Shared or 50/50 parenting is an arrangement where each parent spends an equal amount of time with their children, either within a partnership or following a separation. While this 'equal time' deal may seem like a win-win for parents and children alike, according to some experts, this new ideal offers up just as many challenges as the paradigm it tries to replace.
Parenting is a tough job that requires a lot of hard work and dedication, and often the rewards are hard to define. Jennifer Senior's new Amazon bestseller "All Joy and No Fun" compares the warm and fuzzy expectations of modern parenting with the harsh realities, in an effort to discover why many modern parents are not happy. Shared parenting is one solution to this problem, where the man and woman take on equal-time roles bringing up the kids in an effort to improve their lives.
While the mechanics of parenting are obviously very different for partnered and separated people, the decision to make a 50/50 split often comes from a similar place. Parents are increasingly looking for the best way to balance their parenting responsibilities with their careers, and a shared arrangement is often the best solution. However, while equal parenting may enable both parents to have a life, it can also be a compromise for both parties and may actually stop both parents from forging ahead with their careers.
From a child's perspective, most experts agree that having access to both parents is the best solution. However, while spending time with both mum and dad is important, there is a danger that an exact 50/50 split becomes an artificial ideal designed to serve the needs of parents more than kids. While equal time arrangements work well for many separated parents, there is also a danger that time becomes a currency of exchange between parents, who may focus more on quantity of time spent rather than quality experiences.
Gender plays an important role in parenting decisions, with both girls and boys needing to spend more time with either their mum or dad at different times of development. According to child consultant and psychologist Susan Tambling, “Gender is another important factor. There are times when children really want their mum or dad around and this may change depending on their developmental needs and the circumstances that they may be facing. It has been shown that children do better at school and have better self-esteem when both parents are involved in their lives and schooling."
While both parents are needed at different times, according to Ms Tambling, having one parent as a primary care-giver is important in the early years: “Research around attachment emphasises the importance of stability and predictability for very young children (between 0-2 years), and suggests children that are very young (between 0-2) need to be in one home with frequent contact with both parents... Experts agree that they need one primary carer at this age and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the mother, it needs to be one person that they feel connected to.
While shared parenting is a worthwhile model, parents should be flexible enough to adjust to their child's needs when necessary. Whether separated or in a partnership, any 50/50 solution should perhaps be regarded more as a template than a contract, with the ability to shift and evolve according to the changing needs of both parents and kids.