I feel the need to start with a grateful acknowledgement for the circumstances and many blessings of my post-divorce life. For 12 or so years since parting from my first wife, mother of my two daughters I’ve had it pretty easy.
With a mutual commitment to giving our girls the best upbringing possible in spite of our relationship with each other falling apart, we’ve co-parented them equally for nearly 11 years. We’ve had some disagreements over that time; we are a divorced couple after all. Fundamentally though, we’re amicable, fair and respectful towards each other.
From the days when the wounds of parting were raw, through to both being happily remarried, we’ve been resolutely committed to giving our daughters a happy and loving childhood. We’ve weathered the phases of childhood and dealt with the hormonal outbursts of puberty. Through it all, we’ve done the best we could to raise them jointly, apart. We now have an arrangement known as bird-nesting where the girls remain in one home and their mum and I come and go as live-in parent of the week.
When I contrast this to the lives of other divorced and separated families, I realise I have it easy. I’ve observed the mothers who withhold custody from the father, driven by retribution and anger. I’ve witnessed the fathers whose apathy and disinterest in their kids is dwarfed only by their own self-serving pride. Most upsetting, I’ve seen the effects on kids who exist in-between two warring parents. They’re forced to grapple with the ludicrous behaviour of their supposed role-models, wearing bravely-stoic faces and appeasing their parents’ consciences by pretending it’s all okay.
It’s angering, baffling and saddening.
All that said, it feels self-indulgent to even contemplate the difficulties presented by living out my own amicable divorce but I’m going to share these anyway. We all face challenges, it’s just that mine are different from others’.
I spend most of my life apart from someone that I love – If it’s my week with the girls, I’m apart from my wife and step-kids. If I’m with my wife, I’m generally apart from my daughters. Wherever I am, I try and immerse myself fully in that role and place, but it’s hard to always be apart from a subset of those you love.
Maybe the separated life that I’ve lived for so long will better prepare me for when the kids leave home? I doubt it somehow. Even before I had a new relationship, when my weeks with the girls were punctuated by weeks on my own, I’d be yearning to see them again by the end of my free week. These days, the yearning to see them is compounded by impending absence from my wife.
It attracts criticism from those who don’t understand the setup – For as long as I can remember, there have been critics of our arrangement. When the girls were young (we first started co-parenting when the youngest was three) there were those who’d state that toddlers needed their mother more than their father. Throughout post-divorce life there have been those who say my ex and I are selfishly pursuing our own lives at the expense of stability and happiness of our kids. We have well-practiced responses to these and many other accusations but it matters little.
Like anything unusual, there will be those who are vocal in their criticism and strident in their opinion. I stand by my choices but like any parent I’m just doing my best and it undermines confidence when others freely express judgment when we’re just trying to make the best of our situation.
I still tackle many of the challenges of parenting alone, that a non-separated couple would face together – Our new partners are both active and supportive regarding the kids. In spite of this, my ex and I still have to handle many of the challenges of parenting alone, by virtue of our custody arrangement. For the majority of the girls’ lives, they’ve existed in a home with just one parent and their sibling, even since we each remarried. We’ve both called upon support with parental challenges at times, often from each other. Generally though, we’re each isolated as single parents dealing with the day-to-day whims of two teenage girls.
This is of course the reality for most separated families, but it’s one area of life that hasn’t eased significantly in spite of each of us remarrying. We each remain largely isolated when we’re parent of the week.
We’re heavily reliant on the goodwill and acceptance of our new partners – Part of my online dating profile when I was single explained the intricacies of my parenting life. It specified that this would need to be accepted as part of me and my life. My ex has similarly always been up front over the commitment she has to our kids. That this was stated up-front doesn’t make it easy for our new partners to accept spending upwards of 50% of their time away from us at the expense of the kids.
The close proximity of our lives in our current ‘bird-nesting’ arrangement has also placed a burden upon our new partners adapting to and accepting this unusually close relationship between me and my ex. It’s testament to them that they’re supportive and understanding.
Taken as a whole, I embrace the ‘challenges’ of my life over many of those faced by divorced parents. I feel lucky, but also proud to have created a child-centric means of raising my kids after divorce.
The feelings of gratitude are occasionally tempered by the hardships I face, particularly on a ‘changeover Monday’. When I’ve just kissed my wife goodbye for another week, as I head to the kids’ home to live in as parent of the week I often feel sad. I’m excited to see the kids of course, but the emotions accompanying the changeover never seem to ease, no matter which direction I’m moving.
I don’t expect they ever will.