I have shared custody of my first-grader Abby. In our particular joint custody schedule, she’s with us every other week – and with her dad and stepmom on the other weeks.
Those other weeks are hard on everyone in our family, but Abby has it worst of all. Even before the transition between homes, she experiences real anxiety that makes it hard for her to sleep or eat.
One tradition that’s made it easier on Abby is that on those other weeks, I visit her at school for lunch.
Ever since I quit my corporate job to work from home, my 2-year-old Bailey tags along for our lunch dates too.
The minute Bailey sees Abby walking down the long hall towards us, she takes off running at full toddler speed. And every single time, I can’t help grinning while I watch her jump into big sister’s arms and hug like they haven’t seen each other in months.
But as much as I look forward to our lunches together, every week they also make me irrationally angry.
Let Me Explain
On Fridays, I find myself trying to soak up every single second. To get one last full dose of Abby before the weekend, when I won’t see her at all.
My patience rivals Mother Theresa’s. I smile, I laugh. Say “I love you” a hundred times, if not more.
I’m basically the June Cleaver version of myself. If June Cleaver were 8 months pregnant and sporting a ponytail to hide the fact that she hadn’t washed her hair in a week.
But then the moment comes.
Abby’s teacher walks down the hall towards us, and it’s time for Abby to line up with her classmates.
Bailey and I stand near the line, smiling and saying good-bye.
The line starts moving, kids shuffling down the hall, and I realize this is it.
My last view of Abby before the weekend.
Every few steps, Abby turns back to wave at us.
We flash the ASL sign for “I love you” to each other.
We blow kisses to each other, then catch the kisses and hand-deliver them to our hearts. Even Bailey joins in.
I’m sure this all drives her teacher crazy, disrupting her orderly line of kids every time Abby turns back to us.
Soon, other lines of kids join the procession up or down the hall.
And Then It Happens
A parent steps in my line of sight to Abby. Or another line of kids blocks my view.
I can’t see her.
I move a few steps to the right, a few to the left, frantic to see her.
In that moment, it dawns on me that the last time we waved – that was the last time we’ll see each other for days.
And I’m angry.
So, so angry at that parent or that line of kids for getting in my way.
My eyes fill, and I try to keep it together so I don’t fall apart in the school hallway.
Don’t those kids understand this is it for me? Doesn’t that parent notice me trying desperately to see around them? They just stand in the way of my one last dose of Abby, completely oblivious.
I’m being irrational, I know.
I also know that a few more seconds of seeing Abby won’t make that much of a difference.
I’ll still miss her so much that sometimes it will feel like I can’t breathe.
And yet, every week, it happens.
I can’t seem to stop the anger from coursing through my body.
When we get to the car, I buckle Bailey in her car seat as fast as possible and get into the driver’s seat.
I close my eyes and try to get a handle on the emotion.
What’s the Answer?
Do I stop visiting her at lunch because it’s too hard? The thought makes me shiver.
Do I find a way to focus on the positive and crowd out the negative emotions?
I’m lucky to have the flexibility of working from home, so my schedule allows me to visit her for lunch every other week. And I do appreciate that, but it’s just never enough.
This summer, I’m excited to be home with Abby, Bailey, and their newborn sister, full time every other week.
We’re calling it Camp Treehouse, for our blended family name The Treehouse Family.
We’ll make our second annual summer idea board and fill it with fun stuff like visiting the library, making s’mores, and chasing down the ice cream truck.
I can’t wait.
But on the other weeks?
I offered to keep Abby with me and her sisters during the day on those weeks. Her other parents declined. They’ve arranged for her to spend her time in child care and a couple summer camps.
Which means I won’t get to see Abby at all on those weeks.
3 Ways to Cope With Joint Custody and Missing Your Child
Here’s some of the typical advice for parenting after divorce and missing your kids:
- Make plans to keep yourself busy while your child is away. I’ll be home with a newborn and a toddler, so that’s a good start.
- Treat yourself to something special so you have something to look forward to. We already plan our date nights for the weeks Abby isn’t with us, so we’ll definitely keep that up.
- Call your child or encourage them to call you. Abby isn’t a huge fan of talking on the phone, so I’m not sure this one is a good fit for us. (Our little introvert prefers texting…already!)
Maybe these tricks will help. Maybe they won’t.
But I do know one thing.
I’ll take an absolutely ridiculous amount of photos to capture everything we do at Camp Treehouse. Then on those other weeks, I’ll flip through the photos obsessively and remember all the Treehouse girls together.
And I might end up debating: How bad would it actually be to give a 7-year-old a cell phone?
Update: We’ve since found a solution that helps us cope with being apart during the summer: Here’s a Quick Way to Connect With Your Kids While You’re Away.
Before you go, get my FREE cheat sheet: 75 Positive Phrases Every Child Needs to Hear
How do you cope with missing your kid – whether that’s due to joint custody, summer camp, or a sleepover? Share your thoughts in a comment below.