One major characteristic of divorce is that it is a series of dividing. Dividing of a marriage. Dividing of a home and its contents. Division of friends, family, and a lifetime of memories and assets. Among the items to be divided through divorce, at least on paper, are our children. The court, itself, uses the official terminology “shared parenting.”
We can share a book, a pair of shoes, keys to a car, or a pizza. Can we really share another human being?
I contemplate this question because I have recently come under fire from divorced fathers in response to a piece I wrote about what I learned as I began sharing my children.
No offense intended. Honestly! I don’t think anyone who actually reads what I write would say I am anything other than a champion for equal parenting and respect for both mothers and fathers; however, because I enjoy examining things from all perspectives, I am willing to give this matter a closer look.
One father remarked, “so nice of you to share your kids.” What he meant by this comment is that my children aren’t just mine, but also their father’s. I get that. I could have referred to them as “our” children. Using the word “my” was a choice I made because they are the children I gave life to and raise, they’re not your kids, my neighbor’s kids, or anyone else’s. “Mine” does not imply that I’m incapable of sharing, just a way of defining who they are a part of.
Is it wrong to say I “share” my children? Again, I think we’re mincing words here! My ex and I have 50/50 custody, as suggested by me because I believe that children need both parents. I was not allowed to see my father when I was a child, I knew how devastating this was for me, and I didn’t want the same for my own children.
The court and my parenting plan clearly state that he and I have “shared parenting.” They are his. They are mine. They will always be ours. He sees them as much as I do. He loves them as much as I do. We have equal rights, and we have equal responsibilities. We share.
Although the court gives divorced parents shared custody of children, we can’t really think of this as ownership. Another human can never legally “own” another person. As parents, we are guardians, protectors, teachers, guides, and supports to our children, never “owners.”
We might walk away from our divorce owning the dining room table or TV from the den, but whatever share of time and responsibility we are allotted by a judge over our children is a gift. Our children will eventually grow up and move on to their own lives. We have the somewhat temporary privilege and joy of imparting wisdom, direction, and morals on the little ones we parent; but one day they will claim their right to independence.
This brings me back around to the concept of sharing children post-divorce. Not all divorced co-parents share or are as involved as they should be. Ideally, both parents would always want to be involved with their kids as much as absolutely possible. Sadly, there are some parents who fade out of their children’s lives following divorce. Just as unfortunate, many parents also act to eliminate the presence of their ex from their children’s lives or damage the parent-child relationship. Some divorced parents view their offspring more as a prize to be won, a pawn in a game, or property.
The fact is that whether we are awarded full, equal, or even partial custody of our children after divorce, they are never objects to control or his versus hers. A divorce divides spouses, but the connection between parent and child is sacred and eternal. My children will always be my children, but they will also always be his, and ours. I’m okay with that because that is what our children need. Calling it shared parenting doesn’t mean that one parent owns the children and begrudgingly lends them out. It’s not only the legal term for joint custody but just what parents need to do!