I drive down my street after a long day at work, spot my ex-husband watering flowers on his porch, beep the horn hello, then turn into my driveway.
Yep. You read that correctly.
I live three houses down from my former husband. It has its ups and downs, as I’m sure you can imagine. And yeah, some of those downs have sent me for a loop, but for all the difficult moments, it is the single best thing I’ve done for my kids since their dad and I divorced in 2015.
It wasn’t always like this. When we first separated, Serge and I moved from our shared home and ended up living about 30 minutes apart. At that heartbreaking, disorienting time, it felt like even that wasn’t far enough away from each other. But, while distance seemed like a logical reaction for two divorcing people during that first soul-crushing year, it was pretty awful to meet at a gas station halfway between our homes to conduct what I started referring to as “The Kid Shuffle.”
We’d pull up next to each other and, amid clipped, formal exchanges about kid-related issues, shuffle our children from one car to the other and then drive away in separate directions. Ugh. I hated it. Even though it was two heartbroken, exhausted parents exchanging custody of their beloved children in the only location convenient to both, something about parking at a busy, dirty gas station made it feel like some kind of covert, illegal operation. But it cut the driving time in half for each of us, so we stuck with it. It worked when the kids weren’t in school, but when our daughter started kindergarten, it was a logistical nightmare — on par with solving a Rubik’s cube, something I still haven’t managed.
Because the kids attended school in the district where I lived, Serge spent an hour driving to the bus stop and home each morning and another hour to pick them up at the end of the day when the kids were with him. Conversely, our youngest son’s daycare was in Serge’s neighborhood, so I’d have to make the same hour-long drive twice a day when I had custody. It sucked. I hated it. He hated it. The kids hated it.
Over time, I began to contemplate our living scenario with my brain instead of my heart. I ticked through each future year of my kids’ lives and considered what living so far away from their dad would mean to them. Childhood friends are made in your neighborhood and at school. Living in two homes, 30 minutes apart, would be an increased liability for them with each added year of their lives. Two neighborhoods, two sets of friends. And what about when they’re with Dad but want to hang out with a school friend who lives near Mom? More driving for an hour just for an after-school playdate? Their entire lives would be that Rubik’s cube of logistics to solve just to hang out with friends or attend school functions.
The harder I thought about it all, the more I realized I had to make a move. So, last year, I moved to the small town in which my ex-husband lives.
It wasn’t without drama, BELIEVE. ME. There have been some really intense, difficult moments. Every awkward situation and scenario you can imagine might occur when you’re living a few houses away from your ex has happened, and it’s been really hard. But we’ve made it through the first year, and I’m intensely proud of this post-divorce family we are carving out of a challenging situation.
I think if you asked Serge, he’d tell you it’s been painful, but that he would absolutely never go back to The Kid Shuffle at the gas station. Because, for every tough moment, there have been moments of beauty: Dad pulling up after a day of fishing and, spotting us in my backyard playing, stopping by to kiss the kids goodnight. Or me missing my babies and him telling me to pop by and give them a squeeze on my way home from work. And the beautiful moments that happen every day are a constant salve on the burn that is living without your children half of the time.
If you’re a parent considering divorce — or are in the middle of a divorce — here is what you need to think really hard about right now:
Where will you both live? While your instinct may be to put some much-needed distance between yourself and your ex, that distance will end up making your life and your kids’ world a whole lot harder than it needs to be.
Where will your kids go to school? If your kids are already in school, then one parent will most likely stay in the family home while the other parent moves out. If you’re the one moving out, stick around the general neighborhood. Your kids already have to adjust to divorce and two homes, so why force them adapt to a whole new neighborhood and make a new set of friends? Not only that, but if you move too far away, your kids will be more inclined to want to be at the other parent’s house because that’s where all their friends are — especially as they age into junior high and high school when friends become their entire world. Do you need to live three doors down, like we do? No! The house I moved to just happened to become available and is perfect for my family, so we figured we’d give it a shot. But a few streets away is close enough that your kids can maintain as much normalcy as possible while allowing you to put a bit of distance between you and your ex.
The ease of logistics is reason enough to stick close to your ex, but that isn’t the only benefit. The fluidity that this scenario lends to our custody situation is incomparable. Dad gets them on the bus each morning, regardless of which parent they stayed with the night before. Both parents are there when they get off the bus. If I have a late meeting at work, it’s no problem for Serge to collect the kids from the bus, something that could never have happened if we still lived 30 minutes apart. If it’s a day where I have all three kids but Serge wants to take them fishing, it’s no problem. If he has the kids but needs me to watch our youngest boy while he takes the older kids to a movie, it’s no big deal.
Not only that, but if the kids miss Dad, he’s a 30-second walk away! If I miss my kids, they’re right there! Seeing your children only half the time is the hardest part of divorce by far — but with this situation, I rarely go without seeing my kids every, single day. And even if I don’t see them, I know they’re right there. The scenarios that improve with closer proximity to your co-parent are endless.
Yes, there are awkward moments and certain circumstances that occur as a result of living so close to my ex, and sometimes it gets the better of me. I have to step back, take some deep breaths, and remind myself how hectic my life as a single parent was before I moved next to Serge. I vividly remember how awful it was to be so far away from my children half of the time and always come back to the realization that every divorced couple has struggles and a few tense moments regardless of where they live. Those tough moments we experience are nothing compared to how beneficial this divorced life we’re carving out for our little family unit has been.
While moving far away from your ex may seem like the ideal scenario at the outset of divorce, calm down, think it through and play the long game. Consider your kids’ ages, where they’ll go to daycare and school, and how that will affect everyone’s world. It may be hard in the beginning, but if you use your head instead of your heart, you’ll be able to create a post-divorce family that is as happy — or happier — than the nuclear family you once thought was your dream.
After all, one bad chapter doesn’t mean your family’s story is over. As author Jennifer Weiner once wrote, “Divorce isn’t such a tragedy. A tragedy’s staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love.”
If you have to get a divorce, create a better life that shows your kids how much you love them.