It’s been almost six years since we separated, yet my ex and I continue to hit bumps in the road resulting from our irregular parenting schedule. Nonetheless, I've become the envy of many of my single friends, especially the ones first getting divorced, even with my ex living 8,000 miles away and me having full physical custody of our three children. To them, I have no weekly kids swap, no frequent arguments because he’s late dropping them off, and no clothing purchased by me that mysteriously doesn’t make it back from his house to mine.
Somehow though, I never feel quite “lucky” and shake my head whenever I hear other single moms complain about their 50/50 custody arrangement. That’s because unlike me, they have a schedule. Their exes show up at set times, pick up the kids, and don’t return with them for hours or an entire weekend twice a month or some variation to this effect. If their exes live extremely close, the kids typically don’t need to bring anything with them except their homework bag because what’s at Dad’s, whether these moms want to admit it, is another home. Their home.
Still, some of the single moms I know who’ve had co-parenting forced upon them remain resistant. In their new situation, they no longer control every detail of their children’s lives, and it bothers them. They enjoy seeing their husband struggle while he ups his parenting game. These women root for him to screw up, burn dinner, and miss Back to School Night because work required he unexpectedly travel on a Wednesday, They tell themselves he should suffer for what he’s done (or hasn’t done).
When Dad lives far away, this isn’t at all how shared custody works. With a month or more between visits, there’s no parenting schedule. Fridays go by without the sound of Dad’s car pulling up in the driveway. Apart from the odd exception, football, basketball, and baseball seasons come and go as do tennis matches and graduations without Dad in the stands helping to perfect a swing, offer consolation and constructive criticism when a play doesn’t go as planned or cheer. Birthday celebrations pass, subdued only ever so slightly by a hint of disappointment and a vague memory of what once was – Dad holding the video camera, laughing with family and friends, and cutting the cake.
During such moments, I covet the dependable visits many co-parenting moms spurn, well aware of the complications shared custody can bring. He’s not always going to get it right or do it my way. He’s going to screw up like me, except chances are when I do, he won’t find out. The football helmet may get left in his car. He may occasionally bring the kids back late, although as I’ve realized, not to deliberately piss me off. It’s more likely the kids were having fun, and he didn’t want to interrupt. Worst of all, he’ll inevitably do the unthinkable without even knowing – send our kids back smiling and talking about what an awesome time they had with him.
For me, these “infractions” no longer occur because I don’t see them like that anymore. In the beginning, however, they stung. I would think, "Where’re my thanks for having to pick up the slack while he moves on?" I can tell you thanks don’t come on Mother’s Day or my birthday via a handmade gift or trinket from our kids, although those are always nice to receive.
Instead, thanks sneak up when the kids return from time with their dad and drop a mountain of laundry on my floor, stained because they enjoyed themselves with him. Thanks come when the kids flaunt his belated birthday and holiday gifts and those without reason to friends and me, proudly chattering about what he said, did or showed them. And for a brief moment we, including my ex, feel a sense of comfort we know will inevitably leave when he does. Until the next time he visits again.