Children of Divorce Grow Up and It’s Still a Pain

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I’m married, I have a four-year-old son, and I’m still penning visitation schedules. For my son.

When parents divorce, they (hopefully) do everything they can to ease the transition in their children’s hearts and minds. There’s tearful conversations about how they may not be with the other parent but they’ll always love you; there’s adapting to new rooms, custody and visitation schedules. It’s a lot on a kid. And twenty-four years later, I’ve still got to pen custody schedules to see my parents.

My wife and I are not divorced, but my son has to deal with my custody schedules. Silly, right?

My parents divorced in 1989, somewhere around the Christmas season. They agreed to not fight around me before they separated, but as a nine year old, I knew nothing about love and marriage except that their simplified speech about some people “just not getting along” was fairly accurate.

I was heartbroken about the little things, though. I remember thinking about how we wouldn’t be doing our Christmas portrait in front of the fireplace anymore. But other than that, I don’t remember much about the divorce process.

What I do remember was years of self-imposed scheduling. Really, the divorce was very easy on me as a child. There was no court battle, and my father had intentionally moved within a couple of miles from my mother’s house to make things easier on me. And it was. I could walk or ride my bike between my parents’ houses, and most kids of divorce can’t say that. Instead of a schedule, my parents left it up to me. They said—lied, really, but for a good cause—that it’d be okay if I ever decided to live exclusively with the other.

Initially it was a transition-easing do-si-do of back-and-forth during the course of a week. When I was ready, we went week-to-week. While my school friends on the city league hockey team bought those giant hockey bags for their skates, sticks and pucks, I had my mom buy me one for my video games, clothes and books so I could bring things back and forth between houses.

I’ll be thirty-three next month. I’m married, have a four year old son, and I’m still penning visitation schedules. For my son.

♦◊♦

My son doesn’t know anything about divorce. He hardly knows my wife and I are married. He sees pictures of our wedding and asks if he was in “mommy’s tummy at that party.” He doesn’t know how people can love each other so intensely that they promise to be with each other – “happily ever after” – and then later dislike each other so irreconcilably that they go their separate ways. My son doesn’t understand remarriage and step-parents. He’s still untouched by all of that.

But my wife and I do. My wife’s parents are still married, but she has to deal with my parent’s divorce – sometimes through me, and sometimes on her own. Both of my parents have lightly aired their grievances about the other one to her, and, not being a child of divorce, she doesn’t yet know that you just let it roll off of you like water off a duck’s back.

My wife, bless her, is usually the one to schedule dinners with our parents, being that she is home with our son while I’m at work. So, I get texts a couple of times a week, asking what day my mom can see our son. What day my dad can. What day her parents can. Which days are free for them to take our son out? Which nights are free for dinner? Fairness is the cornerstone of any good divorce:

How many visitations can we do in one week? One.

Do we do weekends? Not unless it’s a holiday.

Is July 4th a holiday? No.

What if we want to do a holiday dinner? Good luck explaining that one.

How do we account for sick weeks? We…don’t.

What if one parent thinks they’ve seen their grandson less than another? They’re not. Everyone’s getting screwed equally.

♦◊♦

To make matters more complicated, our son is in three different classes and activities, and has been in some sort of class since three months old. We have, for better or worse, an active boy who will turn into a thunderstorm if we don’t keep him focused and around other kids. So, he’s got school three times a week, two days of which are followed by a cooking class, and he’s got a sports skills class at a kid’s gym a couple of times a week. Soon, he’ll be in swimming class as well.

This leaves parents sometimes wondering where to fit in, and with three sets of parents, it gets really complicated. Our schedule accounts for maybe one open day. But, what if that open day doesn’t match up with a grandparent’s schedule? It happens. Do you then bump the next grandparent back so the former can have their day? Do you skip them for this cycle? We’re not sure. The beat goes on.

In the off-days, my wife tries to meet up with friends with kids for play-dates. In all of the scheduling nightmares between school, gym and parents, sometimes my wife is so sick of looking at the calendar that she forgets the me-time of meeting a friend at the mall to walk their kids around, have a coffee and talk mom-stuff.

♦◊♦

My in-laws don’t fully understand how to play the divorce scheduling game either. They want to “be nice,” or “be fair” and invite both sets of parents to any party, event or dinner. But nothing’s fair in divorce, I explained to a happily-married set of in-laws. “You just pick one set, invite them, then invite the other set to the next.”

“But we mentioned it to them and they said it’s okay to invite the other,” is always the reply.

And, inevitably, both sets will be invited, and either both or neither will show up. Either way, I know there’s some discussion of “do we want to party with the other ones” going on, and if they say there isn’t, it’s a lie. An okay lie.

So, holidays sometimes come in threes, but usually one-and-a-halfs. Early on, I imposed the child-of-divorce-holiday schedule upon them: Mom and in-laws are Catholics, so one gets Easter and the other gets Christmas. Dad’s Jewish so he gets non-secular Thanksgiving. Sometimes parents want to celebrate a holiday that isn’t “theirs,” which is understandable, but we panic and don’t know what to do. Usually it’s a dinner instead of a day. I don’t know. I’ll never tell you that have this whole thing figured out perfectly.

And before you mention it, I know: Catholic (then-religion teacher) mom and Jewish (then-actor, now-Rabbi) dad. Reality television, here we come.

My parent’s divorce still affects me. Not in an immediate, emotional way, but in a way that still touches upon our family’s weekly schedules. I love my parents, and they really did make their divorce as easy as they could on me. But I never realized that it’d carry over to my son. I never thought that, just as my parents had to note down switched days and odd holiday swaps, my wife and I would now have to do the same.

Separately ever after.

—check out more of Zach’s writing at 8BitDad

—photo by paulaloe/Flickr

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About Zach Rosenberg

Zach Rosenberg is a husband and father living in Southern California. He is co-founder of
fatherhood news site 8BitDad.com, and a contributor to HLNtv.com. You can also find him on Twitter @zjrosenberg.

Comments

  1. The Wet One says:

    Family life.

    Ain’t it grand?

    Never had to do this in my life. But I can certainly see how it makes things interesting…

    • It does. Sometimes we envy the people with family out of town/state. But, we also have parents with a lot of love around us and who can be involved in my son’s life. My grandparents lived out of state, so I rarely saw them. It’s great my son can grow up with so many people around that love him.

  2. Wow. Sounds like a lot of work. And I can’t help wondering (from my admittedly ignorant position) if you are trying too hard to be fair. It can be exhausting doing that.

    On the plus side, figuring out schedules requires a good deal of communication. If you are able to develop a functional schedule, then I’m willing to bet your extended family has well-developed communication skills.

    • We’re definitely trying hard to be fair. Really, more for our son than our parents, since we know our parents understand. But our kid doesn’t necessarily understand why he can’t go to someone’s house RIGHT THEN AND THERE! But, he also doesn’t understand why he can’t have chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, so there’s that! Thanks for reading!

  3. Whew. As someone with divorced parents (and parents who had a far uglier divorce by the sound of it), all I can say is, I wouldn’t put up with it.

    Reading your article I get the impression that your family is into conflict avoidance – and that it maybe influenced you? I certainly wouldn’t stand for what you are describing. I think that, once you’re over 30, you have the right to expect your parents to be adults. In my world, that means if they can’t (despite whatever history) be both at birthday parties for the grandchildren, and be there in a positive way, they can fuck off. It’s not my job to make sure that everything is “shared fairly” in order to accomodate their immature issues. It’s their job to be fair to the rest of the family and shield the rest of us from this issue.

    Just think if both sets of grandparents were divorced. And maybe your brother, too. You can’t be expected to accomodate all of that by separate events for everyone. Yes, for the first few years after a divorce, but for a divorce that happened 25 years ago? Time to grow up. Really.

    I think it’s completely unreasonable for your parents to impose this situation on you. I also think it’s probably become a habit – it’s just the way it is. To me, it sounds like it’s time for you to say “no more”. Be clear on what *you* (you and your wife) want. Don’t start from all the restrictions, start from what you’d like it to be and let them follow. Or not. If they won’t, it their responsibility, not yours.

    • Something I didn’t flesh-out well in the article – both sets of my parents can definitely be at birthday parties. They really DO operate well, separately. And, there’s a lot of love from everyone for my son, which is the most important thing.

      It’s such a difficult thing to describe in-whole in an article like this – but everything’s more or less “okay” most of the time. There’s barbs here and there, but in-general, the idea I wanted to convey is that when your parents are divorced and you have your own kids, you spend a lot of time scheduling – as you do even with married parents. But make two sets of parents into THREE?! That ends up making weekly schedules tough.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. Great piece, Zach.

    My parents can now be at larger events together- family birthdays, etc. But it’s been a long road to get there. The year my mom set fire to my dad’s house was really bad (God, I wish I were kidding).

    .

  5. Well done, Mr. Rosenberg. This article, which I’m reading over my morning coffee, is serving as a guidepost to how I may navigate the rough waters of my own divorce [and parenthood] here. I never considered nor envisioned these kinds of issues. Wow. Hats off.

  6. Joan Price says:

    Divorce is so tough. When I was younger, I was part of a group for divorced kids. It helped more than I would have thought. There’s a program right now that is starting a curriculum for helping out divorced children which Halsey Minor helped get off the ground. It’s called Kids Turn. I hope it goes well and can help kids trying to learn how to juggle both parents.

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