child psychologydivorce and stepfamiliesparenting

Divorced Parents With Split Custody: Give Kids Weekend Down Time

Shared custody is more and more common after divorce nowadays, with the most common being that each parent has the kids every other weekend.  This is great in many ways, because kids get to have time with each parent.  But I notice that many times, kids have a lack of down time on weekends, since each parent wants to get in their own special scheduled activities with the kids.  This can stress kids, despite parents’ best efforts and intentions.

There are many issues that lead to this situation where kids are rushed from weekend activity to weekend activity.  One is that the parents themselves have a lot of down time on alternate weekends.  This is when they get a lot of their chores and errands done, and have their own time to relax, work out, catch up on work or home projects, or whatever else, at a leisurely pace (at least leisurely compared to time spent with small kids). 

This means that the parents are more rested than they otherwise would be, and have a lot more non-kid down time than non-divorced parents.  They are therefore excited for their kid weekends, and have lots of fun plans and activities lined up, to make the most of their time with their kids.  This enthusiasm is great, but the parents forget that, the previous weekend, the kids were in the exact same situation with their other parent, who was similarly raring to go.  This lack of time to just hang around the house can make especially Highly Sensitive Kids very tired and tapped out, although they will always say yes to “fun” activities because they are kids and because they pick up on their parents’ desire to please them and create a fun atmosphere for them.

Additionally, women are increasingly earning as much as if not more than their ex-husbands, and child support laws are in place to help women who still earn less, especially if they have the kids more of the time during the week.  This means there are now almost as many “Disneyland moms” that I see as “Disneyland dads” (that used to be a pejorative term to denote a divorced dad who just does a lot of fun stuff with his kids and nothing boring or hard like homework or chores).  A lot of the reason moms didn’t plan fun activity after fun activity on weekends was a lack of disposable income post-divorce.  With more financial resources, moms often have a similar packed fun schedule on their weekends as dads do.

This constant moving from fun activity to fun activity also means that kids in divorced homes often don’t have the same amount of chores as kids in non-divorced homes.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, as discussed, each parent has their alternate weekends free, so they actually don’t need the kids’ help as often, because they are able to accomplish their chores and errands things during their non-kid time. 

Another reason for this lack of chores is that parents feel bad about “making up” chores to assign the kids when in reality they can just clean everything up when the kids leave for the other parents’ home in a couple of days.  They get focused on “quality time” and assume that the kids will somehow learn how to manage a home by osmosis, or “when they are older.”  They figure that the child will be happier going to the waterpark or the ballgame or whatever else than hanging out at home helping cook, and they want to compensate for whatever trauma the child may have experienced from the divorce with a parade of fun.

A third reason is competition between divorced parents, particularly ones who had a contentious divorce, for who will be the kids’ favorite parent.  This is usually not conscious, and it is an outgrowth of a similar dynamic that likely existed prior to the divorce.  Each parent tries to be the “better” parent, and in today’s child-focused culture, this often means taking increasingly cranky, ungrateful kids to fun activity after fun activity with the subconscious hope that this means they prefer your weekends to those of the other parent.  

No matter what the reason, a lack of chores and errands means that kids in divorced homes may not learn certain aspects of “adulting.” A lack of responsibilities may seem great to the kids while they are living at home, but I work with many young adults that have a massive wake up call when they start living on their own and realize that they have no idea how to do basic adult life activities because they were never made to learn them.  This is a disservice to kids. 

More down time on weekends means more time for everyone to participate in basic life activities like cooking, cleaning, organizing, home repair projects, and so forth.  Experience with these activities is invaluable and helps kids’ self-esteem in the moment (e.g., learning how to cook a meal that everyone likes) as well as long-term (having the confidence that you can manage yourself when you go to college or live independently after college).  And time for relaxation and just hanging out around the house is extremely important in helping kids learn to self-regulate, be creative (when you are bored, you need to figure out how to fix that), and engage socially with you and with siblings in the absence of structured activities.

If you recognize yourself in this post, think deeply about how you may value your down time without your kids and whether you have fully empathized with their lack of the same sort of time.  Think back to your own upbringing and whether you had enough down time yourself.  Sometimes, divorced or non-divorced parents who were completely left on their own as kids overcompensate and swing the pendulum in the other direction, inundating their own kids with a barrage of structured activities.  

Do not send this post to your co-parent unless you have an amicable relationship.  Even if you do have an amicable relationship, think about your own contribution to this issue first and foremost and figure out how and whether you want to tweak your conceptualization of what weekends can be.  Remember, kids need time to chill out and learn what it is to manage a home and a family, even if they don’t beg for it.  And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, And Read This If They Are Cranky And Ungrateful.

 

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Order Dr. Rodman’s newest book, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage and order her first book: How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family

This blog is not intended as medical advice or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a medical professional. If you try this advice and it does not work for you, you cannot sue me. This is only my opinion, based on my background, training, and experience as a therapist and person

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