Time Perception, Age, and Parenting Time

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”

Steve Miller, Fly Like An Eagle, 1977

“Are we there yet?”

Six-year-old Junior Smythe, 1966

Much time in our practice is dedicated to formulating meaningful parenting time schedules. In Michigan, parenting time is governed by the Child Custody Act of 1970. MCL 722.27a provides:

(1) Parenting time shall be granted in accordance with the best interests of the child. It is presumed to be in the best interests of the child for the child to have a strong relationship with both of his or her parents. Except as otherwise provided in this section, parenting time shall be granted to a parent in frequency, duration, and type reasonably calculated to promote a strong relationship between the child and the parent granted parenting time.

So why is so much time and effort required to prepare an appropriate parenting time schedule? The simple answer is that this is a task that should not be assigned to the Court, a Friend of the Court, or any third parties. This task is most appropriate for the parents of the child/children involved. No judge, Friend of the Court referee, family counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist can make decisions regarding parenting time that are preferable to the thoughtful and logical decisions of a loving parent who intimately understands the specific needs of his/her child/children. If a court or friend of the court is relegated the task of compiling a parenting time schedule, the trier of fact will likely apply pattern schedules for parenting time that have been successfully applied in other cases. The trier of fact will not typically know the specific needs and desires of your individual children.

A strong consideration in formulating an appropriate parenting time schedule is the age of the child or children involved. Recently, a client and parent of a four-year-old child requested a parenting time schedule that included month-on, month-off parenting time. This client was clearly allured by the thought of a full month of uninterrupted parenting time. However, this client only considered time with his child and never considered time away from the child. A full month is far too much time for a young child to be away from a parent. This client failed to consider how his four-year-old’s perception of time differs from his own adult perception of time.

In his article Why does time fly as we get older?, Scientific American, December 18, 2013, Jordan Gaines Lewis discusses theories on this subject. Lewis cites five potential theories for this phenomenon, which include:

– We gauge time by memorable events.

We may be measuring time by the number of events that can be recalled during any specified period of time. Adulthood tends to be accompanied by fewer and fewer memorable events. Principles of Psychology, William James, 1890. When the passage of time is measured by “firsts” (first kiss, first day of school, first family vacation), the lack of new experiences in adulthood causes the days and weeks to smooth themselves out… and the years grow hollow and collapse.” Id.

– The amount of time passed relative to one’s age varies.

This ratio theory suggests that we are constantly comparing time intervals with the total amount of time we’ve already lived. By way of example, for a five-year-old, one year is 20% of his or her entire life. However, one year is only 2% of the entire life of a 50-year-old.

– Our biological clock slows as we age.

External time appears to pass more quickly with the aging of our internal clock.

– As we age, we pay less attention to time.

As a child, the countdown for Christmas gifts may begin on December 1. On December 1, an adult tends to be a bit more focused on paying the mortgage, employment, house cleaning, and other adult predilections. With more focus on these adult activities, there is less cognizance of the passage of time.

– Stress.

When describing the passage of time, young people were more likely to select static metaphors such as “time is a quiet, motionless ocean.” Adults tend to describe the passage of time with swift metaphors such as “time is a speeding train.” The feeling that there is not enough time to get things done may be reinterpreted as the feeling that time is passing too quickly.

In formulating a reasonable and proper parenting time schedule, one must try to think like a child. A long and relaxing car ride to the cottage on the lake can be torturous to a young child. Long periods of time away from one parent, long car rides or flights between parents’ homes, and similar events must be considered within the context of a young child’s perception of time. By thinking like a child, we may be able to serve the children’s best interests.

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