“I feel like I don’t live anywhere.” The Problem with 50-50 Custody.

Recently one of my clients talked about the confusion and distress her teenage son was experiencing at going back and forth between his mom’s home and his dad’s home.   She said her heart went out to him when he said to her, “I feel like I don’t live anywhere.”  She responded to his plight by telling him that he could live with her and that he could visit his father anytime he wanted.  Fortunately, for the adolescent, the parents worked well around custody and access.  The mother discussed with her ex-husband their son’s distress and he agreed that the son could live full time with his mother.  She said her son’s confusions and distress lessened once he  settle down full time at her place. He continued to see his father a lot.

In intact families, children have a home – their own home.  At least that is how they perceive it. Once families break up, children usually lose their home.  In most cases, it is financially impossible to keep the family home.  The kids are told they now have two homes, Mom’s home and Dad’s home.  In some ways, that is true.  However, what often happens is that Mom has a home and Dad has a home and the children have a suitcase/backpack and go back and forth between the two homes.  In reality, they no longer have their own home.

It is less bad for the children who are able to continue to live in the home they grew up in, even if they also go to the other parent’s home.  The home they were in when the family was intact still feels like their own home.  If the home remains relatively unchanged, the children retain a sense of stability and a sense that they still have their own home. For example, if the father was away from home a lot and he is the one who moves out, then home life may remain similar. However, if the home changes in a major or fundamental way, the sense of home can be shattered.

There are many factors which impact on children when their home breaks up. How the children are impacted and how they respond or react to the changes, influence their experience of life after mom and dad’s relationship breaks up.  For some children, things may get a lot better and for others, a lot worse.

I don’t know if there is any research on what it is like for children to go back and forth between homes.

I would like to hear from adults who went back and forth between homes as a child/adolescent.  We need to know what the impact is on children so we can lessen the damage done – lessen the baggage they take into adulthood and their adult relationships. I would like to hear about the successes as well as the painful and difficult experiences.

If anyone has any experience of this situation, either personally or know of others who do, I would welcome hearing about it.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

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