The Good & The Ugly Of A Joint Custody Summer

Why, oh why, did no one prepare me for this?!

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For two weeks every summer, I get uninterrupted time with my kids. But that also means that my ex gets two weeks of uninterrupted time with them, meaning once a summer I’m away from them for 14 sleeps total. No one, it seems, prepared me for this when I was getting divorced. Divorce is so much more than saying goodbye to a marriage that once was. Think of a butterfly effect and then think of that one butterfly having many babies and the effects keep on happening.

Yet here I am, in the middle of my two-week vacation from parenting, as outlined in my joint custody coparenting agreement. I both love and hate this time. I love it because, when I have the kids, we don’t have to shuttle them back and forth between my house and my ex’s house. It also means I get a two-week break to spend time with my new husband, and build memories just the two of us. But then I hate it because I don’t see my kids for two weeks straight. I carried and birthed them obviously thinking I’d physically be present 24/7 for at least 18 years. This is rough.

And it seems like a year’s worth of growth happens in those two weeks. My 6-year-old’s two front teeth came in while she was gone this summer, and her reading skills and overall curiosity in books has exploded. Her legs have added at least an inch in length to her already willowy height. My 4 year old’s language development – the number of words he is using each sentence, the stories and details he’s including and his overall vocabulary – have really taken off. Not only that but the clarity in his articulation is much more sharp, and his desire to really clue me in on his little mind is astounding. It’s only two weeks but I swear it’s been a decade. Not getting to start the day with eager faces and gnarly bedhead nor end the day in bedtime stories for a whole two weeks can be painful. I’ll name it: It sucks. It feels unnatural. Complex emotions of sadness, worry, pride and deep love whirl around my brain thinking about what I missed, what I will miss next time, and how amazing these two kids of ours are.

So what do I do with my time away? I plan trips and do things that make me Meg, apart from being a mommy. I read a little more, I write for myself, I stay up a little later and sleep in when I can. I cultivate my marriage. When my new husband and I began dating, he quickly shared stories about how he loves to travel. This was great to hear because I, too, feel most alive when traveling and think it is an excellent ingredient to a strong marriage if you can financially swing it. What I didn’t know was that my husband has traveled all over. Since he, too, is in a joint custody arrangement with his ex, we align up our weeks so that we can travel together. This time, we chose Puerto Rico. Next year, we’re thinking of Georgia, a gorgeous country nestled between Europe and Asia that seems to serve cheese stuffed in every type of food they prepare. It’s during this time we grow together as a husband and wife unit and intentionally reconnect. We laugh. We snorkel. We laugh some more and do some other fun *cough* things… we then begin missing our kiddos.

Luckily, I’m in a very positive coparenting relationship with my kids’ father. When I drop them off with him, though I lose my breath for a moment, I quickly relax and smile because their father adores them and takes such good care of them. I know it’s a privilege to be able to have that with him: to be able to put aside our own differences and to champion our kids. We’re not a broken family, we’re simply a rearranged family with some new additions doing what we can to best love on and provide for the kids. We’ve simply evolved and are changing into the humans we are supposed to be, into a blended family unit full of mess and all. And when they’re back in my arms, I take in their scent, their new freckles, their new vocabulary, and new and missing teeth and I’m more present than I’ve ever been. More grateful for what the 14 sleeps with and without them provided.

Meg Raby is a mom, children's author of the My Brother Otto series, and Autistic residing in Salt Lake City where you can find her playing and working with neurodivergent children as a Speech Language Pathologist and friend, or writing and planning big things in the second booth at her local coffee shop that overlooks the Wasatch Mountains while sipping on her Americano. Meg believes the essence of life is to understand, love and welcome others (aka, to give a damn about humans).

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