SummertimeCustodySplitEvery Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week I am sharing a personal story about custody and its impact on kids.

I know this article is a difficult one for many to read, and that’s not my intention. I know so many of you have difficult custody arrangements and difficult divorces when it hasn’t been your choice. At the same time, I feel that this is too important an issue not to speak forcefully about. Sometimes life doesn’t turn out as we wanted, and God’s grace is always there for you in those times. But for those who are just unhappy in their marriages, I want to encourage you: work on them! Because your kids really need it.

I was six and a half years old when I first rode on a plane by myself. My father was in Boston and it was time for my once a year, one week long summer visit.

I don’t remember much about that first short flight, but a few years later he moved to Vancouver. Since I lived in Toronto, that trip lasted four and a half hours each way. I quickly learned that if you’re flying as an unaccompanied minor, and you sniffle and cry a little, stewardesses give you cookies. And not the oatmeal raisin kind. The chocolate chip kind. I cried a lot.

The rules have changed now, and you can’t put kids on a plane by themselves anymore. That will likely make those once-a-year, week-long summer visits with “the other parent” more difficult, and perhaps even less frequent. I’m not entirely sure that’s a bad thing.

Looking back on my early summers those visits were always odd. I felt more awkward than a Quebec separatist at the Queen’s garden party. You didn’t belong, and you spent your life trying to figure out small talk. Sure, we did some lovely sightseeing, and I’m very grateful for my father’s wife who made such great efforts to include me, but it was still not right. Perhaps because I never lived with my father I never bonded with him. And one week a year can’t accomplish that. If your ex is raising your child (or children), don’t fool yourself into thinking you can be a parent only on holidays. Move closer to your children and be involved in their lives.

Yet I’m not sure the opposite custody arrangement–where the children see both parents equally–is that easy, either. The problem with joint custody is that no adults know the child’s whole life. In a kid’s mind, Mom knows everything that happened to me on Week 1, and Dad knows everything that happened on Week 2, but I’m the only one who knows what happened in both. And because each home has different rules and different ways of relating, the child has to almost split in two.

And it’s not just that–they spend their lives in flux, always moving from house to house and living out of suitcases or hockey bags rather than out of closets and drawers. We would never live like that, yet we ask hundreds of thousands of Canadian children to everyday.

Custody arrangements are always built around the parents’ best interests. As a society, we may give lip service to it, but we’re not really interested in the children’s best interests, or we wouldn’t do things like this to them. I can think of several friends who divorced their husbands, claiming their husbands were too harsh. The family would be more peaceful and better off without him. Now that harsh, demanding dad gets the kids by himself 50% of the time. Even if he were harsh and demanding–which in these cases the guys really weren’t–how does splitting up save the kids from this? It only puts them in his house without you there to run interference.

Divorce can definitely be in the kids’ best interests when there is abuse, or open hostility, or addictions. But these are a minority of divorces. Most of the time we want to make our own lives better, and we rationalize it saying that what’s good for us is what’s good for them. Yet we would never live the way that we ask so many children to. If you’re in a difficult place in your relationship, I just ask that you picture your children’s future summers if you break up. Kids always bear the brunt of adult decisions. We owe it to them to put aside our own issues and put the kids first.

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