Monday, May 10, 2010

Shared custody the best and worst

Welcome to the new age child who has four parents.

http://www.theage. society-and- culture/shared- custody-the- best-and- worst-20100507- ujm0.html

Shared custody the best and worst

May 8, 2010
ICLIMBED into my son's bed, kicking aside the school books on his Manchester United quilt. That's when I really started to cry. Lying there, looking at the posters torn from old Footy Records on his wall, watching the sliver of light in the hallway where I'd usually be standing at bedtime, it hit me that I was only there because he wasn't.
Snot ran into my mouth. My eyes swelled beneath my fingers. I realised that my sobbing, expelled from deep inside my chest, actually sounded like "boo-hoo, boo-hoo".
It was probably this moment of self-awareness that made me realise how ridiculous I was being. It propelled me out of bed and into the bathroom, to alternately blow my nose, exhale a final series of stuttering sobs, and inspect the damage.
Come on, I told myself sternly, looking deep into my own slitted red eyes. He's not dead, he's just at his father's. Like he is every other week of his life. You'll see him soon. The next thought, the one that really sobered me up, was, ''What if his father rang you right now and asked you to take him for the week? How would you get your work done and your deadlines met?''
When people hear that I share custody of my son with his dad on an arrangement of one week on, one week off, they generally have one of three reactions.
The most common, oddly, is, ''You're so lucky. You get the best of both worlds.'' This mostly comes from harried mothers, who juggle work and kids and partners and say things like, "I can't remember the last time I saw a film." To them, my life is a kind of paradise of going out, having a career free of childcare restrictions, and finding time to visit the hairdresser's alone.
The second reaction is, ''I could never do that. I'd just go insane with missing him/her/them. That's so good of you.'' Again, this comes from fellow mothers. These ones disinfect their kids' toys when they drop them on the floor and no longer accept lunch or dinner invitations because their child needs their routine and must be in bed at the designated hour, no matter what, to prevent transformation into a pumpkin. Translation:
''I could never do that. You must not love your child like I do. Life must be easy when you can farm your child off to someone else for half your life.''
The third reaction is, ''Wow. Really? That is great. Good on you.'' This comes from separated fathers who are only allowed access to their children for one weekend a fortnight. They tend to beam at me like I am a saint. (Generally because they were once married to women like the ones who give me Reaction Two, and share the opinion that my actions are rare and benevolent - only they are sincere.) "Well, it's only what's fair," I say. This is true - though I feel, under these men's admiring gaze, as if I am being deliberately disingenuous. And maybe I am.
The truth of my experience reflects a mix of all these reactions. I do get more time to spend on my friends and career (and, technically, at the hairdresser's, though you wouldn't know it from looking at me). I do sometimes resent that extra time, badly miss my son, and cry so hard I swallow my own snot. And though our custody arrangement is - logically - fair, it is not the most common outcome when parents separate. Sometimes I wish I had never been so ''reasonable'', and suspect myself of having been so depressed when I left my son's father that I accepted shared custody out of exhaustion rather than fairness.
But, when all my guilt-tinged analysis has been exhausted, one fact remains. Shared custody, despite its effects on me or my former partner, is the best thing for my son. He has two parents who want him, who care about him, and who are intimately involved in his everyday life.
Plus, he gets to listen to songs with swear words in them at my house (so long as he doesn't sing them aloud). He has Garage Band on his computer at dad's. My partner takes him to footy games. His dad teaches him to play soccer.
"What's good about having two houses?" I asked him recently.
"Well, I have four parents instead of two," he said, surprising me. Then he thought about it, and his smile curved into a frown. "Actually, that means I have four parents to tell me what to do."
"But four people who really care about you, too," I said. "Right?"
"Yeah," he agreed, reverting to being happy about it.
He has the best of both worlds. And, yes, the worst of both worlds, too.
Jo Case is associate editor of the journal Kill Your Darlings and books editor of The Big Issue.

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