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Shared Parenting Works

Newsweek (USA)
15 December 2008

Equal Time
How I divide my life between my divorced parents' homes

By Charlotte Juergens | Newsweek Web Exclusive

Watch Video: My Two Homes - Charlotte Juergens, 14, of Brooklyn, NY, on what it's like to split her time equally between divorced parents.

My parents divorced when I was 2 years old. Because I was so young, I cannot remember anything of how the divorce actually felt at the time. But 12 years later, I am quite content with my life and my parents. Unlike many divorced couples with children, neither parent has primary custody of me, but rather, I switch between my parents' houses every other day, spending roughly equal time with my mother and my father.  
When I describe the system to other kids, many of them gape at me and are absolutely baffled. "How I can stand my life being so crazy and confusing?" they ask. Others frankly say that my parents are weird for not doing some kind of every-other-weekend deal. I always respond by explaining how after all this time, the routine seems like normal and isn't confusing at all and that I would honestly not have it any other way.  
I believe that I am a significantly more stable person because I get to see both my mom and dad so frequently. I don't think that my relationships with either of them would be as loving and open as they are, if I even switched houses every week, because for me at least, seeing both parents every day makes me closer with both of them. They both always know what's going on in my life, and there isn't that awkwardness of having to explain to one what happened during a week where they weren't part of my life. I have had a more "normal" experience growing up, in that seeing Mom and Dad each day is sort of like the experience someone would have living with married parents and seeing them both all the time.  
It's definitely an essential component of my happiness as a person that my parents have found a way to be friends even though things didn't work out between them during their married life. After the divorce, no one would have blamed my parents if they never wanted to talk to each other again. But Mom and Dad rose above the anger they felt for each other, and focused on the 2-year-old daughter they had. They made what I believe is undoubtedly the right choice, by arranging it so that both of them would be able to see me daily and, when around me at least, acting in a friendly manner toward each other. Eventually, after a while of being friendly, they actually became friends. Now I might even venture to say that they are among each other's best friends.  
The way my parents have dealt with their divorce has been an inspiration to many other couples with children going through the same thing. Some of my friends' parents have used my family as a mentor to create similar arrangements between their kid and themselves.  
Not only am I happy with the system my parents have, but I am also extremely grateful that Mom and Dad divorced in the first place. If they had stayed together, I am sure that there would be tons more fighting, unhappiness and disrespect going on in my family, where now hardly any of that exists at all. It is also an excellent decision on my parents' part to have divorced when they did, instead of waiting a few years on my behalf. Being a very small child at the time of the divorce, I think, made the whole thing much less disturbing and unnerving as it would have been had I spent more of my early childhood thinking of my parents as two people meant to live together.  
I've had friends ask me, when I'm leaving my mom's house to go to my dad's house, if I need to pack some clothes, shampoo, or anything for the next day. I feel slightly shocked whenever I am asked this, because the concept of one of my houses being more like home than the other is so alien to me. I've grown up equally in both houses, and both are thoroughly my home. At my dad's house, as at my mom's house, I keep my clothes, childhood toys, old school art projects, books and stuffed animals. I do not live separate lives when at the different houses, because both houses are marked in the same way by my transition from the 2-year-old to 14-year-old. I love that both houses are me now, and that each one has elements of all the stages of my life.

Juergens is a high-school freshman in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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