I have been watching the struggle of my mother’s partner from his point of view, with only small comments on his ex to go on. The struggle is for time with their little girl. From the point of view that I have, the ex seems to be the one being the dickhead. Yet part of me thinks that’s an unfair thing to assume. Just because she stops the lass from visiting some weekends and then shows up unexpectedly because she wants a night off on others, that’s maybe… bad communication? Or misunderstanding? I don’t know.
Do you have experience with the custodial thing? Could you write about it?
Fortunately, it was never up for debate.
When my wife and I divorced two years ago, we agreed that an equal-time shared-parenting agreement made the most sense for us and our son who was just about to enter kindergarten.
Even though your heart is broken in a million pieces because of your relationship ending, the hardest part of divorce for most parents inevitably involves the fallout surrounding their children.
There are hurt feelings. Financial concerns. Scheduling headaches. Extra things to remember (which I’m historically bad about). All kinds of fears and sensitivities surrounding your child’s safety and well being when you’re not around. And maybe the biggest—a complete lack of control regarding who your ex might date or marry, and to what extent that might influence your child’s life.
The Right Way to Parent After Divorce
I’m not saying my judgment is always best. I may be totally screwing up my son because of things I do or don’t do. I’m not saying I know the best way to be a divorced father. I’m saying, logistically and behaviorally, my ex and I have found a way that works for us. Our son seems to benefit from it.
I can say with certainty and pride that if there’s an optimum way for divorced parents to cooperate and work together in the interest of a child’s well being, my son’s mother and I are doing it right.
We communicate constantly. Close to daily. If scheduling conflicts are on the horizon, we discuss it ahead of time and reshuffle our schedules accordingly. We back one another up in case of illness. Change our personal schedules for special occasions. Attend school functions and extracurricular activities together. We are constantly doing favors for one another, which I think breeds goodwill and eliminates any and all stress for our child.
That boy comes first. He never doesn’t.
We never call one another to say: “Hey! I want to go out partying this weekend! Will you please keep him???”
We also never squabble over when he is to be with one of us. If there is a special event of some kind—a wedding, or unique opportunity to attend a family event—we always accommodate the other.
Our individual wants don’t come first. Our son comes first.
When my parents divorced when I was 4 and my mom moved us 500 miles away from my dad, my parents battled in court for full-time custody of me. The judge awarded custody to my mother. So, I lived in Ohio throughout the school year, and would visit my dad for 9-10 weeks over summer breaks and 1-2 weeks over winter breaks.
And that’s just how it was for me growing up. Not optimum.
When my wife and I first separated, I assumed we would trade weeks. One week on, one week off. Brutal. But clean and simple. And infinitely better than how I remember it with my dad.
Everything my ex and I heard and read said young children suffer emotionally and psychologically from being away from a parent for that much time. So we had to figure out a better, albeit more complicated, way.
There are MANY different 50-50 parenting schedules out there that work for people because of geography or work schedules or other circumstances.
Here’s what worked for us:
Monday and Tuesday – Child with one parent.
Wednesday and Thursday – Child with other parent.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Child back with other parent.
And on and on it goes, constantly flip-flopping (save for the occasional juggling and makeup days we do to help one another).
The positives are that it keeps the weekends even, and cleanly divides the time even though calendar weeks are an inconvenient odd number of days.
The negatives are that it’s REALLY hard to be part of social groups or organized activities that take place at the same time and day each week, because every other week you are unavailable to participate. And it also requires intense THOUGHTFULNESS AND COOPERATION.
For example, when your child participates in sports or other activities, or has special projects or events for school, BOTH parents must communicate and back one another up regarding having the correct clothes or uniform or shoes a child might need, or for completing work on a project, or even just to notify one another about upcoming stuff on the school calendar.
It means you have to swallow your pride and always be available to answer the phone or a text message. It means you have to soften your heart. It means you sometimes have to drop whatever you’re doing because your ex needs an outfit or school document delivered for your kid.
It seems like a lot of people are incapable of doing, or refuse to do this, because they’re angry, selfish, or something else.
I think children suffer for it.
The Wrong Way to Parent After Divorce
I don’t always know what’s right, but it’s generally easy to spot what’s wrong.
Here are the things I see divorced parents do often that gives me the most heartburn:
Sometimes, parents want to do what they want to do more than they want to spend time with their kids, or help maintain the kids’ routines.
I hear about dads scheduling last-minute golf trips or Vegas trips with buddies and not being available for their scheduled time with children.
I hear about moms wanting to go party all night at the bars so “just keep them an extra night, okay??”
A well-coordinated, equally split schedule yields the flexibility to build in all the selfish time you want for you. It just requires a bit of foresight and planning. If you’re bad at that like me, and your kids are scheduled to be with you during that fun thing that’s coming up? Sorry about your luck, I guess? Love your kids. They deserve it.
Moms and dads all over the place will sometimes start casually dating, and just have their new boyfriend or girlfriend (sometimes, multiple!) around even when the kids are home, just because they like having sex so much.
MAYBE this has no impact on children. I don’t claim to be a child psychologist. But I have to believe it exposes them to shit they’re just not ready to process maturely. Also, little kids often like everyone, so if they attach to the new boyfriends and girlfriends, they often have to deal with loss again when their mom or dad breaks up a month later. Ugh. I just think it’s a total asshole move.
In two years of being single, I have not introduced my son to, or met a child of, someone I dated (minus the mom of one of his friends/classmates who he already knew. Public Service Announcement: Don’t date parents of your kids’ classmates. Just, don’t.)
Please wait until confidence is REALLY high that you’re in a committed, long-term relationship before involving children. Pretty please.
I’ve heard a couple stories about parents who straight-up refuse to share and cooperate. One dad told his son’s mother that he will NEVER exchange weekends under any circumstances, and that the clothes he buys for his kid stay with him, and that mom doesn’t get them, ever. (I don’t know what this looks like on transition days! Nudity?)
It’s not because they’re the dumbest, most-unreasonable people to walk the earth.
It’s because they’re angry at their exes, and they’re going to use their children as pawns in their power plays. They want to feel in control of a situation in which no one can have control.
Sure, maybe your ex will suffer a little bit.
In the end, your child (and your relationship with that child) will suffer more. Those are sad stories.
The Post-Marriage Relationship when Children are Involved
A new kind of love is required.
It is a difficult, emotionally painful, pride-swallowing affair.
If you didn’t have kids, you maybe would have never had to see one another or speak to one another again. But you do have kids. And you’re “stuck” with each other for better or worse until your children are independent adults, and probably for long after.
So, love. Just love.
You didn’t get it right in your marriage. You messed up. Here’s your chance to do something right. A little redemption.
Give more than you take.
Always put your children first.
This is one tangible way to show your children what love and class and grace and kindness look like.
A tangible way to light up the darkness.
And that always changes everything.