Monday, October 5, 2009

Racing From One Weekend to the Next

There are a gazillion ways to arrange custody when divorcing. For us, a 50/50 arrangement was a given so we started from there. Because we have a little-one (Maia) we decided that a full week without seeing one or the other of us would be hard for her so that figured largely into the equation. In the end we came up with the following schedule: I have the kids every Monday and Tuesday. They are with their dad every Wednesday and Thursday. We switch off every other Friday and Saturday, and switch again every other Sunday.

So far the arrangement has worked for us (with minor tweaks and adjustments here and there to accommodate their dad's teaching schedule).

But it takes a lot of adjusting.

As it works out, every other week I drop the children off at school on Wednesday morning and don't see them again until 4 pm on Sunday. Five days.

When the 5 o'clock hour comes on Wednesday, the first day without them, I'm at a loss. I suddenly don't have to jump in my car and "play pickup kids." He's doing it. I can't pin down how this feels but the closest thing to describe it is anxiety. A pulsing in my veins, wringing of my hands, twiddling of my thumbs... What to do?

On Thursday evening it gets easier. By Friday, at 5, I'm lonely. Saturday rolls around and my objective is to get the house ready for them - laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping - so that on Sunday I can sit in my favorite chair and enjoy the New York Times with cup of coffee while KFOG plays the Acoustic Morning program on the radio. By the time they arrive at 4, I'm relaxed and excited to see them.

Until they arrive.

And I'm suddenly shocked into the reality of motherhood. Almost immediate whining, and requests for food, or gum or juice; quarrels between the two of them; very loud voices; screaming, crying, tantrums, defiance, anger, exhaustion. Wow. Mommying is hard work. Especially when you do it alone.

Monday morning, getting up in time to get to school by 8. I rise at 6 - try to get a half hour of time alone with my coffee before waking them at 6:30 to start getting ready for school. This morning hour is perhaps the most challenging of the day. Never mind me - I need to get two children dressed, washed up and fed in addition to making boxed lunches and tending to Moses the Dog. We leave the house at 7:50 and drive across town to Joe's school where we drop him off and then take off back across town (tracing where we've just been and passing our house) to Maia's preschool. Once there the ritual is that we spend about 10 minutes playing or reading together and then she "pushes me out the door" and I'm off on my own. An immediate sense of relief and freedom.

It seems to be one or the other - extreme stress or loneliness - I've not yet found a common ground. A place where one or the other is satisfying and fulfilling. Instead, one just seems like a race to get to the other. I'm constantly running and never winning.

When does this end?


  1. That's great that you and your ex have a 50/50 split. Wish I had had that. I got every Wednesday and every other weekend. So sometimes I'd go a whole week without seeing my son. And sometimes I'd fall apart.

    Over time it got better, especially as he got older and more used to the routine and could do more for himself. I'm sure it'll be the same for you.

    One thing I'll share. My son told me that the part he hated the most about the joint custody was the going back and forth. He hated it. He liked just being in one place for a while and then going to the other. Didn't like switching too frequently. And that's understandable.

    Your kids may love your arrangement; or they may not. If you decide to try something else, you might consider 3-day blocks, instead of 2. Maybe Mon-Wed for you; Thurs-Sat for ex; Sun for you; then switch the following week: Mon-Wed for ex; etc. That would give you bigger blocks of time, and would eliminate the 5 days without seeing the kids.

    Either way, it's a hard situation. But, over time, as everyone gets adjusted, it becomes more "normal," and easier to deal with.

    Best to you!

    Neil (nrgins)

  2. I read your post just a few minutes after you posted it, but didn't comment because I figured my reaction was out in left field and wouldn't be welcome. But you subsequently tweeted that you'd like more comments, so...

    (Full disclosure: you could file this under "do as I say, not as I did".)

    Frankly, I've always thought that equal time between parents blows. I've never been a kid in that situation, but whenever I've heard about a family doing that I've thought, man, that's gotta just blow, from the kid's (or kids') perspective. A kid wants to have one place to call home.

    Of course the optimal thing would be for you two to get back together. I know, I know, you're already divorced. This is the "not as I did" part. I divorced when my son was little, and it's the stupidest goddam thing I ever did. Whatever differences I had with his mom were, well, nothing, in the bigger picture of my son's life.

    From my smug vantage point of experience, I wonder why parents divorce. I don't know anything about your ex (and of course I've never met you; I only follow your tweets) but I have to wonder what's going through his mind. Unless he's hooked up with a beer heiress who looks like a cross between Halle Berry and a Victoria's Secret lingerie model, I don't know what he's thinking. I mean, you're a pretty gal, and witty, and a loving mom... and YOU CAN COOK, fer chrissakes! What more does he want? Hell, I get hungry just reading your tweets about the stuff you cook!

    Okay, so maybe getting back together is a bit of a long shot.

    But it seems to me that this evenly-divided schedule you guys have is fair and balanced only for you two grown-ups—not for your son and daughter. I really think a kid wants to have one place that's his or hers, where he or she feels safe and snug and "at home". Under the "equal time" regime, I'll bet they feel like they're always camping out. And the incomprehensible swap-out schedule... surely that confuses both of them.

    Divorce doesn't seem to have irreparably scarred my son. I'm in my mid-50s, he's in his late 20s, and he's the sanest, most intelligent person I know. It probably would have been a cooler childhood if we'd all three been together, and I'd give anything to go back and make that happen. As it happens, though, he spent most of his time with his mom when he was little; he started spending a little bit more time with me when he was a teenager. I don't think there was ever a time when he wasn't sure where his home was. (He might refresh my memory otherwise.)

    Favoring one parent over another, time-wise, obviously has drawbacks—if only for the parents. Among other things, one of you would need more money to pay for kid maintenance, and who the hell wants to be the other one, forking over more money to see their kids less?

    But try explaining that to the kids.

    Please forgive me if my comments seem judgmental; I'm often contrarian, but I try not to judge. I enjoy your tweets, and think the three of you sound like a nice little crew!

  3. You know, in reading Dan's comment, I think I need to rethink mine a little. When I said I was glad that you guys had a 50/50 split, I was thinking of myself, as the person who had gotten "the short end of the deal," as it were, and how I wished I had had more time with my son.

    And also my son, when he was little, he went through a lot of separation anxiety from me, and missed me a lot. So it would have been good for him to have had more time with me.

    But at the same time, I think Dan is right, that going back and forth becomes more like "camping out" than having a home. I picture myself living in one place for two days, then another for two days, then back to the first, and, honestly, it would drive me crazy. I think we all need a place that we feel is our "home" or our "base," where we spend the majority of our time.

    And I think that's especially true with small children, who are less secure, and need a place they can call "home."

    At the same time, I think small children need more frequent contact with the parents than older kids do. Older kids can go days without seeing the other parent, and they understand that they'll see them in a few days. But younger kids don't have the same sense of time. So, to them, not seeing the parent for a long time seems like forever.

    So, with all that said, perhaps the best solution would be to have the kids stay with one parent for a more extended period of time, but have visits with the other parent while they're at one parent's house.

    For example, if you wanted to do the 50/50 thing, then perhaps have the kids stay with you one week - but while they're with you, the ex picks them up at school and has dinner with them and brings them back to your house by, say, 7:00 (or whatever) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (That way they can visit with their dad and not miss him too much, while still having a full week at your house.)

    The following week you could switch it off, where they're with him all week, and then you visit with them on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.

    And weekends you can split one with Saturday, the other with Sunday - or can switch off Saturdays and Sundays.

    This way the kids would get a full week at each house, and it wouldn't be a big deal to go back and forth. They would just do it at the end of the week, and each week they're know where they're going to "be." They wouldn't here half a week, there half a week. And you'd both have them on the weekends.

    I think that solution is better, just so the kids could get settled into one place for the week and not have to go back and forth too much.

    My 2c. :-)


  4. Joint custody is never really joint-when I divorced the kids then 8 and 14 lived mostly w/Dadand every other wkend w/me + my 8 yr old spent after school time w/me-I lived 2 blocks from her school.
    Both kids manipulated, Dad said...
    We all survived-both now have children of their own

  5. thanks so much for commenting you guys! You're suggestions are excellent. I think we will work towards one week on and one week off. I did discuss it with Joe and he said he'd be unhappy with that right now. So for now - we'll keep it as is.

    Dan - I left the marriage. There are many reasons why, but in the year that we've been separated - as hard as it's been - I do not regret the decision. Eventually my children will see it was the right thing to do, but in the meantimee we have to deal with adjustments.

    I'll have a blog post about that too at some point. Again, it means very much that you read the post and that you put so much thought into your comments.

    See you around the internets. :-)


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