In part-time custody, the kids have two houses, and that can complicate things
It shouldn’t have been phrased as a question.
“Do you want to come to our house tonight?”
It ought to have been a statement, not an option. We The Adults — myself, my husband, and the kids’ mom — should have made the decision, not left it up to my stepkids.
Because honestly, there was no good answer.
Let me back up. Last year, we started doing solo nights with my stepkids. Every few weeks, we take just one child for one night. Then the next night, we take the other kid. That way, each of them gets to spend one-on-one time with us, while the other one spends one-on-one time with their mom.
It’s seemed to go over pretty well with all parties involved.
The problem was, and still is, that we don’t do it consistently. Because my husband’s and my own schedules change a lot, we don’t have any reliable schedule for the solo nights, such as the first week of the month, or every fifth Tuesday.
We just wing it.
And that’s not fair to the kids. I know this. It isn’t considerate of them to ask them a day in advance, or even [cringe] the day of, “Hey, so, you’re coming over to our house?”
Because this is one of the problems with part-time custody. While yes, I’m still very grateful for the free time my husband and I have to pursue our own interests kid-free, this is the serious downside:
Once split custody becomes a way of life, one parent’s house is going to be the “vacation” home, and the other parent’s house is going to be, well, “home.”
There’s really no other way for it to be.
And we’re the former.
Being the vacation home has its positives, sure. You get to play and have fun and do all sorts of “special” things.
But what about everyday life? What about chores? What about extracurriculars? What about school projects? What about everything you don’t get to see that happens in the kids’ day-to-day lives?
…What about when you ask the kids if they want to come to your house, and they say no? And it hurts?
That’s why, when I asked my stepson if he wanted to come over to our house for solo night, I knew it wasn’t a fair question. No matter which way he answered, I wasn’t going to like it. It was really short notice.
If he said yes, I would lose any chance of getting my own goals met that night.
But if he said no, that he didn’t want to come over and see us, I knew I’d be hurt.
Even if I saw it coming. Even if I braced myself.
It didn’t make a difference.
He said no.
And I was crushed.
(I crush easily, I’ll grant you. But still. It hurt.)
Don’t take it personally, I said to myself. You know better. You know there are a million reasons he doesn’t want to come over.
Partly, it’s just incredibly short notice.
Mostly, though, it’s because he just wanted to stay home.
And our house isn’t “home.”
Our place is where they come to visit. But they don’t live there.
And for the first time, I realized how much that stings.
I didn’t expect it to. Not that much.
But it did.
As a part-time parental figure, what do you do?
All the time you spend thinking about the kids, and what’s in their best interest, and the structure and enrichment that would make them stronger and more well-rounded human beings — you realize how little it stacks up, because in the grand scheme of time, they spend only a handful of days a month under your roof.
So what’s your next move?
Well, first, un-crush yourself. Breathe. That’s a good place to start.
And after that, go back to thinking about the kids, and what’s in their best interest, and the structure and enrichment that would make them stronger and more well-rounded human beings.
Aim for consistency. Plan ahead, as far in advance as you can, if you want to spend extra non-custody-agreement-required days with them. Prep them that on such-and-such a day, they’re going to be at your house.
Because you don’t want to jerk them around. Give them a heads up so they know what’s coming down the pike.
That’s your job. This is what you signed up for. Even if they spend only a handful of days a month under your roof.
Make those days count.
Originally published in The Herald News on April 28, 2019.