Every Other Weekend and Noon on Christmas: Adjusting to Part-Time Parenting
by Natalie Nichols Gillespie (Taken from Stepfamily Success, 2004. Used with permission.)
Christian or not, whether you intended to or not, when you had your child, you joined with God in creation. You created with the Creator!
No one wants to give up time with his or her precious children, but the majority of divorced parents do. Sometimes we miss out on celebrating birthdays, playing Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, and exchanging teeth for money under pillows as the Tooth Fairy. It means that we often have little or no idea what our children are experiencing during the times they are visiting the other parent’s home. It means that we lose control over things we have taken for granted their whole lives. It means that virtual strangers to us are often acting out parental roles in our little ones’ lives.
As I was starting this chapter, the phone rang. It was my twelve-year-old daughter calling me from her father’s cell phone in Oklahoma, thirteen hundred miles from her home with her stepfather and me in Florida. She and her eight-year-old brother were on their annual simmer visit, camping and having a big time with their dad and stepmom, their two teenage stepbrothers, and their seven-year-old half brother. A pang of longing for Jessica and Joshua, these children I bore from my own body, swept through me so strongly it made me catch my breath at the sound of their voices, so young and innocent. The feeling was followed by joy at their excitement in wanting to include me and the rest of their Florida family in the fun they were having, if only by telephone. The joy was followed by some guilt that I had not thought of them more often in the weeks they had been gone and a niggling of doubt that they could possibly be receiving from their father the same level of loving care that they get the rest of the year from me.
In a stepfamily, even simple phone calls can be a lot to take emotionally!
Because I have had many years of practice at stepparenting, I rose to the occasion. I squelched the longing until I could commiserate later with my husband, reveled in Jessica and Joshua’s enthusiasm, put aside the guilt as an attack by the enemy not worth the effort, quickly asked God’s forgiveness for doubting my ex-husband, who loves those children dearly, and followed that by a prayerful plea for the kid’s protection anyway.
These are just small examples of the heartaches that part-time parenting brings. Part-time parenting is a challenge for parents, stepparents, and the children they share. It comes with differences in parenting styles and inconsistencies in discipline. It creates friction between former spouses and families that may remain steeped in dysfunction. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Stepfamilies can step up to the challenge and overcome the difficulties by getting as many people as possible in the family equation on the same page. Do you have an amicable relationship with your former spouse? With his or her new mate? If so, you are way ahead of the game. Arrange a conference call or face-to-face meeting in a neutral location where the three or four of you can exchange ideas regarding the children’s schedules, activities, and ground rules. You will not see eye-to-eye on everything. After all, if you didn’t have major differenced, you probably would not be divorced. Instead, try to find common ground and come to terms in those areas.
Agree to get “the rest of the story” directly from the other parent (or stepparent) when a child comes to you with a complaint. Inform children that, as much as possible, you will support what their other parent decides in terms of participation in activities, discipline, curfews, and the like. Children who have boundaries that do not shift from home to home are the happiest and most secure children in both homes.
If it is not possible to exchange this kind of parenting information between households, you can at least form consistent boundaries within your own household by getting on the same page with your spouse and children in the home. Establish the policy that everyone follows the house rules in your house, even if the rules are different in their other home.
While you may grieve over the time you miss with your kids, don’t allow that grief to continually spill onto them. Watching their parent become sad at every parting creates and enormous load of guilt for children to carry. Save your tears for you spouse’s shoulder after the children are out of sight. Do not let the children’s absence cast a pall over your home, as this can cause resentment from you spouse and stepchildren. Determine to enjoy life to the fullest while your children are gone and to focus on the positives of less responsibility and more time for yourselves and the other children in your home. Ask the Lord to be you Comforter. He is always faithful!