3+ME: Downsides of part-time custody (part 1)

For one week, we pretended having a “normal” family.

OK, I realize that sounds odd (especially if you know us), but hear me out. I don’t mean “normal” as in, we behaved less weirdly than usual. (Us? Come on now, we couldn’t do that if we tried.)

No, I mean, we pretended to fit into the stereotypical constraints of family life.

Like this: Every day, our routine was almost the same as it always is — except for one thing. Yes, I went to the gym in the morning, went to work, came home to see my husband (and our five cats), like I always do.

But unlike always, the kids were there, too.

Yep, at our house, all week.

That isn’t how it usually goes. My husband has part-time custody of the kiddos, so my stepkids, for all intents and purposes, have two sets of existence: At their mom’s house (most of the time), and at their dad’s house (some of the time). We do try to integrate those two as much as possible, but the distinct line between them is unavoidable.

Usually, we have to look pretty far into the future for the next time we’ll see the kids. But for one week, they were right there with us the whole time.

When they are with us, it’s usually on (or very near) a weekend or vacation. And while weekends and vacations are awesome, they don’t feel like everyday life.

This week felt like everyday life.

In an odd way, it felt like we were playing house, with the parents and the kids at home every day, doing family stuff after work and school.

Because that’s what “normal” looks like, right? “Normal” is being involved in all aspects of your family’s lives, every day, all the time. “Normal” is like those families in the storybooks my stepdaughter reads before bed, with a mom and dad and 1.87 kids (according to the U.S. Census Bureau), living under one roof.


Something like that.

In a stereotypical “normal” family, I think most people just take some things for granted.

Like that you can talk to your kids whenever you want, because you’re always with them.

Or that you know what’s going on with school and their friends, because you talk to them every day.

Or that you can always say, “See you tomorrow,” when you tuck them in at night.

You take for granted that you’ll be involved in every facet of their daily lives, because those daily lives are happening around YOUR daily life.

But in a blended family, all of the above do not apply.

When we see the kids, it seems more like a special occasion, not daily life. That’s why that one week was so wonderfully weird.

One of the most memorable parts, for me, was being able to say “See you tomorrow” to the kids so many days in a row. That phrase was significant when I was a kid, but for very different reasons.

Growing up, I was homeschooled, so it was completely different from the experience I have with my stepkids now. Not only did I get to see my mom every day after school, but I also got to see her every day DURING school, too. It was us together all day, every day. (I have no idea how she had that kind of patience!)

But because I wasn’t in an actual school, I didn’t get to see other kids every day — at least, not the same ones. I had plenty of extracurriculars, but they were never on consecutive days.

I remember being jealous of my brother’s soccer team, because he had practice on Fridays and games on Saturdays, and I would think, “They get to say ‘See you tomorrow’ after practices.” As a kid, I envied that.

When I got older, my weekend job gave me a chance to say it once a week. But even in college, my classes were on rotating schedules. It wasn’t until I got my first real job at the Taunton Daily Gazette, that I got to consistently see the same people, day in and day out. If felt like the first time I could really, truly use the phrase, “See you tomorrow,” to people who weren’t my family.

It sounds weird, I know. (I never claim to be “normal,” remember? That’s why last week I only pretended to be.)

But for reasons like that one, seeing my stepkids all week — and being able to say those words to them — meant a lot to me.

And for better or worse, it felt like what I imagine “normal” feels like.

However, sometimes “normal” is overrated. And I think that’s a perspective worth taking a look at, too. But that will have to wait until next week.

Originally published in The Herald News on Dec. 2, 2018.

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