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Custodial Exchanges

I get my kids back today. They have been in Texas with their dad for the last ten days. I have had this exchange a lot over the past five years. It is always bittersweet...for all of us. I have missed them while at the same time I have so enjoyed the downtime. The time that I have been able to dedicate to me, my interests, my plans...not that I really had any. It was the quietest Christmas ever!

But it is always bittersweet for them too. They are having to say goodbye to their Dad today who they do not see often enough. And they are excited to return home to their lives, their pets and their mom.

I hate that they have to make this transition every year. I am very grateful that my ex-husband and I do not fight about them, the time he gets to spend with them. I am very grateful that I was able to leave a marriage that wasn’t working for both of us while preserving the friendship (or some semblance of) with the father of my kids.

Given what I do for a living, I see the carnage. So it is easy to not really realize how much emotionality my kids will endure today. Because this visit wasn’t long fought in a court of law doesn’t mean that my children’s emotional well being hasn’t been upset and addressed in some small and large ways...every single time they transfer from my house to his and back again.

We did the best we could and still we have let them down. They deserve an intact family where they are not forced to reside too much with one parent and the other not enough. But we do the best we can.

But the knowledge that it could be so much worse, allows me to think far too often of myself. Patting myself on the back for getting along with my ex and not spending their college money fighting about them and money. And I guess, I do deserve some credit there...but I also have to hold myself accountable for the fact that I put my own needs above theirs and that has had a negative impact on their lives. No excuses. No exceptions.

I know that my ex and I are happier and in the end so are our kids. Us being together and unhappy a pall over the entire house. But today when I get those amazing kids back, I want to remember what I have put them through and what it is to be required to always leave one parent behind. It warps you...maybe just like it warps my ex and I to have to let them go each time. Maybe in ways that I will never know or understand.

Love is such a funny thing. It causes us to behave in such diverse ways but the fundamentals are the same in love...requiring sacrifice, forgiveness, accountability, discernment, authenticity and vulnerability. Seems like a big ask for anyone, most especially a child.

So today when I pick those kids up from LAX, I will do my best to remember that it wasn’t just a plane ride. It was a loss and a gain. And that has to be hard. To be thrown into a new home and environment with different rules and rights and responsibilities and now be returned to another home that, one they are much more familiar with, but perhaps resembles little the gold standard of an intact family.

Today when I throw my arms around them I am going to hug them tighter. Silently thank them for their willing sacrifice, forgiveness, accountability. I will respect their discernment and cherish their authenticity and our relationship. That both of my kids share with me how they feel, and while I am sure it isn’t everything they feel, that we have the kind of relationship that they will be vulnerable with me and give me some close approximation of their true and authentic self.

Today I will do my best to honor that this wasn’t just a plane ride from Texas to California in a pandemic. This was a loss to each of them for a life I took from them when I decided I couldn’t stay in a marriage anymore. Today I will work on my own accountability. I will honor my sacrifice while also remembering what I made them sacrifice with my choice. I will forgive myself and also them when they act out in ways that I don’t totally understand and often do not like. I will use discernment in what I react to and what I just let be. I will try to be the kind of mom you want to pick you up on the other side of a custody who is happy you are home and doesn’t press you for details of how the other parent did. Who doesn’t look for validation of their own good parenting by seizing evidence of the other parent’s failure. Today I will do my best to be vulnerable with them and tell them who I am while showing them I can do better. Mostly, I will love us all in a way that is supportive and large enough to contain all of the varied emotions and personality. Realizing that we all have our own ways to deal with grief, loss, love and divorce. And there is no right way for any of us but we can all do better. And, because I am the parent, I have a higher responsibility to do better for them, to them and because of them. Forever.

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