After one meeting with my ex and our lawyers to negotiate the custody agreement of our divorce, I went home, busted out the calculator, and cried.
I freaked out at the idea of being away from my kids for extended hours or days, and I need to know how many hours each week I would spend with my son and daughter under various arrangements.
How many hours they would be sleeping, in daycare and with their dad?
How many minutes each week would they be mine? When we separated, I was pregnant and my daughter was not quite 2.
I subscribed to many tenets of attachment parenting.
I bought into the cultural message that children should be with their mother, and
A woman's identity is tied to her motherhood.
My identity was tied to being a mom.
Plus, I was used to being with my tiny children the vast majority of the time, running errands with one or the other strapped to my chest, their tiny bodies cozied up to mine in bed, the little one would nurse at least a year like his sister.
Anything less than that seemed devastating. They needed me so, so much, I thought. And I needed them.
Fast-forward and there were years my ex would to say he's skipping a visit for reasons well within his control (a party, volunteer work, a last-minute weekend trip to California), and I would lose my goddamned mind. I'd get crazy-angry at his cavalier approach to parenting and how that affects the kids. I'd steam and stew at how much he took me for granted, and had the freedom to do what he pleased without worry about child care.
I also resent that I don't get my scheduled kid-free time. Those hours are a precious commodity I fully utilize to nurture friendships, date, work, exercise and relax. When the kids come home Sunday evening from their weekly overnight, we are all so happy to see each other and I can feel in my whole body how much more energy I have for them.
Never in a bazillion years would I have imagined I'd feel like that.
There are countless family court cases, billions of dollars spent on divorce battles, and decades-long bitterness between separated families caused by mothers who fight against extended visitation schedules because, they insist, their tiny children should not be separated from them.
Mothers argue that their nursing babies should not be apart from them overnight, even though those babies were toddlers — a position my divorce lawyer friend says a judge would laugh at, especially if an enthusiastic father was pushing for more access to his kids. She's seen judges order babies as young as 3 months stay overnight with their fathers.
Mothers who aim to keep the father's time with his children to every-other-weekend on claims he is unsafe due to mental health issues, or substance abuse issues, or unstable employment — twisting logic justify the kids are indeed safe on alternating weekends, but any more hours would put their lives in danger.
When I hear about these cases, I sympathize with the women. After all, I was there myself! But I also see how easy it to get sucked into thinking of ourselves as mothers beyond everything else — be it professionals, citizens, friends, artists, lovers, partners, or even women.
As outlined below, there are zillions of ways that women benefit when we equally share parenting time with our kids' fathers.
- 50/50 custody benefit #1: Stem gender inequality
- 50/50 custody benefit #2: Decrease fatherlessness
- 50/50 custody benefit #3: Increased financial support for kids
- 50/50 custody benefit #4: Decrease domestic violence
- 50/50 custody benefit #5: Moms have more time to build a business/career
- 50/50 custody benefit #6: Moms have more time to date
- 50/50 custody benefit #7: Moms have more time to exercise
- 50/50 custody benefit #8: Kids enjoy more love
- 50/50 custody benefit #9: Both parents have time to rest and recharge
- Podcast: All about 50/50 custody and shared parenting and why it's great for single moms
While there is little data to support that (common sense prevails), there are troves of research that finds that equally shared, 50/50 physical custody is what is best for kids.
There are 60 peer-reviewed studies that prove that 50/50 equally shared parenting — when children in divorced and separated families live with each parent at least 40 percent of the time. While there are certainly exceptions to this, like physical violence, extreme addiction and mental illness, the research actually finds that equally shared parenting is still the preferred custody arrangement in high-conflict co-parenting relationships.
While scientific research has definitively concluded that equally shared parenting benefits children in terms of emotional development, academic performance, behavior including early sexual activity, STDs and teen pregnancy, as well as long-term education and employment success.
There are other, less documented benefits to equally shared, 50/50 parenting time.
Best co-parenting app of 2020: Our Family Wizard, TalkingParent, AppClose: Reviews of the best free and paid apps for co-parenting communication, shared parenting calendars and texting
50/50 custody benefit #1: Stem gender inequality
When we equalize parenting time, we equalize the genders. Today, when the vast majority of parents separate, courts dictate that kids stay with the mom, dads get visits with their own children, dads pay child support.
This just reinforces dated, sexist gender norms: Moms are the default caregivers financially dependent on men, dads are the default breadwinner for whom parenting is optional.
Split parenting time in half, with both parents equally responsible for the time, logistics and mental load of parenting, and gender inequality will be stemmed.
50/50 custody benefit #2: Decrease fatherlessness
Bring up 50/50 physical custody in a room of single parents, and dads scream their rights as parents have been violated, while mothers scream that dads don't show up and do their share.
Both are equally correct.
We cannot expect men to be active, engaged fathers when they have been told since birth that they are the lesser parent, that they should defer to the mothers, and that once they no longer live in the same home as their children, they are relegated to a visitor and a paycheck.
Similarly, we cannot expect women to be financially independent if courts and cultural norms dictate we be primary caretakers.
Surveys find that men do want to be involved fathers. Let's create a world where they can be.
50/50 custody benefit #3: Increased financial support for kids
A study published in a 2015 issues of Journal of Marriage and Family, finds that about half of fathers who were cash-poor and unable to make child support payments, nevertheless make a significant contribution in kind—providing baby products, clothing, school expenses and food—worth an average of $60 a month.
Fathers who did not visit their kids gave only about half as much in-kind support as those who spent at least 10 hours a month with them.
“The child support system weakens the child/father bond by separating the act of love from the act of providing,” said the study author Kathryn Edin, a sociologist and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Distinguished Professor.
Plus, when each parent has the kids equal time, that means that each parent has to pick up expenses like food, replacing outgrown clothes, random school fees and birthday gifts.
Our Family Wizard is the most-used, and most court-mandated co-parenting app. Track expenses, chat, share a calendar and contact and schedule information about the kids. With a free 30-day trial, discounts for military, and fee waivers for low-income families. Check out Our Family Wizard now >>
50/50 custody benefit #4: Decrease domestic violence
Family law practitioners and mental health professionals have long noted the increase in high conflict and violent incidences spike at the time of separation and divorce, including false reports designed to gain an upper hand in custody disputes.
Take the inherent dispute out of separating, and domestic violence cases plummet.
That is what is happening in Kentucky, which in 2017 became the first state in the country with a presumption of equally shared parenting time. A year later, family court filings had dropped by 11 percent, and domestic violence reports were down 10 percent.
50/50 custody benefit #5: Moms have more time to build a business/career
My co-parenting relationship has improved gradually in my 10-year career as a single mom, and today we have approximately equal time sharing.
I am here to tell you: It is a hell of a lot easier to travel to conferences, go to evening work events, take on the extra project or start a second income stream if you do not have to juggle those professional tasks with parenting.
50/50 custody benefit #6: Moms have more time to date
Guaranteed free time, including overnights, means moms have more time to be women — without the burden of paying for child care.
Take the guilt and stress of time away from kids, and arranging a sitter, now mothers can date in a healthier way, and not resort to sneaking out, or sneaking men in (pro tip: please don't do that).
Many single moms report that dating as a single mom is the most fun, and the best sex, they've ever had.
Elite Singles is a great dating site for professional people looking for serious relationships. More than 80% of members are college-educated, and 90% are aged 30 and older.
50/50 custody benefit #7: Moms have more time to exercise
Hate to break it to you: The more free time you have, the fewer excuses!
50/50 custody benefit #8: Kids enjoy more love
Aside from all proven benefits of bonding with both their mother and father, children who enjoy the broader circles of extended family, friends and community: grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbors — all support and care that benefits all children — and adults!
This new network of caregiving opens up all kinds of benefits, including more flexible schedules for the parents (more access to loving and free childcare — thanks grandma!), as well as one-on-one time with each parent — something any single mom or single dad can tell you is hard to come by.
In a two-parent home, one kid may spontaneously join a parent on a grocery-store run. One child might join her dad washing dishes while the other plays games with his mom. Spontaneous one-on-one interactions have their own dynamic between two people, parents and their children included. These episodes are rare in single-parent homes. In a single-parent house — especially when kids are little and usually clamoring for attention — there is one overriding dynamic: Everyone, all together.
A few years ago, my kids and I would arrange “mommy days” by skipping out on day care one at a time. On our “mommy day” my son Lucas giddily sat on his big sister's booster seat as we ran errands around Manhattan (he later recounted this as a highlight: “And then I told Helena and her cried!”).
We went shopping for a new car, my son strapped in the middle back seat, his chunky little legs sticking straight out, patiently looking out the windows on the test drive. At the local diner, Lucas insisted on sitting next to me in the booth and popping catsup'ed fries in my mouth. Without his outgoing big sister present, I see the assured, confident part of my son shine brighter than usual.
50/50 custody benefit #9: Both parents have time to rest and recharge
Half my social media feed is crowded by selfies from moms who have sequestered themselves in a pantry and are 911-ing for an emergency wine delivery to relieve them from the overwhelm of full-time parenting.
Give her a break. Give the dad a break. Share the kids. Use your newfound free time to go on a hike. Binge Fleabag. Hook up with your cute neighbor. Take a spin class. Or go out for a glass of wine at a bar with your girlfriend like a grown-ass woman.
Podcast: All about 50/50 custody and shared parenting and why it's great for single moms
Hi, today I am talking on my most, most favoritest topics: Shared parenting. This is something that is part of my own personal journey and it's really become one of my greatest passions which plays into my larger life agenda which is gender equality and feminism. But, for those of you who don't know, I'm Emma Johnson and you might know me from my blog, Wealthy Single Mommy podcast, Like A Mother. My book, the Kick Ass Single Mom. Part of my story is going from a single mom with not much involvement from my children's dad. My unique story is that he did suffer a brain injury and had some unique challenges that meant he was not able to co-parent for a long time, in an equal way, but fast forward to today and I couldn't have guessed, right? Based on our past history together as co-parents, I could not have guessed that we'd be such great co-parents and share parenting.
So, if you're not familiar, shared parenting means that after divorce or separation, it is presumed that both parents are equally good parents, that they both have equal legal rights to the kids and approximate equal time with the kids, about 50/50. We're living in the real world, people have jobs and lives and kids have schedules, but it's shared. Both people have space in their homes. Both parents have space in their homes for the kids and they're shared. There is incredible research out there about they're showing and proving that this is, unequivocally, what is good for kids. Nothing. There is nothing out there that supports that one parent having primary custody of the kids, primary time with the kids, is better. It is not. Fifty-five peer review studies, including in high conflict cases. I think that is so interesting. High conflict relationships between the parents, it is still best for kids when they have equal time with their parents.
Why primary custody for moms is sexist
And one byproduct of not having equal time is that when the dads, and let's be real, we know that 80% of the time when these things go to court, the moms get the primary time. Eighty percent of the time the kids are primarily with the mom and that's sexist. That is sexist. We cannot have gender equality and government in the workplace, in our economy, if we do not have gender equality at home and home might mean a wonderful long-term marriage. Home might be a separated family, but we cannot have gender equality if we do not have gender equality at home, which brings me to the benefit of shared parenting to moms. Ladies, today, now that I have a great co-parent in my ex-husband, my kid's dad, my life is so much better. We're all stressed out. Moms are stressed out. We love to talk about how we are burdened, because we usually are disproportionately burdened with caring for kids, which can be wonderful and joyful, but it can also and often is just a grind. It is just an exhausting grind to always be responsible for kids.
Well, guess what? When you have a co-parent that has the kids 30, 40, 50, 60, 70% of the time, those are hours you are not responsible for the kids. Yes, you may miss them, but you're also not working as a mom. You can focus on your career. You can have a social life. I get all my dating done when my kids are with their dad. I'm in a wonderful relationship now for almost a year and I've been able to nurture that relationship because my kids are with their dad. In the summer, the kids are with their dad for a month and I travel around the world. It is wonderful. I'm able to have the flexibility. That is key right? All moms know that flexibility is the key. Let's say that you have a business opportunity that comes up. It requires you go into a sales meeting or a conference for a few days. You're a lot more likely to take that professional opportunity to grow your career, to grow your business, to grow your income which is great for your whole family and it's great for feminism.
Coparenting, 50/50 shared parenting allows women to pursue professional opportunities
You're much more likely to jump at that opportunity if you know that you can work through it with your kids' dad. If you can't count on another co-parent, you're holding yourself back. It's so hard to invest the time and the hassle and the headache and the guilt in hiring a sitter or roping in family members if you have to do those things, opposed to just frankly taking for granted that you have somebody that has your back. Because you're going to have his back, too, and it goes both ways. You know what? Recently, my ex-husband has a girlfriend. She's really sweet. The kids love her. I have had to travel for work. I had the opportunities to travel for work, which frankly I think in the past I might have turned down because of the guilt, because of the headache, because of the financial expense of hiring a sitter.
Instead, my kids' dad has taken the kids many days at a time. He has a life, too. He has to work, and so then he brings his girlfriend, who helps get the kids to school or whatever is going on and all of a sudden, I went from a few years ago being a mom who felt like I was it. It was like me and the kids and that was it, to now I have this extended web of people who care for my kids and it is wonderful. It is such a relief. It is such a relief in my mind and in my heart because I know there's other people caring for the kids and I am free to go and be a successful professional. To go and work out, have free time when I'm not managing the kids and just a live a pretty awesome life because I have this really healthy co-parenting experience.
So, that is what I want for you. You know, I know there's going to be comments, that you know, my ex is abusive and I believe you. I believe you and that is an exception or that he just doesn't want to show up. He doesn't. And what I'm trying to do here is change the culture because we know statistically that when the dads get that lousy every-other-weekend Wednesday night deal and in New York where I live we call it the Friday night special. When parents are marginalized to visiting their own children, when dads are marginalized to visiting their own kids, they are that much more likely to completely check out of their kids' lives. They are. That is a statistical fact and that is something that, culturally, you and I can work together to change, to welcoming dads into their kids lives. Not presuming that our way is the best way.
Let fathers be parents too
When those kids are with their dad, they're with their dad. Unless they're actually being harmed, he gets to parent how he wants to parent and you're welcoming him. You're inviting him in to know about the kids, what's going on, including him in medical decisions. Going to that parent-teacher conferences together, actually collaborating, and this is something that you, as a mom, you can make steps to do, right? You can make those steps. He has to meet you halfway eventually. He might not do it now, but together, I really believe that we can be changing family culture which affects the courts and that is really going to affect gender equality for the better in this whole country. So join me.
If you liked this podcast, what can I say? You're going to like my book. It's out now. You can find it at every retailer. The Kick Ass Single Mom, be financially independent, discover your sexiest self and raise fabulous, happy children. With Penguin, this book is already giving it tons of media. The book has not even been launched as I'm writing this promo. We have more than 105 media hits including The Doctors, Oprah.com, U.S. News, on and on, all the big ones and lots of your favorite small media are giving it great praise. This is the book to help you get … not just get on your feet, but really kick some serious ass in your career and business, discover and romantic and sex life that's going to blow your mind and rest assured that your parenting is probably a heck of a lot better than you already think and your kids are going to turn out amazing.
There is a lot about my own personal journey, which I have never shared anywhere but in this book. It is dozens and dozens of testaments and stories from other amazing women that have thrived in their careers, have discovered new and positive relationships with their children's dads they didn't think was possible and found that they have thrived and enjoyed this period their life as single moms in ways they probably had never thought of before. So, check it out now. The Kick Ass Single Mom, be financially independent, discover your sexiest self and raise fabulous, happy children. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local independent bookstore, online, in stores, Powell's, Books-A-Million, every single one of them has it. Buy it, share it with your friends and thank you so much.
Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist and author. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker,” her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Emma's Top Single Mom Resources.