Embracing 50/50 Custody is the Best for Children

I am not an advocate for divorce on many occasions, but I do know there are some situations in which the ending of a relationship is better for everyone involved–and that’s okay. When one of my closest friends called me to tell me she was officially filing for a divorce, there was a sense of relief in her voice and an optimistic outlook for the future. Inevitably, her biggest concern was what to do for her children. 

Deciding on custody arrangements can be one of the most challenging aspects of the divorce process, as well as for unmarried couples who have children. Traditionally, custody arrangements often lean towards favoring one parent over the other, but a growing body of research and evidence-based practices are pointing towards a more balanced approach: 50/50 custody. Experts across the nation are beginning to agree this arrangement can offer numerous benefits for children and families alike.

First and foremost, 50/50 custody promotes the invaluable principle of equality. Children thrive when they have consistent and meaningful relationships with both parents. Dr. Edward Kruk, a professor of social work at the University of British Columbia, highlights in his research that children benefit from having access to both parents post-divorce, leading to better psychological and emotional outcomes. He emphasizes that “shared parenting tends to be associated with better outcomes for children.”

In a recent article written by journalist Emma Johnson and published by the Institute for Family Studies, Johnson shares that a 2023 analysis of existing research found that on many measures, children in shared parenting arrangements “do equally well compared to children in nuclear families.” 

“The studies measured the kids’ academic, cognitive, emotional, and psychological outcomes, behavioral problems, overall physical health or stress-related physical problems, and the parent-child relationship quality,” writes Johnson. “This emerging culture shift to 50/50 parenting norms has also been a challenge for me, a lifelong feminist and journalist, who has devoted the heart of my career to celebrating single-mother families.”

Ultimately, 50/50 custody encourages co-parenting and shared responsibilities. When both parents are actively involved in raising their children, it fosters a sense of cooperation and mutual support, even after the marriage has ended. This shared responsibility can alleviate the burden on a single parent and provide a more stable environment for the children. According to research published in the Journal of Family Psychology, children in shared custody arrangements report higher levels of satisfaction with their relationships with both parents compared to those in sole custody arrangements.

Critics of 50/50 custody often raise concerns about logistical challenges and disruptions to children’s routines. However, experts argue that with effective communication and cooperation between parents, these challenges can be overcome. Dr. Linda Nielsen, a professor of adolescent and educational psychology at Wake Forest University, suggests that parents can work together to create consistent routines and rules across households, providing stability for the children.

Furthermore, 50/50 custody can mitigate the negative effects of parental conflict on children.

Research consistently shows that ongoing conflict between parents can have detrimental effects on children’s well-being. By sharing custody equally, parents may be motivated to minimize conflicts and prioritize the needs of their children, creating a healthier environment for them to thrive.

Of course, every family situation is unique, and 50/50 custody may not be feasible or suitable in every case. Factors such as distance between parents’ homes, work schedules, and the child’s best interests should all be carefully considered when determining custody arrangements. The growing body of research and expert opinions support the benefits of shared parenting overall.

Embracing 50/50 custody as a standard practice can promote equality, cooperation, and stability for children and families. By prioritizing the well-being of the children and fostering healthy relationships with both parents, families can navigate the complexities of shared parenting with compassion and empathy, ultimately providing a brighter future for the next generation.

Picture this: you’re a mom. You’ve just had a baby, and while you’re over the moon with love for your little one, you’re also feeling a bit… well, different. That was me not too long ago. And let me tell you, becoming a mom changes things – big time.

When my first child came into the world five years ago, I was scared. Scared of losing myself in this new role of being a mom. I’m all about being true to who I am, and suddenly, I was worried I’d only be known as “so and so’s mom.” But guess what? Turns out, you can love your kiddo to bits and still miss the days when you had more freedom to do your own thing.

The same experience happened when my second child was born last year. Adjusting to all of the changes that happened within me and around me after growing and birthing two little beings is still a challenge. My priorities have shifted, my attention and focus are divided, and my time is not my own. Not to mention, my house is a little messier and my clothes don’t fit quite the same way.

And from what I’ve seen on social media and heard from my other mom friends, I’m not alone in feeling this way. Turns out, science backs it up too.  Research shows childbirth permanently changes women physically, mentally, and emotionally.

So, let’s talk about how having a baby changes moms – and how we can support them better.

First up, the emotional rollercoaster. From the moment a woman finds out she’s pregnant to when that baby takes their first breath, it’s a wild ride of emotions. Dr. Alexandra Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist, says there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to how moms feel during pregnancy and after. It’s like a big mix of joy, fear, excitement, and sometimes sadness all rolled into one. Hormones play a part, of course, but it’s also about adjusting to this whole new life while your body is still recovering.

Childbirth can also take a major toll on a woman’s physical well-being. Dr. Sarah Buckley, a family physician and author, calls it a “powerful, transformative experience.” Translation: it’s a big deal. From the pain of contractions to the exhaustion of pushing, childbirth can bring on a range of physical challenges. Recovery from childbirth can be a slow and difficult process, needing plenty of rest, self-care, and support from loved ones. It’s crucial to prioritize health and well-being in postpartum, allowing moms the time and space they need to heal both physically and emotionally.

Let’s honor the incredible strength, resilience, and sacrifice of women who take on the journey of childbirth and motherhood. Let us recognize the mental, emotional, and physical challenges they face with courage and grace. And let us offer them the support, compassion, and understanding they need to navigate the challenges of motherhood.

But let’s not stop there. Here are three ways we can support moms after they’ve had their babies and beyond:

  1. Help out with practical stuff: Moms have a lot on their plate, so lending a hand with everyday tasks can make a big difference. Think of cooking meals, doing laundry, or running errands. By taking some of the pressure off, we give moms more time to focus on themselves and their little ones.
  2. Be there emotionally: Sometimes moms just need someone to listen. No judgment, no advice – just a shoulder to lean on. Letting them know that it’s okay to feel everything they’re experiencing can make a world of difference.
  3. Encourage connections: Being a mom can be lonely sometimes, so help moms connect with others in the same boat. Whether it’s organizing playdates or just hanging out, having a support network can make the tough days a little easier to bear.

So, to all the moms out there: You’re doing great. We’ve got your back, today and every day.

Happiness is in no way the main goal of parenting or all that a child needs. Study after study shows a bit of struggle and frustration will allow a child to build character. But having a positive outlook and a foundation of optimism can protect children from mental health issues throughout life.

Knowing this, there is one thing that will allow children to feel happiness more than anything else: your love.

A 2023 Pew Research survey showed that 94% of parents feel it is extremely important that their children have strong moral and ethical beliefs. 76% of parents said that their greatest worry for their children was their mental health. This includes the effects of depression and anxiety on the next generation. 

It’s clear parents want their children to be good, happy people. So, what can we do to help your children be happy? According to the Journal of Child and Family Studies, a parent’s warmth and love play a big role in a child viewing their world in a positive light. It specifically pointed to the influence a father or a father figure can have on a child’s lifelong happiness.

When it comes to teaching happiness to our children, actions speak louder than words. You’ve probably heard the dangers of telling your child to, “do as I say, not as I do.” Research backs this up as well. Several studies in the past twenty years have shown that things like religious practices, drinking alcohol, or exercising regularly, are more likely to be passed down through generations by action more than word. For example, if a parent tells their child not to drink alcohol, yet they themselves drink alcohol regularly, their child is more than likely to start a drinking habit as an adult.

The same thing can be used for how parents show love and affection to their children. It’s one thing to say “I love you” and to provide food, a home, and clothes. It’s another thing to establish consistent fun, warmth, and honesty in your relationship. These are some of the key things you need to make positive memories together.

What’s the key takeaway from all of this?

When you’re stuck in a parenting rut or when you’re feeling overwhelmed and lost on what to do for your child, turn to warmth and affection. Show them love.

This is easier said than done, and it may sound over-optimistic, but kids need to know they’re loved and accepted unconditionally more than anything else in the world.

And here’s some good news: showing love to your kids doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t have to be a perfect parent, and your kids don’t have to be perfect either. Just by being there for them, by giving them hugs, and by showing them that you care, you’re doing something really important.

So, keep on loving your kids, even on the tough days. Because in the end, your love is one of the best things you can give them. And that’s something they’ll carry with them their whole lives.

Have you ever wondered why some adult children become distant from their parents? It’s a big issue, affecting 40% of adult children in the United States, according to a study by Cornell University. Surprisingly, it’s often the adult children who choose to end communication.

Digging into this issue, David Brooks, a respected writer for The New York Times, conducted research. He found that parenting styles change over time. What might seem normal to one generation might not feel right to the next. This shift is a major reason why families grow apart.

Karl Pillemer, another researcher from Cornell, explored this topic in his book Fault Lines. He discovered that adult children often point to things like strict rules, favoritism, divorce, and strained communication as reasons for the rift. However, parents may remember things differently, thinking everything was fine and blaming their children for exaggerating.

But don’t worry if you find yourself in this situation, there’s still hope. Whether you’re an adult child who feels their parents fell short or a parent who tried their best, you can mend things if you both want to.

Here are five steps you both adult children and their parents can take to improve the situation:

  1. Communicate Openly: Before discussing feelings, ensure everyone listens without interruption or judgment. It’s crucial to create a safe space where everyone can express themselves using “I” statements to avoid blaming.
  2. Apologize Sincerely: Both parents and adult children should apologize for any mistakes. Parents must genuinely express remorse, even if they didn’t intend to cause harm. Adult children should try to understand their parents’ perspectives.
  3. Forgive and Let Go: Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, but it involves releasing negative feelings. Both parties need to forgive and ask for forgiveness to move forward.
  4. Rebuild Trust and Set Boundaries: Trust takes time to rebuild. Establish clear rules for how to treat each other, respecting personal space and feelings.
  5. Foster Empathy and Understanding: Recognize that everyone has their own perspective. Even if you were a good parent, your adult child might still choose to distance themselves. It’s crucial to listen and understand each other’s viewpoints.

If we don’t try to understand, more families might drift apart. Let’s focus on listening, apologizing, and rebuilding relationships to keep families close.

My husband and I had a little argument last week. It wasn’t a big deal, just one of those everyday disagreements. But you know what? Our four-year-old reacted in a surprising way.

He saw us arguing and got upset. So upset, in fact, that he pretended to punch my husband. When we asked him what was going on he said, “You two fighting makes me angry, and I want to fight. I choose Mom’s side. Attack Dad!” While I was slightly honored that he chose to defend me, it got me thinking about how our arguments affect our kids.

Experts have talked about this for a long time. They say that when parents argue in front of their kids, it can make the kids internalize the conflict.

A study done by the Journal of Family Psychology followed over 200 families for ten years. Guess what they found?

Kids who saw their parents argue a lot were more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues later in life. And it didn’t matter if the arguments got resolved or not. What mattered was how often and how intensely the parents argued.

Arguing at home can even make it hard for kids to do well in school. There was another study in the Journal of Child Development that found kids who hear their parents argue a lot have trouble paying attention in school. The stress caused by conflict between parents can make it harder for children to focus, absorb information, and give their full effort.

Here’s another thing: kids learn from their parents.

If parents yell or call names when they argue, their kids are likely to do the same. That’s what this famous psychologist called Dr. John Gottman says. He calls it “the conflict blueprint.” Basically, kids copy what they see their parents doing.

But it’s not all bad news. Parents can do things to make it better. First off, they need to realize that their arguments affect their kids. So, it’s important to try to solve arguments without shouting or fighting. Sometimes, talking to a professional can help, like going to therapy or taking parenting or marriage classes.

Making home a safe and happy place can help kids feel more secure. Spending time together as a family, talking openly, and making sure kids know they’re loved can all help. And if you think your arguments have already hurt your kids, it’s okay to talk to them about it. When a child feels tension between parents, they’ll internalize their emotions and often blame themselves. This is normal for children and should encourage parents to reach out to them with curiosity and reassure them of the love and safety in the family. 

As parents, we are role models for our kids. So, it’s important to be kind and respectful, even when we disagree. By doing that, we can help our kids grow up happy and healthy.

My grandmother passed away last week. She was 85, and her health had been slowly declining for a few years. But it didn’t make the news any easier to hear when she passed.

When I was growing up, my grandmother and I spent a lot of time together.

Some of the time was regularly scheduled, as she cared for me a few days a week while my parents worked. But the majority of the time we spent together was prompted by me. I loved being with her. We played, shopped, watched movies, and talked about life for hours. She made me feel seen, heard, and cared for. Nurturing was her superpower.

I know I’m lucky to have lived within 15 minutes of my grandparents for most of my life, which provided ample opportunities to see and spend time with them.

But research shows quality time between grandparents and their grandchildren matters more than quantity.

A longitudinal study recently published in The Journal of Family Issues found that grandparent relationship quality, but not grandparent contact, was linked to multiple late adolescent outcomes, such as mental health and relationship skills. The study also found positive associations between a high-quality grandparent relationship and their grandchild(ren)’s self-worth and perceived competence in close friendships throughout their life.

In other words, grandparents can influence their grandchildren for a lifetime.

However, their influence is built through the depth of their presence rather than frequency. Similar to research on family dynamics within a household, the relationship between married grandparents also bears weight on grandchildren. A healthy, kind, and connected relationship between grandma/grandpa creates a stable environment for a child to establish a sense of belonging and confidence within their family.

What does quality time between grandparents and grandchildren look like? Here are four things to consider.

1: Stay connected with Mom and Dad first.

Parents are (and should be) the gatekeeper to their children. If grandparents do not have a solid relationship with their own son/daughter or son/daughter-in-law, it will be difficult to create a firm foundation with their grandchildren. Also, when grandparents are spending time with their grandchildren, they must follow the rules, boundaries, and cadence of Mom and Dad. This will build trust between the whole family.

2: Let the grandchildren have a voice.

It can be easy for grandparents to have expectations about what their grandchildren should do or how they should act, but it’s more important to connect with them than to control them. Grandparents should ask questions and invest in what their grandchildren are already interested in, rather than trying to sway them in a certain direction out of self-interest or a desire to pass down a specific hobby or pastime.

3: Make the family legacy known, but only when it matters.

Grandparents can certainly share stories and insights about great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but it’s important to do so in a way that expresses family values and connection, not drama, apathy, or disdain. Children are more confident and feel supported when they know they are part of something bigger than themselves, especially when that “something bigger” is positive and life-giving. If those examples don’t exist, grandparents can consider waiting until the child is developmentally prepared to discuss some of the lessons learned from past generations.

4: Do communicate between time spent together.

While quality matters more than quantity, sending a card, making a phone call, or scheduling a quick Facetime between visits will help everyone stay connected and cared for. Grandchildren need to know that their grandparents are still there for them even when they’re not physically present.

I spent the night with my grandmother well into my late twenties, before my son was born, and before she moved into an assisted living facility. She wasn’t perfect, and she knew that, but she was wholly present and interested in our lives. I’m grateful for her, as I know all grandchildren are for caring, loving grandparents.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at [email protected].

Photo by Ekaterina Shakharova on Unsplash

As my oldest child approaches his fifth birthday, I find myself reflecting on the challenges of raising kids in today’s world. From the moment he was born, I’ve been mindful of how much time he spends in front of screens. It’s not easy in a world where screens are everywhere – TVs at grandma’s, FaceTime calls, and tempting shows that say they’re educational for young kids. But as they grow, so does their exposure and draw to screen time.

Sometimes, I notice that too much screen time leaves him feeling frazzled and hard to soothe. It’s not just my child – studies show that too much screen time can have long-term effects on kids. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently wrote about this in The Atlantic, highlighting how excessive screen time is linked to mental health issues, substance abuse, loneliness, and poor school performance. These problems can stick with kids as they grow up, affecting their careers, families, and society as a whole.

“As the oldest members of Gen Z reach their late 20s, their troubles are carrying over into adulthood,” says Haidt. “And if a generation is doing poorly––if it is more anxious and depressed and is starting families, careers, and important companies at a substantially lower rate than previous generations––then the sociological and economic consequences will be profound for the entire society.”

So, what’s changed in recent years? Smartphones. They’re not the sole culprit, but they’ve played a big role. Alongside smartphones, constant news updates and social media have reshaped childhood. Parents today feel more pressure to keep their kids safe, which often means more screen time indoors. It’s a shift from the days when kids roamed freely outside.

Surveys show that many parents turn to screens because they’re convenient and seem safer than letting kids play unsupervised. But this shift has happened fast, and we’re only just starting to understand its impact. As Haidt puts it, we’ve traded real-world risks for virtual ones that might be even more harmful.

So, what can we do to turn things around with screen time? Haidt offers some suggestions:

  • Limit personal devices: Hold off on buying smartphones and other personal gadgets for kids, especially before puberty.
  • Delay social media: Wait until kids are 16 before letting them dive into social media, where the pressure to perform can take a toll on their mental health.
  • Enforce phone-free zones: Schools should crack down on phone use during class, creating a better environment for learning.
  • Foster independence: Encourage kids to take on responsibilities and make decisions on their own, building confidence and preparing them for adulthood.

While screens themselves aren’t evil, they can lead to problems when overused. It’s time for us to recognize the risks and take steps to protect our kids’ futures.

“Momma, when you die and I don’t have a Momma anymore, can I go live with Nana and Poppy?” my four-year-old asked nonchalantly last Saturday.

“Well, if anything happens to me and your dad, you can certainly live with Nana and Poppy. What made you ask that question, bug?” I said blindsided.

“People die. And, I know you’re gonna die and live with Jesus. So. I just want to have someone to live with, too,” he responded. Then, he ran outside and started digging in the dirt with his dump trucks.

I was in shock from the conversation. What was going on in his little mind? Where did that question come from?

My husband reminded me that our son has attended four funerals in his short four years of life– three great grandmothers and a great aunt. That’s a lot of death to unpack. I also learned he overheard a conversation about the tragic shootings and deaths of 3 adults and 3 children at the Covenant School in Nashville a few weeks ago.

As a parent, I want to protect my son at all costs.

I want to keep him from having to deal with the hard, unfair and cruel injustices of this world. But, the truth is, avoiding difficult conversations and shielding him in an effort to preserve his innocence does more harm than good in the long run.

The American Psychological Association (APA) released a statement earlier this year encouraging parents to have hard conversations with young children: 

“Taking a proactive stance and discussing difficult events and topics in age-appropriate language can help a child feel safer and more secure. If adults don’t talk to them about it, a child may overestimate what is wrong or misunderstand adults’ silence. So, be the first to bring up the difficult topic. When parents tackle difficult conversations, they let their children know that they are available and supportive.”

While this statement is empowering, sitting down and having these conversations can be stressful. How do you define age appropriate language? What if you don’t have all the answers to the questions they ask?

Here are a few things to remember when these hard conversations happen:

1: If you can, practice ahead of time.

When a tragic event occurs, try to be the person your child hears it from first. Decide what you’re going to share, how you’re going to share it, and most importantly, when the best time is to have the conversation.

2: Timing is everything.

Choose a quiet place to sit with your child one-on-one and look them in the eyes. Avoid having hard conversations when you’re busy making dinner or when your child is playing. The conversation at hand should be the center of both your attention.

3: Ask them what they already know.

“There was a shooting at a school. What do you know about this?” And then listen, listen, and listen more.

4: Tell them how you feel.

Sharing your emotions with your child allows them to create a deeper connection with you. It’s also a great opportunity to model behavior and emotional regulation for them.

5: Stick to the facts and avoid details.

Tell them the outline of what happened. There’s no need to share gory details or show gruesome graphics. 

As a parent, the greatest thing you can do for your child is build a deep connection with them. No matter how hard we try, we can’t control them or the world around them. Having hard conversations when they’re young allows them to see you as a safe, wise and trusted source for a lifetime.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Jonas Kakaroto on Unsplash