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The Art of Sharing – Shared Custody

My Experiences with Shared Custody

Our breakup started and ended quickly. That said I had probably missed all the signals a failing relationship yields the whole year and half we were together. In that time we had shared an apartment, friends and our son. In hindsight we were naive to think a relationship with so little chance to grow before Austin came along would succeed. We did our best to accommodate the changes a child brings. We picked out the best daycare, bought all the necessities and read the books people suggested. Austin became the best thing in our lives. Soon it had become clear he was the only topic we could discuss without argument, the only reason we were still together.

Trying to separate the days each parent would spend with him soon became a nightmare. I couldn’t foresee not being with him every day, let alone the three days a week initially proposed; neither could my ex. We both sought out attorneys and began the fight for primary custody. Every imaginable angle of our parenting was brought to light before strangers as well as our own family members. Even though I felt my ex was a more than capable and loving father, I questioned every motive and choice he had made since we had been together, including his choice to leave me. I had thought, again with nativity, that we would get married, buy a house and live happily ever after. I had assumed we loved each the same way and that our ambitions were shared. It took several months, multiple attorneys and thousands of dollars to accomplish what I believe now we should have been able to do in the first place; grow up.

It is hard when you are so angry and hurt to see through the parenting plans to the brighter side. Life does continue after your ordeal ends and the arrangements you work so hard to set up often get discarded and uprooted in the best interest of the child. Since our breakup and permanent plan, we have found that although our relationship is not ideal, it works. Today we plan birthdays, holidays and school meetings together. We call and discuss our lives, parenting styles and our son’s development. In many ways we are better parents separated than together. I never could have imagined that my child was capable of teaching me the true meaning of being a parent, but looking back it was watching him handle our breakup that made me see better ways to handle my lifestyle change. Had I not faced the relationship troubles we had I would never have been able to fully grow as a person.

The first emotion I experienced was anger. That anger both propelled me and ruined me through my whole ordeal. As is often the case with anger, it led us to say things we didn’t mean. This didn’t stop at us; it continued to seep into our families and friends. You often look to your parents for direction and advice. I have few memories of being able to see more clearly than my mother. Despite the fact that the judge had accepted my parenting plan, that in all likelihood we would not have to return to court and our relationships could begin to heal, my parents were still very hurt and negative about the future. Without meaning to, they often pushed those feelings on to me. It got to the point where I was ready to let my anger go when they couldn’t. Watching my son be shuffled between us, switch daycares and move into two new residences in the months before made me think; how selfish it was for me to not consider making things normal as soon as possible.

I called my ex that night and apologized for the situation. Using every conflict resolution technique I had been taught, I listened to his side no matter how upsetting it was. Over the next few weeks these calls proceeded and slowly became friendlier. Eventually we were able to sit down and change our plan to meet more of our wants and needs.

Patience is something you run out of quickly by the end of week. It’s getting dark, you haven’t eaten, slept well and you left work just half hour before making your trek. Add a forty-five minute drive up to pick up your child and an hour drive back. This is often my Saturday or Sunday evening, depending on our week. Although getting home is often on my mind I refuse to rush my son from his dad’s house. When I walk in to pick him up he is always eager to show me what he did and tell me about his weekend. I learned that even though going in and sitting down with my ex was hard at first, Austin really liked it. Today I see how much it helped our relationship grow and how much more comfortable I am in uncomfortable situations.

Every weekend we now sit down and play with Austin for a few minutes. He finishes eating or getting ready and cleans up his toys before we go. Recently one my cats was unhappy with our others, when my ex mentioned maybe getting a pet, I jumped on the chance to off load a cat. Mr. Purr is now a permanent resident at his house. If I run out of things to talk about, the cat always saves the day. Besides Austin thinks having pets at both houses is a really fun idea.

One of my biggest stresses had been starting a new relationship with someone else. I felt like we had been through so much, I couldn’t handle another breakup or let down. I was lucky to find someone my son and I had already known. While this was lucky for me it was distressing to my ex. Funny enough as most men do, he had little thought to whom he had seen during our separation but spared no time in feeling betrayed.

Although I did not fully understand his feelings, I did try to respect it. Even though my son was a toddler, he watched us like a hawk. From the words we used to the way we interacted with each other. I realized him seeing one of us not like the people in each other’s life meant he would not grow to like or respect them either. I made a promise to myself that unless someone my ex saw was bad for my son I would respect it and encourage my son to do the same.

The same man I had been seeing and I got married last November. Recently my ex, husband and I went to a preschool open house together. Even if they only say hello to one another I call it a win. Austin thinks this is great and talks to them both about each other. He clearly knows one is dad and one is his “Pat” but they are both role models for him.

I already know we will face more challenges. But are they really different than the ones we would have had if we were together? I like to believe married couples don’t see eye to eye one hundred percent of the time either. As long as I remember the reason we work together, who really benefits from our plans and their consequences I will find the strength to tackle them one by one. If I could have imagined our situation working out this way, I might have dealt with it better. Thankfully, several people were wise enough to point out that it usually does end this way; happy and healthy despite the lack of your typical family arrangement.

Authors Bio: Sydney Nolan is a mother of one from Seattle WA.

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