How many shared-custody situations are out there where the child prefers one parent’s home to the other because “it’s more fun?” Particularly for younger children, this usually means that one parent’s home is all about play and the other involves actual parenting â€” rules and restrictions and doctor visits and doing homework.
I can think of several single- and divorced-parent situations where this is the case. In one friend’s case, the dad’s house has tons of toys and the child is routinely treated to milk shakes, donuts and sweets, and is allowed to fall asleep on the couch watching TV. Because the dad routinely has the child on weekends, there are few situations where the child has to be woken up early, dressed and prepared for school. The child gets up when the child gets up, and then it’s usually a day of fun in the sun.
Then there’s the mom. She has to get the child to school, has to be more conscious of dietary needs and is constantly trying to include vegetables and protein in meals. There are plenty of toys and play time, but with school, doctor visits and other utilitarian tasks built in, it pales in comparison to the nearly limitless play time at dad’s house. The end result is the parent trying to do the right thing for the child is the “less fun” parent, and has to regularly hear her child ask to go to daddy’s house.
She’s not alone. Another friend’s teenagers see their dad’s house as a refuge and a “safe place” when the mom tries to set curfews and limits on this or that. She’s forced to instill discipline. The end result is that one of her teens finally moved in with dad, who has provided little financial support for his children’s needs and close to no emotional support. The teen now lives with few rules.
And this is gender neutral. I’m highlighting two of the situations I know of personally, but I â€” of all people â€” don’t want to sound like I’m beating up the dads. I had friends in a single-parents group I once belonged to who were dads in similar situations. One dad who lives in the Carolinas was raising his children almost entirely on his own, carting them to school, tutors and the doctor while constantly hearing from them how mom never made them do these things. The mom primarily showed up to blame the dad when there was a problem at school. He, like my two other friends, have been forced to do the hardest thing of all: Keep quiet. They refuse, to their credit, to set the record straight for the children. They refuse to put the kids in the middle. They shouldn’t.
But what does one tell a parent in that situation? My advice has been to keep doing the right thing and ultimately the child will appreciate it â€” or at least one can hope so. The pessimist in me realizes that poetic justice only happens in plays and novels, not in real life. My more optimistic side clings to the notion that good intentions and actions are ultimately rewarded, if not with appreciation then certainly with the satisfaction of knowing you made your child a better and healthier person in the end.
Because it would just be nice to know that it’s a game where there are no real losers.