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“THE GRAND EXPERIMENT” as passed to us from on high by the L. A. Family Court system is as follows: Every Monday and Tuesday, the children will be with mom. Then, on Wednesdays and Thursdays, they’ll be with dad.
On the first and third Friday from after school until Sunday at 5:00 pm, they will reside at dad’s, and on the second and fourth Friday through Sunday, they’ll be at Mom's. Of course, if there’s a holiday on a Monday following a weekend with dad, they’ll spend the extra full day with dad even though Mondays are technically mom’s. Then, either they’ll be returning home to mom on Monday at 5:00 pm, or they’ll stay at dad’s, and he’ll bring them to school on Tuesday morning.
Now, to make up for mom’s missed day because of the fifth weekend on the occasional month, mom will have an extra day at Christmas time unless, of course, it falls in a year when the children have already spent both Christmas day and Thanksgiving day with mom in which case they will then go to dad’s for an extra day to be made up either during the Easter holiday or at another holiday of his choice so long as he gives at least 30 days notice to the mom of the change following the missed Monday.
Suppose he is unable to give her the 30 days notice. In that case, 15 days will be sufficient so long as mom is now given the option of accepting the change for this month only, which she must do in order to keep her fifth Monday of the month or turn it over to dad as his make-up day for his missed holiday. Ready kids? On your mark, get set…now go figure out whose house you’re at today and which one you left your homework and favorite sweater at.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about rules of procedure in each home. To begin with, if mom and dad had been able to agree with each other before all this madness or, at the very least, learned to arrive at a compromise in a civilized and supportive manner, they would still be living together as mom and dad under one roof…but such is not the case. However, now that they are both freed from the choking constraints of the other’s opinions and actions regarding how to raise a child properly, they can set up a system that works best for them in their own separate homes. Unfortunately for the child, they are usually not the same in practice even though they are often the same in theory. Oh, and woe is unto the child who can’t remember which rules go with which home.
For instance, everyone knows that a child must do their homework before returning to school the next day. But must they do it when they first get home or can they relax for a little while and watch TV? Dad votes for the relaxing method first, and mom says, uh, uh. Or should they be watching any TV at all during the weekdays? Mom votes yes, and dad no.
If they can watch TV, does that mean they can have it on while they’re doing their homework or should they work in absolute silence (even though when they visited mommy/daddy at work they saw that a TV and a Radio were blasting away in the workplace because tests have shown that a certain amount and kind of outside stimulus is often productive in the work environment). Now here is where it gets a little complicated because dad, you see, has Attention Deficit Disorder. Having a TV or radio on while he works cuts out the outside noises that disturb his concentration ability. It seems to him that junior suffers from the same malady.
On the other hand, Mom thinks junior’s just interested in seeing what happened on the next episode of MTV’s “Real World” and couldn’t concentrate if his/her life depended on it anyway. What about bedtime, a favorite for all parents, single or otherwise? Does a child need at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, or do some children do better with less/more? If their friends are allowed to stay up till 10 on a school night, it’s okay with dad, but mom says at her house, lights are out at 8:30 no matter what, even if the child tosses and turns until 10 anyway. And on and on and on and on. What about the kids themselves?
When they’re little, they often either forget or are just plain confused about whether it was a mom who said they have to eat all their vegetables or a dad who said they could have sleepovers on a school night. And if they’re adolescents, they don’t care whose rules rule at home because they’re more interested in rebelling and establishing their own identity than doing anything we say. And besides, just go ahead and try to make them. You, the parent, will end up back in court for Parental Abuse because you tried to establish an order where your children would rather have anarchy.
So what it comes right down to is, do we want to keep raising our children this way? Did “THE GRAND EXPERIMENT” work, or has it caused more problems than it solved? Shouldn’t we be advocating consistency and continuity over all this madness? Do we want to be experimenting with our children’s lives this way? And who among us adults could ever deal with so much constant change without eventually getting frustrated, anxious, and depressed? Do those sound like symptoms your children are experiencing more of these days? Maybe there’s a ‘bad’ reason for that. Maybe we created the ‘bad’ reason for that. Maybe we can and should create a better way…for all our sakes.
Rich Warren is a single father, producer, writer, composer living in Los Angeles.