Do you shared parent? Co-parent? Parallel parent? A plethora of empty terms that, for me, fail to express the emotional complexity of raising a child between separated parents.
Christmas is a time for families to be together, but families are multifarious things. Like us you may be separated, have half siblings, be step parents. There is no 'one size fits all' festive jumper for families. Except in Stepford.
It is not my turn this year. I hate that whole sentence.
Monday my son went off for the holidays with his dad. I packed his creepy elf and batman pyjamas that smell like my lavender fabric softener. We spent the night before talking about all the lovely things he will do and I dropped him off with an enthusiastic, if frozen smile. Mummy laughed, played and then wept in the car on the drive home to sad eighties pop music.
My stomach tumbles over and churns with 'that' feeling we get when we are without our kids. The in-explainable, indescribable one that leaves us feelings a little lost, a little relieved. Quietly sad.
Even when it is amicable, agreed, past the Jeremy Kyle phase, shared parenting is HARD. It can be fraught with stress. Just talk. If you can, when you can.
You may not get things right straight away.
Our son spends alternate weekends with his daddy so I think technically we don't 'shared' parent. Shared implies equal time, daily contact. If labels were my thing I would be the 'dominant', or 'resident' parent. I prefer just, 'Mummy'. Because of this, Christmas and Birthdays could be 'mine'. My time.
But words like 'me' and 'mine' are not what is best for my cape wearing five year old.
His dad and I came to the agreement that it was fair that we both get to experience these special times. That decisions are equally made. I respect their together time. The long term planning gives little boy reassurance and security. Where you can we ask your child's opinion. Though let's face it little's want to be with the person who has the most presents and Kit-Kats.
Ensure transitions are smooth, well prepared, that children know exactly where they are going and when they are coming back. We have had let downs but I have dug my heels in and stuck too. There have been times I have wanted to be selfish and tell his dad he has had all his chances.
But, children come first. It's the sacrifice I made as a parent, and made gladly. Through the frustrations. The fallouts. The f**kups. My brain repeats, it's about my son's needs not my wants.
Reading over my balanced, affirmative narrative that seems to so easily describe how shared parenting is successful, I also need to say how between the lines I feel that this situation sucks. Because it does.
My father was absent in my life hence why I will fight for my son's dad to stay in his. It doesn't describe the arguments over the phone and the tears. I don't want to present as perfect. Perfect parents are fiction.
Yes, co-parenting is now going well, smoothly, can work. But you may have to swallow your pride, and sacrifice.
I don't like sharing my son out like an inanimate object. You share jellybeans not children. Granted, I got ready for work this morning and had breakfast. My own breakfast, not half masticated leftover crumpet. There is no need to shout HURRY UP or WE ARE LATE 35 times before 8am. At bedtime I get in my pajamas, climb into bed and read a chapter of a book. A grown up book, that is not about a duck, cloud or man in tights. It had no pictures. Nada.
Finding myself often with nothing I HAVE to do I feel a bit bewildered? This is what pre-mum me used to feel like, smug and tranquil. Buddha-esque.
The parent that has been up since 4.45am, watched Peppa Pig on repeat, has two kids on the floor screaming probably is thinking 'WHAT ARE YOU WHINING ABOUT'?!
Yes, Christmas day I will drink before 12 and enjoy the rare 'us' time with my partner. I will appreciate that and the silence. But I will also hate the silence. Miss my son's wide eyed excitement that Santa came. His little flushed face as he rips through the brightly coloured wrapping. Refusing to eat sprouts and pulling his little paper hat down so far his ears stick out. When he falls asleep on the sofa smiling.
I will hold out to make these memories next year and if like me you're alone, remember that there will be a tomorrow where you aren't.