I’ve been divorced for almost seven years and my ex-husband and I have joint custody of our three teens. When we separated, we figured out a schedule that we thought would work for everyone: three nights with him in his new place, and four nights with me in their childhood home.
It was important to my ex that I kept this house so the kids would have as much normalcy as possible. And I appreciate that more than I can express. The first five years or so, everything was great, and the kids went back and forth and didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they enjoyed having two homes, two sets of pets, and two different bedrooms. There was no complaining and even though their dad only lives a few miles away from me, he’s closer to their school and downtown, which they love.
But a few years ago they said that they didn’t like going back and forth anymore. They wanted to be “home,” as in the house I live in, because that’s where they felt most comfortable, and that’s where most of their stuff was. They also started to have a few problems with his live-in girlfriend and said many times they didn’t really enjoy going to his house any more.
Since they are older teenagers, I really can’t force them. Neither can their father. But this has really bothered me. I don’t want my kids to be uncomfortable, or in a place that they don’t want to be in. But my kids having a relationship with their father is extremely important to me, and I know it is to them.
Instead of telling them it’s fine and they can just stay here, I’ve encouraged them to continue spending time with him, and to communicate how they are feeling so he knows what’s going on. Their father is a wonderful dad, and he responds to how his kids are feeling. If he’s left in the dark, though, he has no way of trying to make things work better for them.
It would be really easy to sit here and tell my kids they are old enough to do what they want and they don’t have to go see their father. I could let them vent about all the things they don’t like about his girlfriend. I think that would exacerbate the problem and push them further away from their dad.
I constantly encourage them to spend time with their dad, even if they don’t want to go there to spend the night. I tell them how they might regret it one day if they don’t spend a lot of time with him because they only get one father and they are so lucky to have such a good one. I’ve reminded them that their dad wants what’s best for them, that they are extremely important to him, and he deserves to know how they are feeling even if it makes them uncomfortable for a bit.
My relationship with my father is non-existent, and a lot of that has to do with him not wanting to spend time with me after he and my mother divorced. I was a teenager, and he stopped trying, so I stopped trying, and my mother never pushed me to reach out to him when I was a kid. My kid’s dad would do nothing like that and I can’t let my kids take the relationship they have with him for granted.
I miss my kids when they are gone, and now that they are older and have huge social lives of their own I don’t see them as much. Of course I want them to be here all the time, but that’s not fair to their dad, and it’s not fair to them.
I want my kids to have a lot of things I never did growing up. And a healthy relationship with their dad, if I am married to him or not, is at the top of the list.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.