Friday, November 7, 2008

Balancing Act

As you may have suspected, my 9 y/o is from a previous marriage. My wife and I have primary custody of her which is almost unheard of in TX, but we try and split her time between our house and her mom's house fairly evenly.

As she's growing older, she's starting to understand more the implications of living in two houses. I know that she has the fantasies of our households combining so she wouldn't have to split time, but the two households couldn't be further apart in atmosphere. Her mom and new husband are very emotionally volatile people, and the environment over there can get pretty toxic fairly quickly. On the other hand, that means they have wildly good times as well. It isn't the most stable of situations for a 9 y/o to be in, and she knows it. But, it's her mom. And so she reflexively compensates for her mom, glossing over the multiple times mom's let her down.

At our house, it's all about getting your homework done and making sure you're ready to face the world the next day. Don't get me wrong, we do fun things also, but only after our responsibilities are taken care of. It can be frustrating at times because who wouldn't rather spend time at the care-free let's-have-fun all-night tavern? She knows she feels better when she's at our house, but she still makes the choice to spend time at her mom's house as well.

For instance, take this past two weeks. The way the schedule fell because we switched some days around, she's been at her mom's almost continuously. Unfortunately this coincided with the multiplication blitz in her math class at school. She passed her 0's & 1's timed test, but badly failed her 2's & 3's, 4's & 5's, and 6's & 7's. By the time I saw her again, she had her 8's & 9's the next morning. She had not studied at her mom's house for any of the tests at all. She also hadn't done her weekly reading--100 minutes--also due the next morning. And then she informed me she had a book project due the next morning that she had neither started on, nor knew where the assignment instructions were. So we busted hump from 1530 when she got home until 2100 when I made her go to bed. Somehow we miraculously got everything done. She squeaked past her 8's & 9's test. Another 6 hours of solid hard work after school and the following day she passed her 10's & 11's and made up the rest of her tests, only dropping 6's & 7's.

And that was Halloween, so she went back to her mom's house to go trick-or-treating and to spend the weekend.

I got short with her and told her how unfair it was to us that she shirk her work at her mom's house and then make us take up the slack. And that it was hurtful to us that she chooses to go have fun at her mom's house and acts like she'd rather not hang at our house because we make her take care of her responsibilities.

She was heart-broken.

It's hard to talk with her about this stuff because she's still dealing with the divorce (5 years later) and it makes her very emotional. I think she's afraid that one or both of her new families will choose to leave her out and move on with a new life. Her mom's actually done that to her several times, so her fear is not unfounded on that side of the coin.

Finally I had to take a deep breath and figure out a way to make her feel like she had more control over her situation. Also it was important to help her know that she was being fair with her time, so she wouldn't have to feel guilty about being at one house or the other. I decided to have her help me make up a schedule for November and December. I think it was a good thing to have her part of the process.

She's back at our house for this week and next, making up for lost time, and I'm so glad to have her home. She is an amazing child, and it hurts my soul to see her damaged by my mistakes with my ex-wife.


  1. Awww. I have two kids from a previous marriage and I have sole custody. They see their Dad every other weekend. To spend a single night. They sometimes call and ask for Friday night too but he always says no. I hate seeing how disappointed they are but I'm sometimes glad that they don't get more time with him. He sounds alot like your ex-wife. He's no consistent and he lets them do whatever they want. After Halloween (I took them trick or treating and they had alot of candy) they came home with almost no candy left (my exhusband doesn't eat candy) and my son was complaining about a toothache, he said, because he ate so much candy, and they didn't even have to brush their teeth once while they were there :(

    Thanks for the comment by the way!!!

  2. As a daughter who has had to go without her father for long periods of time, I think I understand that it is a very, very difficult situation. I think it is great that you are honest with your feelings (even though children don't usually know what to do about them). My dad kind of acted like everything was going to be perfectly fine, which made me want to close myself off from him because he didn't show that he understood how much the family was going through. He didn't acknowledge that things were hard. It's wonderful that you worked with her to make the most of the circumstances, planning so that she keeps up with school and letting her have some control. I don't remember how I felt about my dad when I was closer to that age, but even now at age 19, also 5 years after my dad started having to leave, I would say that "spoiling" her a little bit might give her some comfort. My father and I know we love each other, but it feels more like love when we go through some of the motions for bonding.

    You are doing a fantastic job as a parent and as a person!!