Let me take a deep, long breath after writing that title.
Can I have shared my children outside of my home for a whopping total of 4 years now?
It’s one thing to describe myself as a co-parent with half-time custody. Sounds so fair. So tidy and perhaps generous. It’s another to jot down exactly how much time has passed that we didn’t share meals, giggles, homework time or bedtime. (Or have the pleasure of fights about brushing teeth, feeding the pets, farts in common spaces and who cannot seem to properly rinse the peanut butter off of the spoons.)
As a coach, guide and friend to many parents either crafting or executing against a parenting agreement, and with 8 years under my belt, I would have imagined myself more “healed” by now. More “measured” in my emotional response to what it’s really like to share my children exactly half of a week every week.
I imagined a finite series of books I would read (or write), along with some workshops and meditation and time to craft a perfect adaptation to the “new” us. I did all of the yoga. I cried all of the tears. I went on all of the dates. I examined my own “need” for my children and helped others to process theirs. Now and then, I may even sound like I have “done the work” to get through this tough transition when I offer a caring ear or something that has helped me along the way.
Yet, every drop-off or pick up is still very painful for me.
I planned for and promised to be there for these two monsters every day of my life, and certainly physically during their formative years.
I hold it together nicely until they leave. And then I process. Mostly with snot running out of my nose and a not-so-silent wondering if I will ever be able to do this well.
Don’t get me wrong: their father is the finest specimen of “dad” on the planet. I have zero reservations about their time with him, and I’m frankly grateful not to be solely responsible for their growth, nurturing and development. He has and continues to create a beautiful life for my children during his time, which must also feel wholly insufficient to him. I know far too many parents without any semblance of a supportive co-parent, and I am grateful for their dad every day.
But I miss them.
And at 8 years into this experience, not less than any other half of the week when I haven’t had them.
The pain hasn’t lifted just because they have a great dad nor because a certain amount of grieving time has passed. It hasn’t lifted when adult love walks into my life. It doesn’t lift when I celebrate my “adult freedoms” nor when I’m consumed by work and life. 8 years in, I’m not holding my breath for some miracle of comfort for the consequences of our decision.
I have grown weary of schedules for grief. For the expiration date of something that may, in fact, never really go away. There is no timeline for healing, and healing doesn’t mean full passage of our pain and scars. (Yes, I’ve tried to skip some of the ugly stages on this journey. Let’s just say it didn’t work out very well for any of us.)
What if we simply recognized the wild strangeness of the situation, and allowed ourselves to feel through it without judgment of our own inability to adapt “perfectly?”
I benefit when I give myself the gift of this allowance. And I know a hundred other parents I work with who would as well.
So I’m going to continue to lead and share with my (gasp!) pain and my story so that we can get to the steps we take to make it tolerable and towards the ever-elusive path of feeling confident as parents. Especially for parents who have made hard decisions about how and where their beloved children spend their time when marriages or partnerships end.
We and our children deserve this space and this authenticity. We can recover and adapt imperfectly, and find some true happiness in both the “alone” and together spaces.