It is Sunday afternoon on my off weekend and I feel the anxiety building up. In about an hour I have the dreaded pick up time where the kids come back home from being with the X a few days. Every time I have to gear up for the awkward ten minute exchange I instantly get nauseous and completely bummed out. I start to think about how the exchange will go…will he act fake and friendly? Maybe he will put on the cool guy act where he’s too good for anyone. Will she be there hiding in the house somewhere? Or maybe he won’t show at all, and will force his mother to handle the awkward encounter. No matter which version I find, it is the worst part of my week. And it should be the best, considering I will get to see my kids after missing them for days.
They will act out in some weird way that seems unrelated to the emotions they are experiencing as they say goodbye to one parent and are handed off to another, but it’s always clear to me what’s going on. After the awkwardness of avoiding eye contact, handing over backpacks and shoes and receiving any updates that might be important, we shuffle to the car. One of the girls will start crying as we pull away about a toy, the seat belt, the music in car, whatever they find an excuse for, and the coping session begins. I fix whatever is bothering them, try to ask upbeat questions, do anything I can for a smooth ride home. Nothing seems to work anymore so now I have resorted to a trip to Starbucks every time. They are happy for the treat, and it completely ruins their appetite for dinner that night, but hey, no crying. Until we get home that is.
Usually my oldest starts her bout of separation anxiety as we walk in the door. She becomes extremely clingy and needs me to carry her while she calms down from her fit. She’s 4. A very mature, very TALL 4. My youngest will sit on the couch and patiently wait for the chaos to be over so we can get on with movie time, book reading, whatever it may be. By the time I get both of them emotionally stable, it’s already nearing bed time. Of course I can’t even gather the strength or patience to start that argument, so I let them hang out a little longer, have a healthy snack (since dinner is completely blown) and relax before the next storm.
The X swears that he gives the girls rules at his home. I have a really hard time giving him the benefit of the doubt on that one because I usually have to encounter both girls yelling things at me like “No, YOU put my coat away” or “No, I will tell YOU when it’s bed time”. It all just sounds a little too familiar and I have flashbacks to times during our marriage. I used to have responses for them like “you may talk that way with Daddy, but I don’t like that” which only led to the kids accusing me of not liking their dad which of course they repeat back to him. Now I just give the evil look my father used to give us as kids and say something like “what did you just say?”. If that doesn’t do the trick (which it always did when I was a kid) then we start the crying fits again and repetitive time-out sessions. I get them settled in their beds somehow and the time is nearing 10 PM. What seems like a million hugs and kisses, 20 nighttime stories and songs, and countless lectures of why they need sleep, I finally close the door for the evening.
My kids have been back for 3 hours and I am already exhausted.
Of course this then leads to guilt. How could I be exhausted already? I just had 3 days kid-free! What kind of mother am I? It takes another 24 hours of normalcy to kick in before I start to see them acting like themselves again. I try to spend as much time with them as possible in the evenings since I already had working mom guilt, and now divorced mom guilt on top of that. We start to get back into our regular cadence, just in time for them to go back to the X’s for their weeknight visits. Of course, I am relieved because it was an emotionally draining few days for all of us. By the end of that visit I miss them terribly and I am back to the beginning and we start again.
I constantly have this battle with myself about how to feel about shared custody. I love it when we have a long stretch between visits with their dad. The girls are happy, they are on a regular schedule, things go smoothly. I think to myself it would be so nice if we had no more weekly visits at least, and I only had the dreaded exchange every other week. But then I think, that’s not fair either. The girls are happier when they aren’t tossed around, but then they don’t see their dad. And frankly, I miss my breaks too. I love being a mom and I have the greatest girls, but it’s hard work. It is the hardest job I have ever had. I thought having every other weekend off and a night or two during the week would make parenting actually easier but it doesn’t. It makes it harder. It makes the time together more meaningful and more jam packed with emotions, high and low.
I can’t solve the issues of being a single parent who shares custody. I don’t have any answers on how to do this correctly. I am probably screwing it all up. But it is what it is. All I can do is give my girls extra hugs and tell them a thousand times a day how much I love them. Then pour myself a large glass of wine when that door closes.