The Semi-Detached Parent: The Etiquette Of Separation

12/03/2012 20:33 | Updated 22 May 2015
Arguing couple


'If one parent is entirely responsible for the mundanities of everyday life (laundry, shopping, school homework) and the other sweeps the children off their feet every other weekend for a round of treats, outings and parental indulgence... the downtrodden parent will be understandably resentful.' - Debrett's Guide to Civilised Separation.

Debrett's obviously know a few things about etiquette and behaviour, although until now I thought this mainly extended to dishing out advice on the correct form of address when writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury. But no. They've now moved into the arena of personal relationship etiquette, too.

Leafing through the newly-published 'Debrett's Guide to Civilised Separation' this weekend (and wondering, having also just read Lucy Cavendish on her separation and Rachel Cusk on hers, WHEN I might start reading about Other Things again) I came across a section on 'new roles' after divorce or separation, and not allowing them to become polarised.

The paragraph quoted above, about hum drum everyday routine versus quality time, really struck a chord. It so sums up how I - and lots of other separated parents I know – feel. Often put upon. Downtrodden. Worn out. Resentful. But kind of accepting of it, despite the resentment. Accepting, because, basically, we do all the same stuff for our kids that we would do whether we had a partner or not. Yet still resentful because our ex partner has none of that mundaneness, or little of it.

On the rare occasion children are returned by the other parent bearing a washed bag of clothes, how often is it accompanied with fanfare and proud exuberance? "I've washed their clothes for you!" you'll hear, all the while politely thanking them through gritted teeth despite wanting to shriek "For me? So who am *I* doing it for the other five days of the week?"

But I know this kind of scenario happens whether you are in a relationship or not. To be fair, my ex does nothing more or less for our child now than what he did when we were together, but that does not mean that I do not resent that their time together is frivolous, carefree and fun, whereas most of my time with him is not.

I can rarely give my son my undivided attention because 'our time' is spread over day-to-day life, not contained in a 48 hour weekend bubble. And because of that, homework still has to be supervised, uniforms washed, letters to school written, floors mopped, bedrooms cleaned, toe nails cut, dentists visited, dogs walked, dinners cooked, baths and bedtimes organised... all against the omnipresent backdrop of general life and household admin.

Debrett's advice on dealing with this? They suggest that each parent takes his/her share of the 'practicalities', citing that the non-residential parent makes a commitment to oversee the children's homework every week as an example. But could this ever be practical? I think not.


Life for a separated family is difficult enough, with enough things 'divided' - not just time, but special occasions, possessions, friends, even loyalties, without bringing into it who should return the children's library books this week or comb their hair through for nits.


But then the carrying out of the more mundane and dull tasks isn't really the problem; the problem is purely the resentment borne from it. The anger, as the clock strikes six and you are simultaneously cooking dinner, signing homework diaries, throwing school jumpers in the dryer and looking for lunch-box food for the next day, comes only from the fact that someone else is not doing it. Which I guess (and, actually, I know) is a feeling that only ceases over time.

But the general theme of Debrett's guide, that divorce and separation should be carried out with 'courtesous and considerate' behaviour, is one I can only agree with (three years down the line!) After all, 'tart words make no friends: A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar'...

How did you deal with the more mundane family tasks post separation? Or is it just a fact of life that the resident parent will just suck 'em all up?

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