My friend emailed me late one night this week, an update email about his kids, his work, and what was stewing in his head. He’s a fairly newly divorced dad, with a 7 year old son and a 3 year old daughter. His ex-wife and the kids live about six hours away by car.
It’s a situation he was amenable to at first: she was offered a great career opportunity in her old home town; her family was there and he could have the kids on weekends and for stretches of time over the holidays.
“But I miss the kids so much,” he wrote,”I want her to move back here, or at least halfway. And I want to ask for joint custody.” I could almost feel the pause in his missive: a friendship between a single Mom and a single Dad is rife with opportunity for misunderstanding merely on the general perspective of the sexes.
“What would you do,”he wrote,”If your ex asked for joint custody of your son?”
I drew in a breath and wrote back right away.
“I’d be all for it,” I said,” My ex isn’t interested in joint custody at the moment – he just wants it to be casual, so he can see Nolan when he wants, but without commitment in case he’s busy.”
The return email landed in my inbox with rapid speed.
“Oh,” he wrote,”I’m sorry. I just assumed that all Dads would take joint custody if they could have it. Sorry if I opened a wound.”
My ex and I actually have it written into the legal parenting agreement we signed off on two years ago – if my ex moved to this city, he was entitled to joint custody.
He moved here, just over a month ago – but, it turns out, he’s not interested in joint custody at this time. Entitled, yes, desiring, no. First, he says, his apartment is too small. Second, he plays a sport he loves and it takes up two nights a week and one full weekend day – he does not want to commit to every second weekend – or halftime – because of this.
I am trying not to push, not to nag, not to spew hasty things because of my frustration with this lackadaisical parenting schedule. Previously, though imperfect, our arrangement was that my ex saw our son for one long weekend every month – he would fly here one month and the next, I was responsible for flying our son to his city, to see his Dad. That one weekend every month gave me time to recharge my batteries: finish freelance work, deep-clean the house, have a beer with a friend, go for a day-long, soul-cleansing hike.
Now, though Nolan’s Dad sees him more often – the occasional Monday night drop-by, the sporadic Friday night, and Sunday afternoons – I don’t have a break of more than a few hours at a time to rejuvinate. I don’t have a weekend off to look forward to once a month. I don’t want to be selfish, but man, with two jobs and business trips and daycare drop offs and weekend sports - I feel like I need to have a block of time to re-charge, to be the best Mom I can be to a son who is awesome, and an awful lot of work.
I emailed my ex earlier this week, expressing again my desire — and what I believe is our son’s right and need - for a parenting schedule.
I’m willing to be flexible — I may need to go on a business trip, my ex may need to go see his loved ones back home — but I’d like a basic schedule in writing. I don’t really expect a response to my email - that’s not the way my ex rolls - but I would be interested in hearing what you’ve done in custody matters where one parent wants a “when-it’s-convenient-for-me” style approach.
I do not want to involve lawyers, at any cost, and I certainly do not want my son to ever get the feeling that his time with either one of us is not cherished and wanted.
But I want to establish that my “me time” is just as important as that of my ex. I know that nothing in parenting is fair, but at the moment it makes me want to scream that I am bound to the whims and desires of my ex. He can go away on vacation when he wants, I need to schedule two months ahead of time if I want to get my hair cut. Suck it up? Or is there a solution I’m not seeing here?
Hints, tips, stories? Bring ‘em on.