Is Giving Children the Freedom to Choose a Good Idea?

Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen’s unconventional custody plan.



  • Giving children full access to each parent is an atypical approach, and some professionals say it comes with risks.
  • Lack of structure can potentially create feelings of guilt if the child feels they must choose which parent to spend time with.
  • While this split appears to be amicable, no one knows what could come post-divorce.


Most of us have heard about Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen’s recent announcement that they are getting divorced.

According to media reports, these two high-profile, and by all accounts loving parents, have reportedly decided to create a co-parenting plan that some may find a bit unconventional.

Instead of adhering to a “customary custody agreement,” which allocates a specific schedule for each parent to spend with their children, Tom and Gisele are reportedly taking a different approach that some professionals say comes with a number of risks.

An Unconventional Custody Agreement

According to People Magazine, Tom and Gisele will reportedly give their children, ages 12 and 9, full access to each of them, meaning the children will be able to see their parents whenever they want.

A source who allegedly has knowledge of the arrangement told the publication, “Tom and Gisele will not keep their children from spending time with the other parent. That’s not who either of them is.”

There are as many parenting philosophies as there are parents and many ways to co-parent successfully. As a result, custody agreements run the gamut. I find, however, that detailed parenting plans can be helpful for many reasons.

Not only do clearly detailed arrangements limit disagreements and conflicts between parents over who gets the children on certain days during the week, on the weekend, and on holiday breaks, but it also provides the children with familiarity and stability.

I work with mental health professionals and therapists regularly as a part of my practice, and there are downsides for the children if there is no defined plan.

There are reasons why giving children the freedom to choose might not be as great as it sounds.


Children can feel pressure as to which parent to choose to spend time with

Custody agreements and or parenting plans help to limit the conflict and guilt children may feel when they are tasked with choosing which parent to be with.

Lack of structure for the children and each parent

This idea of giving total freedom to the children to determine their own schedule, while well-meaning, may unknowingly create conflict and prevent everyone from developing a routine where the children are able to spend meaningful time with each parent.

And most mental health professionals will tell you that structure is very important for children, particularly when going through a change as significant as their parents’ divorce.

Further, it will be difficult for either parent to maintain a work-life-family balance if there is no structure to map everything out with plenty of notice.

It will become challenging to plan out a vacation or time with friends if either side never knows if the kids are going to call and say they want to come to your home. This can potentially result in a parent being put in the middle of a situation or in an uncomfortable position where the entire burden of child-rearing constantly falls on them.

Things can change

While the Brady-Bundchen split appears to be amicable, and they both say they want what is best for their children, not having a clear and defined parenting plan comes with other risks.

Without a plan, one parent might be able to unduly influence a child to stay with her or him by providing incentives such as greater video game use, computer use, or screen time on their phones.

Or there is always the possibility that one or both parents will re-couple, which could change the game as to whether or not this flexible parenting plan continues to work.

No one knows what comes next post-divorce

All that said, Brady and Bundchen seem to have done a great job of getting their matters in order in an efficient and effective manner and putting their children first. And handling all of it, with grace, in the public eye.

As I have said, there are many ways to co-parent successfully. I sincerely wish them both, and their children, well.

Note: This post is not intended to serve as legal or mental health advice. Each situation is unique. Please speak with a local mental health or addiction professional or attorney to address your issues specifically.

Read the article originally published in Lisa Zeiderman’s Psychology Today Column, Legal Matters, here.

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