions.

For the short term, would it work to share custody where your ex has only one kid at a time? That is, you might have both kids at times, but when Dad has them, he has just Toddler for three days or just Baby for three days. This might take some of the parenting load off of each of you for now and give Toddler some needed 1:1 time and attention, bringing his separation anxiety down.

Alternately, could Dad's parenting take place up to and including bedtime and then he goes home after getting the kids into bed at your house? If you're not comfortable with him in your house that intimately, then he brings them back to your home and you do bedtime? This is mezzanayne's suggestion above, and it feels like a good one for the kids at this age, plus it gives you some time to yourself which is very important if you're the primary parent.

Despite all that, I'd still be reluctant to make these changes permanent if they're only in response to your ex feeling overwhelmed. I don't know anyone who has parented two kids at a time who isn't overwhelmed. What I see in practice though is that Moms learn to cope, learn to gauge their kids' needs, lower their standards around cleanliness for a while, create rituals, learn to distract kids, etc. while Dads throw their hands up and retreat from the complexity and thanklessness of caring for their kids. As long as Dad is basically loving, caring, attentive, and providing, then work toward Dad having both kids, within a setting where the kids experience as little physical upheaval as possible.
posted by cocoagirl at 1:33 PM on September 14 [1 favorite]

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