There comes a point in our children’s life when they choose.
When we first separate from our child’s other parent, we torment ourselves trying to figure out what is right for our children. We agonize over the pain that we’re causing our innocent babies. We read books about how to minimize that impact and profess our guilt to friends. Over time, our children adjust and so do we. Life becomes normal as our kids pack belongings and adjust plans to live in two separate homes. Relief.
Then, one day, our children reach a certain age (10? 12? 15?) when they want all the back-and-forth, 50/50, bag-packing to stop. They will tell us that they love both of their parents but they don’t want to live a divided existence any longer. Who can blame them? Have you ever had to stay in a hotel while your home was being worked on? It makes you crazy trying to keep organized and continually readjust to the different environments. Why would this be different for our children? They adjust to different foods, habits, schedules, priorities, rules, and tones.
So we can recognize the discomfort we put our children in when we ask them to share time with both parents but why did they choose to live at his/her/my house? What does this say about me/him/her as a parent? This is a great time to pull out all of our baggage about our former partner. But the truth is that inevitably, one home is easier to live in than the other. It doesn’t mean the other parent is inadequate in any way. It only means that one home makes it easier for our children to stay organized, comfortable, social, entertained, or well fed.
What keeps us from handling this moment of realization well is that we’ve spent 10 or 12 or 15 years defining ourselves as parents. Having our children live primarily with the other parent feels like we’ve been fired from our best job. Additionally, when our kids our little, we need lots of time with them because parenting happens during all that daily care. We’re rewarded for the endless efforts of feeding and bathing and urging them to brush their teeth when they run around naked with towels on their heads pretending to be munch-monsters. As they reach adolescence we get fewer of those zany moments, but we hopefully get a decent conversation now and then. (By the way, those moments can still happen at a weekly dinner or a Saturday hike.) But more importantly, remember how we wanted to not make their lives miserable when we first considered separation?
Our job is to raise them to be independent and this intensely difficult decision that they’re trying to voice is one big step in that process. Help them through it with grace.