How did you reach your shared parenting arrangements? I think for us it was never going to be anything else than a shared parenting arrangement. I’m from Sweden where it is the norm so I couldn’t really imagine doing it a different way. So we managed to agree things between ourselves.
"I think for us it was never going to be anything else than a shared parenting arrangement."
When did you reach your agreements? When we first separated, I moved out to a small flat so I didn’t have the room to have the children in my place as often as 50/50 split. They would stay with me at weekends and I would also I would come round to the family house after school too. After two months I was able to move somewhere bigger and from that point on we could get settled into a shared arrangement.
What are the practicalities of your arrangements? We decided they were too young to do a full week with one of us and then switch so we change twice a week. I pick them up from school on a Wednesday and they stay with me until Saturday afternoon or evening. But I also see them at other times during the week because my ex-partner works full time. So for example, I will pick them up from school on a Monday and take them to the family house and be with them until their Dad gets back from work. I’m able to work part time to accommodate seeing the children which helps a lot. It’s a bit of an unusual arrangement but it works for us.
What arrangements did you make in relation to holidays and special days (such as birthdays, Christmas, religious holidays)? We quite often do full weeks during the holiday so things change a bit then. On birthdays we do it all together, me and my ex-partner and all the children will always go out for a meal and the child whose birthday it is gets to choose where we eat. On Christmas, we also will spend time with all of us together. On Christmas morning, all five of us will have breakfast and presents and then I will take them to church. In the afternoon their Dad will take them to Glasgow to see his family and then I see them again on Boxing Day.
"On birthdays we do it all together, me and my ex-partner and all the children will always go out for a meal..."
How far is it between your house and your ex-partner's house? About a mile, it’s walking distance which makes thing a lot easier. They can walk to school from both houses. Things can often get forgotten at one house or the other so you need to be willing to go and pick something up too. We use a box which the children put their stuff in when they are moving between houses but things do get forgotten.
Are your arrangements flexible and adaptable to changes in your child’s life? You need to be flexible but it’s also important not to change things too much. It’s important that the children can have a sense of routine and that they always should know exactly what is going on.
How will arrangements alter as the children grew up? I assume things will change as they get older. They will have more choice to come and go as they want to when they’re a bit more mature.
If you have a new partner, how does your shared parenting affect them? My two youngest children have met my new partner who I have been with for quite some time. My eldest child is a little more reluctant. He also has children for another relationship, which he doesn’t get to see as much as he would like unfortunately. But when he sees them they will quite often stay one night with me.
What was the reaction of family/friends/neighbours to your arrangements? Coming for a Swedish background I don’t think family were so surprised about the arrangement. Although people do comment that we are very good at communicating and putting the children first.
3. Looking Ahead
Would you recommend shared parenting as a policy objective of the Scottish Government? Yes I would. The current system seems to assume that there is only one primary carer, quite often the mother. So the father can end up in a situation where he has to fight to be involved with his children. I can’t see why 50/50 care can’t be the default that families start with. Obviously it’s not going to work in every case, but I think it should be the starting point.
What advice and recommendation would you give to other separating families who are considering using shared parenting? You need to be able to communicate well with your ex-partner and if you aren’t able to do that you have to get help (from something like mediation). At the end of the day, you’re probably going to be making daily contact with them. It’s also important to be flexible with the other parent’s needs; you need to be willing to help each other. The other important aspect is planning and organisation, it takes a lot of effort to get it right. Another big thing which I think can cause a lot of conflict is the financial aspect. For us we have a shared account which we each put money into for any costs to do with the children. You need to make sure you have agreed on a system.
How has shared parenting affected the relationship between you and your children? I think long term it hasn’t changed much but it did make things more difficult for a while. I think it was tougher to stay close to my eldest, especially because he was going through adolescence. It’s hard to say how much the parenting arrangement that influences these things and how much is a just child growing up.
Do you feel shared parenting allows your children to feel connected to both their parents? I would say that the new arrangement has let them have a closer relationship with their Dad. I was always the one who knew what was going at school etc. but now he takes a more active, nurturing role.
Do you feel shared parenting changed the amount of support and encouragement your children receives from each of you? Not at all, shared parenting forces you to communicate a lot which is great. I would say as a parent you are aware that things might slip through the net when sharing parenting, so you become hyper vigilant.
"You need to be flexible but it’s also important not to change things too much. It’s important that the children can have a sense of routine and they always should know exactly what is going on."
How do you feel the environment of two homes affects the activities/hobbies your child is involved in? I think maybe for my youngest, he hasn’t been as involved with things as my other two when they were his age, but it’s hard to say if that is because of the arrangement we have. I’m hoping to encourage him to take up the drums over the summer because I know that’s something he’s wanted to do. I would say generally they have the same amount of commitment to the activities they are involved in.
Do you think shared parenting influenced your child’s social skills and friendships? No not really, they seem to see their friends just as much as they did before.
How has shared parenting affected your child’s independence and autonomy – feeling good about him/herself? Possibly my daughter has become more independent and I think my son was perhaps prematurely expected to spend time on their own. But again, it’s hard to say how things would have been different.
Do you feel shared parenting influenced your child’s education or school life? My eldest has struggled a bit this year in school and we were a bit shocked when we saw his report card. It’s possible that if we were still together we would have noticed this sooner but now that we have we are both working hard to make sure he can do well.
Are there any other outcomes to shared parenting that you have seen which we haven’t discussed yet? I think my children have become hyper aware of the dynamics between myself and my ex-partner. My daughter really struggled at first to understand how we could still spend time together on birthdays and have a laugh. I think it was confusing for them, it made them think that we might have changed our minds about the divorce. But I think that’s something they understand better now.