By Jennifer Cronin Thomas
Our children were 4 and and 1 when their dad and I got divorced. Though we have been divorced for over 13 years now, people have confided to me over the years that they were shocked to find that my ex and I were “exes” because there were no obvious signs that we were no longer married.
We both always attend parent-teacher conferences, musical performances, sporting events, and any other child-focused activities—and do these things with no outward animosity toward one another. This behavior isn’t indicative of the nature of our split; it means we made a decision to put our kids first and our feelings last when it comes to social interaction.
We established a typical shared parenting agreement that stipulates various things about schedules and holidays, but we try our best to make schedules work to suit everyone. With family both in and out of town and two sets of step-families to include, it is imperative that we work together to coordinate time with all of those people. Despite our best efforts, extended family can often feel shortchanged, and the kids can feel overscheduled.
Although there are countless ways to organize time between our homes, we felt that living within the same neighborhood afforded us the opportunity to actually “share” our time more than most divorced parents. The kids generally spend after-school time at my house, with Monday and Wednesday evenings at their dad’s and Tuesday and Thursday nights at mine. On weekends, they are with him Friday night and Saturday until 5:00 pm, then with me from Saturday evening to Monday morning before school.
Quite honestly, this arrangement came about for two positive—though selfish—reasons. One, I could not stand to be away from them for an entire weekend, so every other weekend was not going to work. Two, their father was against the “Dinner with Dad” on Wednesdays that so many divorced dads are limited to, so we created our own schedule to see how it would go. We’ve kept it for 13 years.
When the kids were younger, we managed things for them and this worked pretty seamlessly. As they grew up, it became more challenging as the management shifted from us to them. Keeping track of clothes and homework and electronics and all of the other necessities of teenage life became significantly more difficult when it was the teenagers who were in charge.
As the kids evolved from younger children into tweens and teens, the emotional situations they faced also evolved from those I could “fix” for them into ones I try to “facilitate” for them. Trying to work through adolescent issues with them while only seeing them part of the time is challenging because I want to be there for everything—good, bad, and ugly. I feel like their dad and I parent our children separately much in the same way we would have parented them together, but doing that in two different locations makes it feel rather lopsided at times. It’s a division of labor of sorts, but the result is often unintentionally different parenting in different places. Although that can be frustrating at times as the parent and confusing at times for the children, we are usually able to come together for the big stuff. The bottom line is that our kids feel the love from us both, which I know is the most important part.
Jennifer Cronin Thomas is a teacher, who’s lived in the Cleveland area for almost 30 years. Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, she’s been divorced for 13 years.