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Shared care for older children - can it work?

(13 Posts)
purpleroses Wed 10-Dec-14 15:14:55

Not sure whether to post this here on in Lone Parents - interested in the views of RPs or NRPs (or their parters).

My DC are 11 and nearly 15. Their dad and I split when they were young, live locally and have an amicable relationship. They've always spent around 4 nights a fortnight at their dad's but this seems to be becoming more difficult now. They're old enough to make their own way between both our houses and school but they're endlessly turning up here when they're supposed to be at their dad's. They say they want to have a shower, collect stuff, use computers, print homework, eat (!) or quite often that they have forgotten they were supposed to be at their dad's. Their dad does have a printer, a shower, food, etc obviously, but they just seem to prefer being at home here.

My DD (11) especially has really struggled with having the right stuff with her in the right place since she started secondary school and has point blank refused to be at her dad's on a school night because "it's too complicated" She's been making her own way back home instead, in the dark which I'm not entirely happy about. It's also meant that DH and I have lost our only child-free night of the week (as we have his DCs on the weekend nights when mine are with their dad).

My ex is very easy going and will pretty much go along with anything I suggest for contact. He doesn't seem to have any ideas for how to improve things though. DS is a bit similar when you talk to him - though does seem to keep gravitating back here. DD when questioned she says she likes to see her dad and little brother, but every time she's supposed to go there she never wants to. She also gets on very well with my DSC and feels she's missing out here I think too.

I feel I'm constantly pushing them away by encouraging them to go to their dad's. It's hard to encourage the relationship with their dad without sounding like I don't want them with me.

What have other people done as kids have got older? Do you still do a fixed number of nights at each house? Or does something else work better?

MaltedMilkBiscuits Wed 10-Dec-14 15:35:27

We're on the other side of it, where the DSC have their own friends and lives around where their mum lives, so therefore we see them less than we used to. We try to be relaxed about it but sometimes it can be frustrating, for example when DSS decides on a Saturday morning he isn't coming to us that weekend because he's decided to make plans with his friends instead, even though we had made plans by that point that included him.

I have no advice, other than keep encouraging them and if you are on good terms with your ex then perhaps you can work together to make it happen? My parents split up when I was about 15 and I remember resenting having to spend time with my mum (I lived with dad) because I wanted to be out with my mates / doing my own thing.

purpleroses Wed 10-Dec-14 15:42:56

Thanks maltedmilk - Yes I do put my foot down about them cancelling at the last minute. They have to go to their dad's as planned and can't just cancel because they're not in the mood. They're lucky in that he lives nearby so there's no real reason why they can't see their friends just as well from his home. It's just that they don't seem to want to base their lives across two homes any more, DD especially.

I'm on good enough terms with my ex to work together to change things in principle - it's just that he's a bit vague and clueless about what to change, and I'm not sure I know the answers either

Petal02 Wed 10-Dec-14 16:25:57

Even as a fairly well organised adult, I would find living across two houses really difficult. As a child (with divorced parents) I lived with Mum, visited Dad regularly, but didn’t stay at his house. This never harmed our relationship. My bedroom and all my belongings were at Mums, and my friends all lived nearby. I would not have wanted to stay at Dad’s house, it would have been really inconvenient.

I know I’m going to get flamed here, but I’ve never been a fan of overnighting. DH’s solicitor told him that it only really ‘came into fashion’ when the CSA started calculating maintenance based on overnight stays, which led to a generation of children with split living arrangements.

I used to post regularly about the totally inflexible, draconian Access Rota that DSS used to abide by; this ran til he was 18, it didn’t appear to work for anyone, DH and I live 30 mins away from DSS’s Mum and school, so visits to us meant he was removed from his local area – so he basically spent Thurs-Sun EOW in isolation from the main part of his life, and it didn’t do him any favours. If he overnighted with us, he used to have to get up ridiculously early the next day so that DH could get him to the bus stop, and he struggled with that.

He’s away at Uni now, and even with the benefit of hindsight I don’t think the arrangements were sensible. It might work for younger children (and I always thought access rotas were designed for young children, rather than teens) but I think teenagers can have a perfectly good relationship with their fathers, without set nights per week at a different address.

I’ll wait for the avalanche of criticism.

purpleroses Wed 10-Dec-14 17:21:10

Yes I remember your posts petal - thankfully our rotas (both with my ex and DH's one with his ex) are pretty flexible and we do live nearby so there isn't the issue of being removed from friends.

But even still the having stuff in two homes seems to be increasingly challenging for them. I do think the overnighting has worked well when they were younger - for us at least. It gave their dad a proper chance to be a parent to them, gave them somewhere they really regarded as a second home, and gave me a much appreciated couple of free nights a week. It worked well. But it's not working so well now.

Even as a fairly well organised adult..... - grin My DD is so very far from being a well organised adult! She's a very scatty and impulsive 11 year old - but who has loads of interests and activities (sport, music, etc) which make her life more complicated than she can really manage without me acting as her PA. I kind of feel she should get more responsible, but also feel that it wasn't her choice to have to split her time between two homes and that that's the main thing that's making it hard for her right now.

But if they don't do overnights, what do they do? My ex doesn't have much money so can't be taking them out for treats very often. I'm wondering if going for a longer stretch (5 days?) less often might be a way forward? Or visiting for the day on a Sunday? I fear that if they start doing that though, they'll become even more reluctant to go, or bored when they get there. I also feel it's a bit unfair that I have to do all the work with them - helping with homework etc if visiting dad just becomes a leisure activity.

PeruvianFoodLover Wed 10-Dec-14 17:53:17

My DD has been 50:50 shared care for over 5 years, she's 14 now, and spends one week in each home, swapping on a Friday after school.

There are, of course, times when she's forgotten something, and we help her to problem solve it, whether that is coming with me when I go shopping so she can pop in to her dads on the way back, or making her way to her dads by bus to pick it up if it's urgent.

We have become more flexible as she's got older - but 50:50 is the default position, and it's a lot easier now she can manage her own diary because I don't have to deal directly with ex.

I've always seen it as a "normal" part of life and an opportunity for her to learn valuable life skills - I don't really pander to the "it wasn't her choice so I can't ask her to accomodate it" argument because every child has unique responsibilities as they grow up which another family would consider unreasonable; be that minding younger siblings, caring for animals or developing self-sufficiency skills.

Chasingsquirrels Wed 10-Dec-14 17:55:09

Mine are younger (12 - yr 7 and 8 - yr 4) so I'm not sure what will happen in the future.
Ex isn't too far, but it's about 30 mins car journey and would be far longer on public transport, so I don't see independant travel between our houses happening before sixth form.
At the moment they are generally at their dad's 1 mid-week night and 1 weekend-night every week, plus half of school holidays.

12yo seems to be dealing well with secondary school needs, generally takes all his books every day anyway, but has to take his kit sometimes when he doesn't need it that day because he needs it the next day and won't be home.

I was expecting 12yo to be wanting to see friends more, but he never arranges anything even though he will jump at the chance if I suggest his best friend coming over or staying overnight. We are in a different village so he can't just call round, but could bike over the summer etc and hasn't.
8yo is actually more social, but also has a friend on the same road so they can easily call on each other.

Will have to see how it pans out, not much help to you but intgeresting to hear other people's stories.

thebluehen Thu 11-Dec-14 07:17:09

My ds has pretty much stopped seeing his dad at age 16.

About 18 months ago he got very stroppy, accused me of stopping him seeing his dad and was really quite nasty.

Basically his dad was letting him down and his dad was telling ds it was my fault which it most definitely wasnt as I've always pushed him to have contact.

So I made the decision to leave all organising to ds and his dad between them.

Ds has seen his dad a handful of times this year.

When I talk to ds about it he says he still wants to see his dad but makes excuses about homework or friends or sleep....

In his case, he is either trying to take some control over the situation where his unreliable dad was calling all the shots or he simply hasn't got the inclination to go.

However, it does sound similar to your situation and I wonder if it's all about teens wanting to feel they have control over their own lives?

Petal02 Thu 11-Dec-14 09:18:27

They don’t seem to want to base their lives across two homes any more

Purpleroses, I can totally understand that. But I think this goes back to the question of WHY they have to live across two homes. Obviously it’s important they have a relationship with their Dad, but I wonder if people get so entrenched with observing the correct amount of nights per week in the correct house, that sometimes we don’t see the bigger picture?

I realise that ‘nights per week’ is all tied in with maintenance payments, but this seems to hold everyone’s lives to ransom and prevent free will, common sense and evolution taking place.

purpleroses Thu 11-Dec-14 09:30:19

No it's not an issue for maintenance payments - we have a private arrangement and I'm not looking to reduce them if they r reduce the nights they stay at their dad's. I don't think my ex would worry that I would either. He earns very little so it's not really with worrying about.

It's more that I'm struggling to see what the alternative might be. If they don't do overnights, what do they do instead? Their dad isn't very pro-active about arranging things to do with them. I'd worry it would soon lapse to not very much contact at all really - like you've found with your DS bluehen.

And do I just give up completely on any notion of shared parenting and just let 'seeing dad' become like seeing any other relative?

Petal02 Thu 11-Dec-14 10:08:14

If he doesn’t do overnights, what does he do instead? I’d worry it would soon lapse to not very much contact at all. And do I just give up completely on any notion of shared parenting?

That’s a very fair comment and I do see where you’re coming from. You want to ensure he continues to do his share of parenting, but don’t want to create an unworkable lifestyle for your children.

Which rather bring us back to the title of your thread. But IMO, living across two houses doesn’t work for older children, but I don’t have any better ideas about how two separated parents would share the care.

I’m trying not to project in my responses; DH’s ex was hell-bent on ensuring DH carried out a very specific amount of parenting each week, even though the bizarre arrangements didn’t work for anyone, least of all DSS. But I know you’re not like this BTW.

PeruvianFoodLover Thu 11-Dec-14 11:41:58

I wonder if, and this is in no way meant as a criticism, it is the degree to which DCs are parented in each house that is the strongest influence over whether they consider it "home"?

If a DC is treated as, and views themself as, a guest in a house, then as they get older they are less likely to feel comfortable printing homework, relaxing in the bath, or vegg'ing out in a onesie.

And that feeling of "at homeness" is wrapped up in boundaries and responsibilities.

If a non-resident teen is excused chores, has dietary preferences accomodated, is permitted to flout house rules and is given visitor status, then a teenager who has been taught appropriate social skills won't be comfortable behaving as anything other than the guest they are treated as.

purpleroses Fri 12-Dec-14 09:04:37

Peruvian - I think you're right in a way - it is about having a sense of "at homeness" that they don't have so much at their dad's. But it's hard to put my finger on anything he's really doing wrong or could do differently to make them feel at home - they have their own space there, as much as they can in his small flat. And even harder to see how I could change the subtler things that might make a difference that happen at their dad's house.

I did have a talk to them about it last night. DS is essentially OK about it as it is, though would prefer to have a weekly routine of going on a Sunday and Monday night every week. (They currently do EOW and then a Monday night on the alternate week). DD doesn't want that at all though and is still refusing to be at her dad's on a school night. She says she does like being at her dad's, she just doesn't like going there though, which is good to hear in a way. I think she kind of wants me to be her main parent/PA who organises her life, helps with homework, etc (and she needs quite a lot of support right now) but wants dad's to be more of a place to go at relax at. Which I feel is a bit unfair on me, but may be what meets her needs best. I'm reluctant to set up totally different routines for the two of them though - it would just make everyone's lives very complicated. (And after years of appearing to hate each other DS and DD are actually getting on really well with each other these days smile ) So no real resolution, though good to talk through the issues.

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