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Why full custody isn't always a full win...
There's rarely a significant upside to divorce in a situation such as mine. Sure, there were years of ups and downs, the occasional door slamming and name-calling fights, and questions answered from the other in silence. But there were plenty of good times too, even in very recent memory, before he suddenly flew the coop.
As the co-creators of two very challenging young boys, I did see a faint light at the end of the divorce tunnel: shared custody. While I'd not asked for nor been consulted on our divorce, I did have a sudden vision of two free weekends a month, school breaks where I could actually take a vacation that didn't involve wiping an offspring's backside, alternating holidays I don't care for anyway - like Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve.
We'd both be better, more rested parents, having had a chance to recharge back to our A games. We'd appreciate the little things with the kids more, given the time away from them. The few divorced moms I knew sang the praises of weekends alone. Yes, of course they desperately missed their kids, but as the sole caregiver for a minimum of five days a week, every week, the extended “me time” before the kids entered college was like being granted early parole.
But then (drumroll please) I was told via e-mail that I'd be getting sole custody, instead of the every other weekend and parts of vacations off that I’d been expecting. Whomp whomp.
Friends cheered my "victory." Aren't I glad that I don't have to worry about not having the kids, they queried? And that I won't have to deal with the ex? That’s priceless, no? I'd never have to share Christmas, miss out on a trip opportunity or not be able to do exactly what I thought was best for them. All true. I would never sadly eat all the Halloween candy alone, as they trick or treated with their dad. I'd never cry through a missed birthday or pine for my kids on Mother's Day while they were off celebrating with my ex's family. Of course I was overjoyed to not miss any precious moments with my boys. And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was not a full win on my part.
I quickly realized I'm not even going to have the opportunity to miss them either. And doesn't absence make the heart grow fonder? OK, sure I sound like a whiny teen complaining about a too-early curfew. But my kids are like a perpetual curfew. I wanted the "Divorced Dad Lifestyle" sometimes too: getting to go out anytime without having to call a sitter, listen to the kids cry as I left and then rush back by the promised time, hoping the kids are asleep. I wanted to be able to say, “Why thank you, I will have another glass.” I wanted to know a neat, organized home free of Hot Wheels, sticks, rocks, strewn, stained underwear and other little boy debris. As a single, sole-custody mom I realized my dream of an easy, guilt-free night out and a photo-ready home were not going to happen any time soon.
Fourteen years, I kept thinking to myself. Fourteen years until my youngest goes off to college. Fourteen years of “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy” that would inevitably turn to “Ugh, Mom, leave me alone,” said from behind a slammed door. But still, I wouldn’t be truly alone, even with a house of sullen teen boy-men. The thought of endless school vacations, weeks of “break” together and three day weekends that wouldn’t seem to actually end was terrifying.
But the most terrifying thought of all? The day I’d inevitably have explain to my boys that their dad had bowed out, signing them over like modern day chattel. What would happen the day they figured out that all of the time with me was not a choice made by a needy mom but a necessity because there was no one else?
And although I’m still trying to quell the rising panic of sole custody, I am also treasuring all the little moments I don’t have to miss: late night snacks in bed watching tv with the kids, carefree conversations about whatever comes up as I run errands with them, knowing all the details of their lives as they happen. So, oh goody, I get them forever.