Someone once told me that life can be beautifully tragic, which is a pretty accurate description of the pain and joy we all experience in our lifetimes. Life is truly incredible, but absolutely gut-wrenching at the same time, sometimes in the same moment. This description of life very accurately describes the life of dealing with shared custody. It is quite awful, but there are these awesome perks that help alleviate the pain that goes with the fact that my daughters will spend a percentage of their childhood away from me.
I remember when the four of us parents sat down and discussed the custody schedule once the girls would be attending school. It was decided that they would spend their weekdays with me and my husband, and they would spend the weekends with their dad and step-mom. I was defensive at first, and then eventually broke down. The realization that they would never jump on our bed on Saturday morning or read the Sunday morning comics or go to the farmer’s market broke my heart. I knew I wanted to be present for them on school nights to help with homework, but I also wanted the weekend. Apparently, this approach is not shared custody. Dammit!
It has been a few years now, and I have adjusted much better than I had anticipated. I have a love-hate relationship with shared custody. I will always hate it, but I have learned to love it too. Here is why:
I hate not knowing what they did over the weekend. When I ask them, they will say, “I dunno. Stuff. I ate corn,” and that’s about it. I have no idea what their routine is. I have no idea what they did once we get them back. Once we bought a new movie and surprised them one evening. They groaned and said they had already watched it at their dad’s house a few weeks ago. Their first Disneyland trip? With their dad. I cried for a while because of that. There are many special treasured moments of childhood, and I am, and will continue to miss out on many of them.
I love my weekends off. On Friday morning I brew coffee, turn on the radio and help the girls get ready for school. We walk to school, and I make sure I tell them I love them at least five times. I tell them I will miss them. My 5-year-old lingers in a hug because she knows. It’s routine. Every Friday, they go to school from my house, but go home to their dad’s house. This means that every weekend, like clockwork, we are girls-free. We still have our 3-year-old to jump on our bed on Saturday morning, but there is a blanket of serenity that lays on our house when we go from three children to only one.
We go from a family of five to a couple with one child. Going to breakfast on Sunday morning involves getting one extra plate to share, instead of ordering three separate kids’ meals. Going to the mountains means loading up only one child instead of three. When we desire an adult weekend, we only have to find childcare for one child, not three. When we attend weddings or other stress-inducing events, we attend as a family of three instead of a family of five. The weekends give me much needed time to rest and relax from the busy week before as well as prepare for the week coming up.
When we head down the highway at 4:40 p.m. every Sunday, I know our week has begun. Our semi-quiet ride will be replaced with a noisy ride back. Their empty car seats will be filled, and our family will be whole again. When they ask what we did, I will say, “I dunno. Stuff. We ate corn,” because I know telling them of our couple-plus-one adventures will make them feel left out and unloved, so we keep it under wraps. Our week begins, the chaos ensues, and I am happy because the girls are home.
I hate that I share the “mom” title. I’ll never forget when I first met my girls’ step-mom. I was alone, shopping for clothes at the mall, and I saw my two daughters in a store. They ran out to give me a hug, and from the clothing racks emerged my ex-husband and his then girlfriend. I made our greeting short and sweet and went about my day.
But knowing that this woman would be a part of their lives really bothered me. I never intended to share the role of mommy with some woman whom I had never met. A couple years passed, they were married, and my older daughter referred to her as “Mama” once in conversation. The fires of anger were lit and I was furious. Once, the girls’ handmade school Mother’s Day crafts were sent home to the other house. In a terrible moment of anger, I lashed out at my ex-husband: “How dare that woman take my macaroni necklaces and handprinted cards! There were mine!”
I love that they have another mom. I excel in certain aspects of motherhood, while other areas are left completely untouched. Their hair, for example, is not my forte. I have always worn my hair down in its most natural state, and hair dryers and straighteners are completely foreign to me. Luckily, the girls have this wonderful woman in their life who has a talent with hair. She braids, curls, sprays and decorates their hair with fancy clips.
She was there to comfort my daughter when she face-planted off a quad. She was there to hold my daughter’s hand when she was scared at the doctor’s office. She is there when I am not. She offers them comfort, care, love, respect and guidance. She has taken on the role of being their “other mother” very well, and the girls are very lucky to have such a wonderful step-mother.
I have since let go of the Mother’s Day crafts and the title of “mom,” because I do not own this role. I share the role of mommy with another woman who also deserves the title of “mommy” and the macaroni picture frames, because after all, she is mothering them too. Hopefully, together, we can mother these girls, each of us filling in the empty spaces the other leaves—whether that is hair art or loving comfort in moments of pain.
I hate that we have to navigate the waters of morals with another family. After our divorce, my ex-husband began to explore religion and became Christian. This was a big difference between his agnostic stance that he had in our marriage, one which went well with my atheist beliefs. Religion was a non-issue, and now suddenly, it was a big issue. My older daughter once told me I was “going to hell,” which are big words to come from a 3-year-old in a pink floral car seat. As she got older, she began to pray each night before dinner, and then insisted that we all join her. I was, and still am, accepting of their beliefs as well as their routine Sunday School attendance, but I became very bothered when those beliefs began to flow into my home by way of prayer and hymn singing.
I love that the girls will be raised to accept and appreciate differences. While each home is similar in many ways, our homes are still very much different. At our house, the rules are lax, and we are pretty laid-back. I know this is different from the environment at their other house, which is something I have grown to appreciate. My daughters will be raised in two separate environments with different rules, different approaches and different beliefs. They have already learned that prayer is an individual choice, not a requirement. They have learned how vastly different city life is compared to country life, because they go back and forth between them each week. I appreciate the dynamic life they live as it will make them more accepting, appreciative and loving well-rounded adults.
Our family is unique, and the girls seem to be happy about. They have asked why we all can’t live next door, but have never asked why our combined family of nine can’t be a family of 4 again. They love (and sometimes brag) that they have two dads, two moms, two brothers and two sisters. When they draw a family picture in school, they draw nine stick figures, not six or five.
The adjustment of not being Queen Mom was difficult for me. I still sometimes cry when they leave, and I shove in as many “I love you”s as I can on Fridays so it will be enough to hold them over until Sunday, but our shared custody situation absolutely has its perks. I will always hate that I miss out on so much of their childhood, but I have decided to make the best of the situation and love the perks that come with it. Shared custody is awful, but also awesome too.
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