Dear Dr. Jann,
My ex and I broke up five months ago. I moved out of the house and got a one-bedroom apartment nearby. The kid’s mother and I were both active in our kids’ lives, a boy and a girl, ages nine and 11, so we agreed to a shared custody parenting plan—a week with me and a week with her.
I thought everything was great, but their mother has been telling me for months that the kids are having trouble with the transition. Last night she showed me a text from our 11-year-old daughter begging her to let her come home. This was a huge shock to me. I’m at a loss. I’m trying to be a good dad. What’s good ex-etiquette?
At times like this it’s very difficult to put your own concerns aside and make decisions in the best interest of the kids. You want them to live with you as much as mom does—but I’m afraid the kids don’t see it that way. It has nothing to do with how much they love you or mom. A child’s primary concern after their parents split-up is how their life will change now that you and mom are no longer together.
It sounds as if mom stayed in the family home where they probably had their own room and lots of creature comforts. You moved into a one-bedroom apartment, understanding that this was probably done so the kids could remain in the same school. But, where do they sleep? It sounds as if they have no space of their own. Compare the two situations: At mom’s they have their own rooms. In your apartment, they may have to share a bed or sleep on the couch. Not to mention, your apartment is only two miles away from where they have always lived, so they are probably thinking, “I’m so close to home, why can’t I just sleep in my own bed?”
However, the courts don’t change custody because a parent can’t afford a three-bedroom house. As the kids are safe and fed, doing their homework, and getting to school on time, it’s doubtful there will be a change of custody. And, the fact that your children are balking does not mean they are spoiled—your 11-year-old daughter just may not have the emotional wherewithal to deal with this big change. She may be miserable for all sorts of reasons, starting with the fact that her parents are no longer together and she now has to sleep on a couch every other week.
If you’re truly putting the kids first, it’s time to stand back and look at what will make them the most comfortable. While you are getting adjusted, it may not be a week with you and a week with mom. Weekends may be a better option as they are far more casual. You can pop some popcorn, watch a movie, and sleep in sleeping bags in front of the TV if you want without interfering with schedules, or homework or bedrooms. Once the dust settles that might be the time to talk about an equally shared parenting plan.