Shared Parenting is a pretty new term for a pretty old idea in foster care. Boiled down to it's most basic principle, it's really about the adults in the triad "playing nice". The idea is to work together to make the transition in and out of care as fast and painless as possible for the child.
In my county, shared parenting consists of "icebreaker" meetings with bioparents and a 15hr shared parenting CORE class. We're encouraged to keep biofamilies updated on the child's development, schedule, preferences, etc. Shared parenting looks so neat and tidy in the training manual, but it's gritty, abrasive, and intimidating in real life.
Our first attempt at shared parenting came 48hrs after bringing home baby #1. The meet and greet with biodad. We walked into the agency and immediately identified Dad as he and baby are spitting images of each other. I smiled and brought the baby to him while scanning the lobby for the caseworker who was MIA. As we introduce ourselves, I call him by the name that was written on the intake report. Too bad it wasn't his name. As he corrects me, the caseworker comes up to us and tells Dad that the baby has been moved to our home from the foster family that had him for the first 4 days after his discharge from the hospital. What?! He didn't even know we had his baby or that he was coming to the agency to meet us. Way to be on the ball CW! So I let him know that baby is doing well, he had a checkup at he foster care clinic and he's back to birth weight and looking good. I give him pictures of baby in the crib at our house and his immunization record. I tell him how perfect his son is. I tell him we will treat his baby like royalty until dad can bring him home. Dad says nothing- literally staring silently at us. Dad and caseworker take baby into the visitation room for an hour long supervised visit, and we sit in the lobby waiting. We did everything by the book, but our icebreaker felt every kind of wrong.
My most recent attempt at shared parenting was with the Dad of babies 2&3. They are currently in the process of transitioning home, and have been doing overnight unsupervised visits. What I saw when they returned from their first visit was concerning to me. My size 3T toddler was dressed in his brothers 12mo clothes. They both started crying when they came inside the house, ate like crazy and fell asleep. For the next 2days, my 2yr old had to be physically connected to me or breakdown ensued. After consulting theirs and my caseworker, I decided to give Dad a call to talk about how we can smooth the transition for the kids. He was like, "I don't know what you re talking about. They ate and slept fine here. Not even one tear was shed over the weekend". OK, nothing you can really say to that. For the next visit, I wrote a very detailed schedule for Dad. 7:30- wake up, both boys change diapers and clothes. 8:00- Breakfast. Cereal and fruit for Baby 2. 8oz formula for baby 3, and so on. Dad called me at the end of the weekend to let me know that the boys had another great visit. They don't need to nap at the times I wrote or eat as often as I feed them (They are in the 10 and 25 percentile for weight), and toddler does fine at night without a nightlight. I kept my ego in check and said "That's great! I'm so glad everyone is well!". When they came home from that 2nd weekend though, they were happy, clean, and in proper clothes.
Our court date is set for next week. We expect babies 2 &3 will be ordered home- 2wks before baby 3's birthday and the anniversary of us getting baby 2. Shared parenting is the only "insurance" I have that we will continue contact with them. Maybe the tone of civility and common ground I have set will seem normal to Dad and he'll continue to put up with me for the sake of our boys. I offered to pay for a big party for baby 3 in exchange for being there and Dad agreed. He asked us to be the boys' godparents and said we can be involved in their lives. It sounds so great, but I've heard it before, and I guess I'm jaded.
Baby 1 went home nearly one year ago. For 8mo I had kept a journal for bioparents and sent it in the diaper bag for every visit with updates, appointments and weekly pictures. I had a frequent phone relationship with Dad and even held the phone up to baby's ear when mom called to talk to her 3mo old. When baby 1 was ordered home, Dad was all, "Thank you for all you've done for baby 1! We'll keep in touch." He called me once/ week for 3wks to ask questions and give updates. Then I heard nothing. I called him for baby1's first birthday 4 mo later to set up a time to bring him a gift. Dad told me to call Mom who told me they wanted nothing to with me. "Baby 1 doesn't need anything from you". Shared parenting bit me in the fanny- that wasn't in the 15hr training.
Our sharing has taken a lot of editing in our words and attitudes. Shared parenting demands selflessness from foster parents and trust from bioparents. Even though sharing has hurt me, I have to hold hope that it has helped my children- that bioparents are hearing what I say and doing what is best for our child.