|"Equal Time" Hard
Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
"I want "equal" time with my children." I hear this request many times each week, generally from divorced or divorcing fathers who, in many instances, have been afforded weekend and holiday time--"Disneyland dad" kind of time--with their children.
Child experts are clear that children of divorced parents do better when they have meaningful parent-child relationships with both parents. This typically means children need to spend significant amounts of time with both parents, including work-time as well as play-time.
In divorced families where father is relegated to be only a "play-time dad," there are often problems. One major problem which frequently occurs is children who long for more time with dad and who, upon reaching adolescence, often announce a desire to change their primary home from mom's house to dad's house. These changes in primary home often cause significant disruptions and hurt and result in enormous legal fees.
Divorced parents who develop sensible time-sharing plans can prevent this chaos and cost. However, "equal" time ought not be the goal.
It seems to me that "equal" is a concept that has to do with numbers and things, not people.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short story about "equal" applied to people. He described a country in which every person was "equal", "equal-every-which-way." In that country beautiful people were required to wear red rubber balls on their noses so less-beautiful people would not feel inferior. And all radio and television announcers were required to be people who had speech impediments, so others with less-pleasing voices wouldn't feel slighted. The best (or worst) part about the story was that a cabinet-level position had been created in this country called The Secretary Equalizer General. This official's job included seeking out overly intelligent people, who were required to have small radio receivers implanted in their ears. The Secretary Equalizer General's job also included selecting and transmitting loud, crashing noises at frequent, random intervals which would scramble the thoughts of these too-intelligent folks which, of course, kept everyone equal on an intellectual level. The point of the story is that people are not and should not aim to be "equal."
"Equal" is about arithmetic, not human beings, and "equal" time with kids addresses children as something less than human beings. It turns them into numbers--24-hours-a-day, or 365-days-a-year, one young man whose divorced parents subjected him to equal time described his experience in the following words: " After the divorce my mom get a new house, and my dad got a new house, and I got a suitcase."
The types of time-sharing plans divorced parents should consider are many and varied, and time-sharing plans need to change over time, as children's and parent's lives change. Sometimes equal time is appropriate, but the goal should be time-sharing that works to everyone's benefit.
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