Unless very unusual circumstances exist, a child needs two parents and so he needs to see and be with the parent who has left.
When he is little, he needs also very much to have just one home. For younger children visits are best confined to very short periods of time. As they grow older arrangements may well include longer periods. Summer vacations. Christmas holidays. Perhaps even a complete reversal of what the arrangements have been, as with Humphry, for instance. Humphry had chosen a prep school near his father's home. Consequently arrangements were made for his father to take him during the school year and for his mother to have him during vacations, the opposite of the arrangement that had previously prevailed.
What is best for the child is, however, too often lost in the shuffle of the parents' animosity toward each other. It's as if each were using his time with the child to triumph over the other.
"I get furious," exclaimed Vic's mother. "He came home the other day after a week with his father and announced, 'F is for Father and Fun. M is for Mother and Must's.'"
It is natural, of course, that the parent who is visited for brief periods of time should frequently be identified as the "fun" person. The short time together is freer of the hard and arduous routine of living day in and day out with the edges of one personality rubbing against the other's.
It doesn't always work this way, though. Sometimes it boomerangs. The child may turn against the outside parent --for one reason when this parent's strategy is too intense.
"I get uncomfortable with my dad," says Maury. "He tries so hard to get me on his side, and I don't want to take sides. I'm an isolationist, believe me, I am."
Sometimes, too, the parents' jockeying for preferred position is used by the child.
Ruby does this with demonlike cunning.
"My mother," says Ruby to her father with a confiding, innocent air, "she has a new boy friend. I'm not sure whether she'll marry this one or not. But she spends a lot more time in the beauty parlor trying to get the wrinkles out of her neck. And the other morning she didn't get in till five . . ."
Similarly, Ruby reports to her mother, "That father of mine, I think he's the limit. You should see all the things he buys his new wife. He never treated us like that."
In watching the anger arise in each parent, Ruby gloated.
Unconsciously she has got her father and her mother each in turn to express for her the hostility she herself has been ashamed to avow.
When such matters can be equitably discussed, so much the better. A lot can be gained. Many times, however, the discussion reduces itself to one parent's trying to tell the other how to act.
Dictating this or that behavior one to another is rarely profitable. In the last analysis each one of us can work best on our own part of the picture. On our own relationship to our children. On our own feelings and on our own life.
Perhaps we are trying in too grim a fashion and far too seriously to serve as both parents. This is impossible. It's better to relax at times and not to forget that having fun together is important too.
So is having fun apart.
Finding a balance in one's own life. Getting into busy endeavors. Creative activities. Compatible acquaintanceships. And close friendships, especially if one doesn't remarry. These may help to fills one's days so that a parent does not need to lean too heavily on his child.