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Divorced With Kids

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Divorced with Kids is written anonymously by a 43-year-old woman who lives in a pretty, prosperous small town where most people stay married. She shares custody of her sons, 15 and 9, with their father, who lives a few blocks away. They divorced in the fall of 2009 after 18 years together. Read more of her writing at Irretrievably Broken.

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Shared custody bites

By DWK |

No need to peck each others' eyes out.

In the bad old days of divorce, back when I was the happy product of a broken (and mended, rebroken, et cetera) home, mothers almost always got full custody of their children.  Fathers often moved away, and contact between the divorced parents was minimal.  Mercifully minimal.  Those days are gone, and while I don’t truly lament their passing (kids need their fathers, and vice versa), I do think the shared-custody-after-divorce paradigm is much, much tougher on parents than most people acknowledge.

It’s difficult enough to have to see your ex-spouse on a regular basis–not just at the neverending pick-ups and drop-offs, but also at every damned event (of course you’ll both go to the piano recital, the soccer tournament, the parent-teacher conference!  Back when you were married, you’d have divvied up the appearances, but the stakes are different now. In the constant subtle jockeying for superior-parent status that occurs in every shared-custody family post-divorce, you’ve gotta fight for your right to chaperone the third-grade party.)

And of course you’re stuck consulting each other, constantly, about every damned thing that crops up in your kids’ lives. This means daily emails, lots of phone calls, lots and lots and lots of interaction with the very person you’re trying to move on from. I’ve written before about how much I love it when my ex husband is out of town. It’s a delicious taste of how easy life is when I never have to take him into account, though you’d think it would be harder to do all the grunt work on my own. It’s not.

Heresy:  the bad old days were harder for kids, but easier for parents. This co-parenting after divorce thing is, to put it bluntly, a real fucking drag.

You can, however, game the system.  Here are five ways to minimize contact with your ex while your kids are growing up.  Add your own in the comments section, please!

1)  Keep a bank account in both parents’ names. This was my brilliant idea, and my lawyer liked it so much she said she was going to recommend it to all her clients.  Instead of keeping track of the constant dribble of minor kid expenses (field trips! class photos! teacher gifts! baseball socks! summer camp! goggles! cell phones!) and settling up eventually, each parent simply writes checks on this account.  You only use the money for pre-approved child expenses, you both have full access to all info regarding the account, and you seed the account with a certain amount of money whenever it runs low.  (If, say, you divvy up expenses 60/40, the person who pays 60% deposits 600 bucks to the other person’s 400 whenever necessary.)

Sure beats lying awake at three a.m. calculating the exact percentage of seventeen dollars and forty-five cents (class photo), one hundred and sixty dollars (soccer registration) and fifty-five dollars and eight cents (school supplies, sundries) your ex-spouse owes you, every night, for three whole weeks, until you finally settle up.  Not having to keep track means not having to think about things.  When you wake at three, turn the bedside light on and read.

And if you have to pay for something with cash? Go right ahead, and then write yourself a check.

2) Encourage your kids to contact the other parent directly. This works better if the kids are older, and best if everyone has a cell phone.  However, even if you’ve got teenagers who are wired to the gills, old habits die hard, and your ex may call you to find out how Junior’s weekend was, or how the game went, or what the pediatrician said, and so forth.  Unless you need to be involved, unless you need to mediate, unless there’s some adult topic that needs to go over the kids’ heads, remove yourself from the equation.  If your kids are old enough to talk, they’re old enough to talk to each parent separately.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that my kids could call their dad directly.  It took him an even more embarrassingly long time to realize that he could call them.  He’s just started doing it, and my life is much more pleasant.  Whole days go by when he and I don’t communicate–and yet he’s in touch with the kids, and they’re in touch with him.

3) Use an online calendar. Obviously this won’t work unless both parents enter information (and check the thing, too) on a regular basis.  But think of the advantages!  No squabbling over vacation dates. The more anal you are, the more organized things magically get–without any direct interaction.  You can obsessively color-code things, flag them, have email reminders automatically sent to you, to the other parent, to your kids, to everyone’s phone, or whatever you desire.

No more “You never told me your mother was in town,” no “Did you get the email?”  Just log on and see for yourself.  Paradise.

4) Bags by the door. I gave what my WASPy family calls “Bean Bags” to each of my kids last Christmas, (in size Colossal; the kids themselves could stow away inside) and they have been, to use my delightfully WASPy grandmother’s phrase, “highly successful”.  My kids go back and forth a lot, and they are constantly encumbered by schoolbooks, gear, and various essential crap.  The bags hold everything, and can be hauled to and fro with relative ease.

Even if your kids commute from house to house on their own–if they leave your house for school one day a week and end up at his, or if they flit hither and yon by foot, subway, or bike, having what they need (for eventual collecting) contained in a huge canvas vessel by the door is a joy.  Look, I don’t want to poke through my ex-husband’s house looking for some damned thing every week, and I certainly don’t want him poking through mine.  If it’s going to the other house, it goes in the bag, or it doesn’t go at all.  You’d be amazed how quickly kids catch on.

5) Text the ex. We’re old.  Our fingers are fat. We can’t see so well. And we text slowly. The odds of writing something snotty or vituperative are far lower when you’re painstakingly stabbing your message out on a teeny, tiny phone than when you’re emailing.  “U 4got 1 cleat” is hard enough; it’s not worth the trouble of adding “AGAIN, you stupid git.”  And “k thx” is ever so much nicer than “Oh, get off your high horse, you fucking cow.”  Brevity is the mother of civility.

And that’s all I have, for now, though I’m always looking for tips. The moral?  The less you interact, the more decent your interactions will become.  The less you think about your ex, the happier you’ll be.  And the more your kids develop a relationship with their other parent that doesn’t include you, the happier they’ll be. There does not appear to be a downside to distance.

 

 

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About DWK

pollytropos

DWK

Divorced with Kids is written anonymously by a 43-year-old woman who lives in a pretty, prosperous small town where most people stay married. She shares custody of her sons, 15 and 9, with their father, who lives a few blocks away. They divorced in the fall of 2009 after 18 years together. Read more of her writing at Irretrievably Broken. Read bio and latest posts → Read Divorced's latest posts →

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31 thoughts on “Shared custody bites

  1. [...] at Babble, there’s a new post. The personal blogs seem to be even more secret than before; it’s now impossible to see [...]

  2. Juli says:

    So true. Every word.

  3. cathy says:

    you are so helpful to me, the one who lacks the balls to be “irretrievably broken.” It will come someday, and in the meantime, i relish having your blueprint for how this “divorce with kids” works. I’ve done the divorce without kids and this is SO much more difficult. But just as inevitable. Thank you again.

    1. DWK says:

      Oh, honey. It’s not a question of lacking balls or anything like that. Don’t beat yourself up unnecessarily. And take me with a grain of salt–a whole salt lick of salt, because god knows I have blundered plenty, and continue to blunder. Sneakily, I only write about the lucky rare things that seem to work.

  4. Peg says:

    I’m going to pass this on to all my divorced friends. brilliant (and pretty funny too :) )

  5. Bre says:

    I’m not divorced, and I’m not planning on one anytime soon, but I’m tempted to bookmark this post, just in case.

    Really great tips, is what I’m getting at.

  6. Maggie says:

    Great ideas.

  7. Shandra says:

    Love.

  8. Korinthia says:

    I’ve had to deal with divorced parents when I teach violin and have been dragged into some pretty uncomfortable scenes, so I think the distance concept is better for more people than you even realize.

    One mother of a student once told me (during one such ugly scene) to never get divorced because it’s all the same fights but with a lawyer to pay in the middle.

  9. Yasmina says:

    Enjoyed reading you, although divorce is not on its way.

  10. Helen says:

    DWK, without a shadow of a doubt you have prevented at least one divorce, or at least postponed it indefinitely, over here in Australia. Although this probably will give you a glow of positivity, the reason is that your two blogs have taught me (1) I will still have to deal with him daily or at least weekly with the same frustrations and wearying minutiae and (2) the pilfering will continue. (“Is that my beanie you’re wearing?” “Yes.”)

  11. Val says:

    Excellent! I think Z’s big ol’ karate bag will suit this purpose admirably…
    (It’s even already monogrammed, so no doubts whatsoever that it’s HIS)

  12. DWK says:

    So people in Australia DO wear beanies! I’ve always wondered.
    If anyone who’s reading copes with a similar situation, how do you handle the matter of housekeys? Do you give copies to the kids, to the kids and the other parent, do you hide a set somewhere outside so that a kid biking by can let himself in to get whatever, or do you manage in some other way?

  13. F Price says:

    My ex moved a thousand miles away a year after we split up, not for work or anything essential, just because he didn’t like it here and had apparently burned his bridges with basically everyone. I wouldn’t describe having 2 kids for 85% of the time as easier. My parents aren’t well and my siblings live away. It is incredibly stressful. And as much as I dislike contact with him, I would increase it in a second to stop the tears and ‘Why did Daddy move away’.

    1. DWK says:

      F Price, yes, of course, I didn’t mean to sound disrespectful, and I hope the lightness of tone of my post did not come across as flippant. My mother has often pointed out that she, for several years, had three kids, a full time job, and no one around to help–plus minimal child support, and kids who were sad that their father had basically bailed. (Like your ex, my first stepfather moved away for no particular reason, and saw us very seldom after he and my mom split up.) Therefore, my mother concludes, I should shut the fuck up and quit whining. I agree.

      And I’ve said before that my little mini-breaks when my ex is out of the country have about as much to do with real single parenting as a weekend alone when you’re married has to do with actually being single. (Which is to say, nothing at all.)

      It’s hard no matter what, and I don’t know what the alternative is like, except from a kid’s point of view. “Why did Daddy move away?” is awful to ask, and more awful to have to answer. I’m sorry.

  14. beccha says:

    @Cathy- boy, do I know how you feel…. I keep hoping there will be some crazy lightening bolt that will make it clear and I’ll say, “ahhh…. NOW is when I leave….” in the meantime, our therapist is probably buying a house in the Hamptons. In any case, I file each one of these posts away mentally for the time when I get my b**ls out of my OWN purse and make a decision. Someday, someday soon…..

  15. em says:

    a very logical list and i wish i could make it work with the ex. i think the joint account idea is brilliant!! i think i will propose that to my lawyer. i am still not at a point where i can talk to the ex. but really the whole list is so rational, and would make everything fall into place logically. brilliant!

  16. It's Not Like a Cat says:

    Thank you for this. As someone contemplating a “big change,” if you will, this post is really handy. I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts. I cannot seem to find anything about a women leaving her husband on the “divorce memoir” bookshelf; all the stories seem to be about the husband initiating the divorce, or the couple deciding on it together. Any recommendations for reading would be really appreciated–thanks!

    1. DWK says:

      It’s Not Like a Cat: I, too, was at a loss when it came to finding the kind of book you are looking for. At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, my other website talks in more detail about my divorce (there’s a link to the first post in the “About” section)–and the lovely, eloquent Jaywalker talks about her separation (which she initiated) on hers.
      Here’s mine: http://irretrievablybroken.wordpress.com/
      And hers: http://www.belgianwaffling.com/

  17. hydrogeek says:

    @Cathy, @Beccha – Sigh. Perhaps we should start a club…

  18. Matchpenalty says:

    I’m in the stuck club, too. Your blog was the first one i found that talked about a woman-initiated divorce that didn’t involve abuse etc. I really really appreciate it. Can I invite you to my blog? It’s about me trying to become unstuck and actually leave. Here’s a response to your list of signs-your-marriage-may-be-headed-for:
    http://matchpenalty.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/oh-the-contempt/

    thanks for being out there.

  19. Ourbeautifulbaby says:

    Oh this sounds so familiar and I needed to hear it while my kid is away at his dad’s for two weeks. Although, I have to say, my ex and I text-fight all the time and Swype on my Android makes it a breeze (& long). Good way to fight w/o the kids overhearing, bad way when you misunderstand context.

    Holy cow I cannot WAIT to hand my son his first cell phone so he can call/text his dad himself. Although, he has to learn to read & spell first before he can text! lol

    To the PP who said it’s the same fights with a lawyer – O.M.G truest words every spoken. I had a fight w/my ex over my son’s car seat that flashed me right back into our marriage – and reminded me exactly why we’re divorced. It’s ridiculous.

  20. Part of the Would I, Could I, Club says:

    So many of us are drawn to DWK, her Irretrievably Broken blog and this blog at Babble because of the frank and incredible way she talks about what otherwise seems so rare – a woman wanting out of her marriage. I have lived in this “stay-or-go” state of being for years – it’s good to know I am not alone.

  21. Sara says:

    Love your blog, and thanks for putting such personal thoughts and feelings out there. I’ve been divorced from my first husband for 12 years…just want to let folks know that it can get easier. To be fair, I waited two years to leave him-found out he was cheating when I was pregnant, left when our daughter was almost two-and by the time I left, I was done, not angry any more. And I think not holding on to anger has been the best gift I ever gave myself. It helps we’re both relatively low drama people, and I’m pretty freakin’ lazy-fighting over everything requires so much energy. It also helps that I see him as a much more active parent now than I did when we were married, something I think you’ve found, too, DWK. I guess I could be angry or I could be happy….happy seems like more fun. I will say my daughter talks a lot now about how happy she is that we don’t fight, and that makes it worth as much sucking it up as I could do.

    Of course, it also helps tremendously that my life is so, so much better than it would’ve been if he hadn’t cheated. Maybe I should be grateful :)

  22. Leigh says:

    I have been seperated from my ex for 1 1/2 years now and am in constant communication…literally I deal with him more now than I did when we were married as he was always ‘working late’ if ya know what I mean. I share custody with him, and I physically see him at least 4 days a week and while I do struggle with seeing him and being in such close contact, I do it for my children. My parents divorced when I was 11 and my dad moved 5 hours away a year later, rarely to be heard from. I was devastated and to be honest, it still affects me now. I refuse to take my children’s dad away no matter how it affects me! They are not only my kids, they are half his. I may not know the right things to do in this situation, but thanks to my parents, I definitely know what NOT to do and will learn from their mistakes.

  23. OSpies says:

    I’m not divorced, but that shared calendar thing sounds so fantastic.

    1. DWK says:

      Oh, it totally is! Google has a great one. Easy as pie and once you start using it you’ll wonder how you ever lived without.

  24. butterfliesrfun says:

    GREAT suggestions!!

  25. Tami says:

    A friend of mine got a keyless entry deadbolt off of Amazon. Everyone has their own code and she can give out or disable codes as she likes.

  26. Samantha says:

    Word of warning about the shared bank account – have to be very sure you agree on what the money is to be used for or dad may just use it to pay for trips to McDonalds during visitation, sports equipment the kid forgot to bring with him, movie tickets for shows dad ‘treats’ the kids to, etc. Ex suggested using a shared bank account instead of child support just to be fair.

  27. jrm says:

    I agree with FPrice… my ex moved 2 hours away to start a brand new family leaving a 3 yo and 7yo with me full time. he has also bailed on his every other wekeend and they end up visiting about once every 3 months. While it is easier on ME to not have to deal with him, it is much harder on THEM. the sense of abandonment is pallpable. Also the sense of no one else to share the load is daunting to say the LEAST. the grass is always greener i suppose. :)

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