Shared Parenting Experiences

Divorce, Connecticut Style: 2008 article in the Hartford Advocate

On the Experience of Shared Parenting
What a joy to “teach, love and inspire.” Time with the kids is so much more rewarding than work. I have sacrificed many career opportunities because I need to stay in the same area as my kids. But, shared parenting is worth it. It is total involvement when the kids are at my house: I used to change diapers, I cook meals, help sick kids, handle doctor’s visits and extracurricular activities, reschedule around school holidays and snow days. When they are not at my house, I usually focus on work. But I also have some time for a social life. It is difficult being a single parent – even half the time! There are so many things to juggle, without any help from a partner. I know that it must be tremendously difficult to be a full time single parent. So, both parties benefit from shared parenting.
The kids are an integral and very special part of my life and I let them know it.

On using mediation for Separation and Divorce
Most impartial observers strongly recommend mediation because, if done well, it reduces conflict. If mediation does reduce conflict, then it is in the best interests of the kids. My ex and I have joint custody with her as the primary residence. We got divorced using one lawyer as a mediator. I don’t recommend this for people who are as radically different as my ex and I. I went through a mediator too, but my ex used that as a ruse to get out of the house and establish primary residency with the kids. A few months after she left, she hired a lawyer and took me to court to “get everything I am entitled to.”

On rules at the different houses
We have sort of adopted a “different worlds” attitude for my ex’s household vs. mine without making any judgments about the nature of those worlds. I leave it up to the kids to express interests/concerns about the differences between those worlds and I take them on a as needs basis. My ex and started with a “different rules in different houses” approach. But, when real problems crop up, we have found that unity is important. For example, our teenage son has gotten very rebellious, and he has learned that he wins when he splits the two houses. (Actually, this is not all that different for an intact family, except that it may be easier for the parents to negotiate the appearance of unity.) Over the ten years of separation and divorce, my ex and I have begun to negotiate and coordinate more of the rules, at least the big ones. Unity means consistency, and most child-rearing experts think that this is important.

My Journey from Divorce to Social Justice
by John Clapp

Good Morning. My life ended on a day in May, 1992. Not exactly. OK I had the opportunity to begin again. My life ended and began again in the ordinary and usual way – through divorce involving two young children.

But my story of divorce and social justice begins a decade earlier. You have all heard about the “biological clock”. Well my male biological clock was ticking away in 1982. My path to family led me to BB/BS of Hartford . I became a big brother to a gangly, awkward 13 year old named Alfie. Alfie had a mother and father who lived in West Hartford , but the animosity generated by the divorce was such that he had minimal contact with his father. As BB I took Alfie out of the house, and I worked at being a male role model for him. I did this through numerous hiking and camping trips. On one occasion we walked 13 miles through increasingly heavy rain. One cold late November night Alfie and I became lost as darkness fell. We found our cabin after about an hour, but I had acquired a new middle name: “walk them until they are dead Clapp.”

My good experience with the Big Brothers program caused me to work really hard to build my own family. Translation, the next woman I met would be, I thought, my life’s partner. We married in 1986 and adopted two boys. After my dream fell apart in 1992, I had the ordinary and usual involvement with divorce attorneys, court appearances and judicial branch employees. I learned that I had the obligation to pay child support and an unenforceable right to “visit” with my own children. I felt like a second class citizen, and to this day I believe that non-custodial parents are less than equal in the eyes of the law.

As my life unraveled in 1991, my relationship with my “little brother,” who by then stood 4 inches taller, underwent a transition. Alfie wrote a memorable letter that I have since had framed. He said: “Our love, our understanding, our friendship is the greatest of all riches, of any gift.” Around the time that he and I became friends, Alfie reconciled with his dad. Today, Alfie is married with two young children and a third in the hopper. Last year he was the best man at my marriage to my true life’s partner.

Through persistence and good luck, my ex wife recognized the importance of father involvement: I became a half time dad in 1996. It seems that the most memorable moments with my boys involved the most ordinary situations – a breakfast discussion punctuated with a “great aha” for all of us, a trip with the cub scouts, a first swim out to a platform in deep water.

My painful divorce, echoing Alfie’s childhood trauma, led me to found a nonprofit corp., the Shared Parenting Council of Connecticut. The SPC envisions a world in which “the best interests of the child” are recognized as those policies, attitudes and actions that promote active involvement by both parents. We believe that the best parents are those that encourage the other parent to share their love for the children.

My boys managed to avoid most hiking with me, probably because Alfie gave them ample warning. My boys suffered through many transitions from one household to another, but they love both their parents and by way of compensation, every year they get two birthday celebrations.

Today, my involvement with BB/BS today is to help with fund raising. During the offering, I encourage you to give generously by marking your checks for BB/BS of Hartford . More information on the shared parenting movement is on a table downstairs.