Around Thanksgiving, life has always been hectic. My ex-husband's birthday falls the day after and sometimes even on Thanksgiving, and my father's birthday is a few days after. I always scrambled to plan Thanksgiving, a date night for the then-husband and myself in honor of his special day, birthday presents and cake, and more. This is the first year and first holiday that my now ex-husband and I will be apart. This is also the first holiday I will spend sharing my daughter.
Every divorce is different. Some swap holidays by the year, some split down the middle, and some parents get all the holidays because there's an absent parent in the picture. For my family, we are splitting Thanksgiving day in half, and for Christmas, I will have Christmas Eve, and he will have Christmas Day. Since we live near each other, this has been a fairly easy setup to live by. Like many modern divorces, my ex and I have a 60/40, close to 50/50 split in parenting time. Back in the day, fathers often just got every other weekend and a few weeknights here and there, but more and more people are splitting custody down the line.
People who are used to the "old divorce" model are shocked when I tell them how we split our time with our daughter.
"Don't they want her with her mother?" they say.
To be honest, it makes me feel like crap. As if I have elected to just give up half of my time with her, like, "Yeah, I don't want her— you take her," but that's not the case at all. We both made her, so we both get time with her.
Fifty-fifty or 60/40 in our case means many good things:
It means my daughter gets to have two parents, and not just a dad she sees "every now and again." And while I won't lie —sharing her kills me, especially since I was once a mostly stay-at-home mom and now work full-time and split her schedule in half — my daughter is fortunate she has a dad who wants to spend so much time with her. So many of my friends' kids have absent fathers in the face of divorce. The fact that my ex is such a present dad is a gift to our child. And a gift to me. We made her together, so we'll raise her together, even if we can't manage to stay together.
Sixty-forty means my kid gets two households. More to love, but sometimes, more of a pain. Two households mean two ways of being raised, and therefore, a child who has to negotiate which rules happen at which homes, even if my ex and I work hard to parent together in a similar manner. There are two sets of everything — that is the costly part. Last month I kept going to the closet and I couldn't find any leggings because they were at her dad's, so we figured we better double up with clothes. It means sometimes Elsa, Cinderella, and My Little Pony end up at my house when she is at her dad's. It means stuff gets lost. It means sitting in front of a calendar and trying to divvy up her time and days into two, which is exhausting. It means a color-coded calendar for a child just 3-years-old so she knows where she is on what day. She still asks us each day: "Where will I be today? What am I doing?" Some days I feel like just saying, "Here — you get this leg, and I'll get the other." It also means my little one's heart is often torn in two: it's happiness to see one parent, but heartbreaking to miss the other.
This year, we felt splitting Thanksgiving made sense since it's a major holiday and we're within driving distance to one another. A big part of me is prepared for the split. I get to see her and she gets to see both families, so it's a livable way to manage the Day of Thanks. It's Christmas that I am dreading. After 11 a.m. on Christmas Day, it will just be me. No daughter. No festivities. No food. No nobody. Just me and a pile of toys that won't be played with until she comes back to the house again. Me with a heart that will be longing for my kid.
Not having my ex-husband with me to cut the turkey and count the candles on his cake is also a big life change for me. I will still have gifts and a baked good for her dad's birthday, even if we're divorcing . . . even if my birthday went relatively unnoticed. Why? Call me crazy but, that's my kid's dad. I want her to cherish him and value him. If I don't make an effort to respect him and let her enjoy making cookies for her daddy, what kind of example am I setting? And while it makes me sad to know that everything I invested time and energy in for the past eight years is now blown to pieces, I also have a certain gratitude. Despite being in the thick of divorcing, I now know that my life is moving on. There's a clean slate, so to speak, of what the future might bring for both of us. For me. Neither one of us has to feel as if we're letting the other down or feeling the dread of wondering: Will we divorce, or will we stay together?
No. We won't. It's done. And now as rocky as this path may be, we both get to find happiness again, and that's no small gift. I'm thankful we made the best choice for everyone involved because now, my daughter will get the gift of two happy parents. If that means staring at the walls on Christmas Day crying while watching A Christmas Story, then so be it. As long as she doesn't have to referee our arguments or see two sad adults desperately trying to make it work while miserable failing, that's something to be thankful for.
The other day when I called my daughter's school, the head of the school said to me: "You two (ex-husband and myself) are doing a great job with your daughter. She's very happy and clearly very loved. We wish all parents worked together the same way."
If my ex-husband and I could pull a wishbone, that's exactly what we would both wish for: a happy and loved child. What other blessing is greater for any parent, married or divorced?