Reflections on 19 years of shared parenting, joint custody or whatever they call it now

I doubt you will ever meet a person who co-parents a child with a partner who they are no longer with, who doesn’t occasionally wonder either out loud or silently when will this end? Even when a couple parts ways on a good note, joint parenting is not for the faint of heart. Trust me, my ex-husband and I split up when our son was thirteen months old, and our son will turn 21 in less than two months. I am no expert on the issue of shared parenting, but I have been at this for a while.

I won’t lie, there were many years when I wondered, how much longer? Funny thing is that for all the articles written on co-parenting, I see very few that discuss life after a child turns 18. Funny thing is co-parenting never really ends because in most healthy situations, each parent still wants to share important moments with their kid.

This was brought home last night after a discussion with the college boy (aka my son for new readers) who is home on Thanksgiving break from school. Lest you think this is a bash the former Mister BGIM moment, it is far from that. My son who is in his 3rd year of college while managing his growing musical career at the same time is taking his first adult steps and moving off campus into a real apartment. Zoinks! As a result “our” standing time together at Christmas time will be truncated as he is moving into his place right before Christmas break and before he heads back out to Maine he is visiting his Dad who lives in the Midwest. A few years ago, this news would have sent me into a downward spiral, instead as I heard my son tell me how joint custody continues to impact him, I found myself in awe. In awe for every child that crosses the line into adulthood yet must continue navigating between parents who are no longer together and just how very tiring that must be at times.

I assured the college boy that whenever he returns back to my house it will be fine and that by all means, he should spend time with his father. The funny thing is I meant it; it wasn’t me putting on my game face. In recent years I have come to see my ex-husband as no longer “the ex” but as a part of my family, no matter what we are always connected through our son. We last saw each other at my son’s high school graduation and rather than holding two separate celebrations, we held one big bash put on by the ex and his wife where both of our families came together. I imagine we will both be there when he graduates from college and all the other major milestones that may happen in our son’s life.

Joint parenting, shared parenting or whatever you call it doesn’t end; it simply changes once your child hits 18. In our case many of the long standing tensions have disappeared in recent years and while we still share our son and our time with him, I like to think that our son has taught us how to be better at sharing. Love is not limited and there is more than enough to go around.

 

Children have a voice, so honor it!

Note: Due to the piece in today’s Portland Press Herald, it seems I have more visitors than usual. Glad to have you and hope you come back. Despite the name of this blog which is based on being a black girl in Maine, yes, I talk race but I do talk about more than just race. At present this space is about a girl becoming a woman and heading into middle age and all the musings and observations that happen as part of that process.

I am on deadline for the writing gigs that pay, and as much as I love my little space of cyber-space here, tending to the money folks is a priority. However reading this piece in today’s New York Times made me decide to take a break between assignments and write about something near and dear to my heart.

As parents, we want the best for our kids, but too many times what we perceive as the best is based off our own assumptions and biases with no input from our kiddos. Clearly when our kids are infants and small kids, there is only so much input they can have and truthfully the early years are a time when we do need to provide much of the guidance. Yet as they get older and more mature too many times kids are still left without a voice or opinion in matters that affect their upbringing and nowhere is that more clear than in the case of divorce.

My first marriage crashed and burned in short order, of course running off at 18 to marry because you want to assert yourself as a legal adult rather than marrying strictly for love is a great way you ensure you won’t stay married long. Long time readers know the story but for new readers, basically I ran off at 18 and got married, several months in when I discovered it was a mistake, oops! I was with child and being the daughter of a minister with Southern Baptist roots that pretty much meant my options were have a baby and have a baby. Long story short, after the kiddo turned 13 months old, the marriage exploded into a fiery ball.

However as anyone who has lived through a divorce that involves kids know, just because you divorce doesn’t mean your relationship with the ex-spouse is over. No, it only takes on a new and different form. In our case I am glad that after years of tension, now that our son is an adult, I actually get along with my ex-spouse, hell we are even buddies on Facebook!

No, the heavy lifting really hit around the time my son started to clearly have his own thoughts and while at times it was easy to ignore his wishes, after all the divorce decree says I get X amount of time, I am so thankful that the light bulb went off for me when he was 15. That was the year the former Spouse decided to move back to the Midwest…remember I am in Maine because of him and the kid. Initially the kiddo wanted to stay in Maine but the lure of being closer to what remains of my family and connecting with other people of color was a strong pull. In the end I honored my son’s request to move to the Midwest granted it ripped me up inside and only now that he is 20 do I feel I can put this to words.

In the end though it all worked out, I am convinced that the move is what my son needed, he needed to get away from New England and spend some time back home. It’s actually ironic because after 2 years of college in the Midwest he is now pretty certain that he wants to live back here or close by when he graduates. This year for the first time in a while my son told me he wants to spend the entire summer in Maine. Many people think that once kids turn 18, the sharing of vacations ends but the truth is it doesn’t and really it shouldn’t, after all kids have 2 parents. But this summer college kid feels he needs to spend his whole summer here with me, his baby sister and his step dad aka The Spousal Unit. I know it was a hard choice for him to make but thankfully his dad is supportive.

I wrote all this because as a parent who has pretty much navigated the world of joint custody since my eldest was 13 months old, I have learned along the way, that kids have voices and they need to be honored. It is something that now is part of parenting my youngest and in my work with kids. It took a lot of years to realize that having been raised in a strict patriarchal family that not having a voice can be detrimental. Many times when both my parents were alive, they asked why did I choose to run off at 18 and get married and it took many years to realize I made that choice because I could. No other reason, sure I thought it was love but not ever having had the ability to make a decision over my life when given the chance…well I didn’t know how to make one. I think children need even more autonomy when they are being reared between parents who no longer live under the same roof and yes it’s scary but the end goal is creating connections that last a lifetime not just the first 18 years.

So I say to my fellow parents, your kids are separate beings from you with their own uniqueness and desires, part of parenting well is to honor that voice that your kid has.