Auntie SparkNotes: I Hate My Custody Arrangement
Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
About a year ago, my parents split up and eventually divorced. Now both parents are getting remarried, but I'm fine with it. What I’m worried about is where I live. My dad lives in the house I've lived in since I was seven, in a neighborhood that ALL my friends live in, and is where my adorable dog lives. My mom's is two miles away, right next to my new high school, at an apartment complex that doesn’t allow pets.
I originally lived with my dad and was at my mom's every other weekend, but now its different. I spend every other week with my mom... and it’s horrifying. My mom came up with this arrangement to spend more time with my brother and me, but it’s sort of ruining my life. I have to change homes/routines/life structures ever single freaking week! I hate this routine, and I have to move clothes and other things between houses every week.
I would talk to my mom, in fact we used to be very close, but since the divorce i haven't been able to trust her very well. I can't even talk to her without feeling like it will set her off, and she is ultra-sensitive about how much time she has with me. She freaks if I spend one Saturday with her at my dad's just to hang out with my friends. And if I propose a change in the schedule, no matter how small, she acts all hurt and makes me feel terrible, like I've disappointed her. But in my opinion, I think she is being very selfish about it. This off/on schedule was her idea and it only benefits her. I feel like what is good for me doesn't matter, and my opinion isn't counted.
Should I tell my mom I'm unhappy, or just stick it out the last three years until I leave for college? What should I do? Can I keep everyone happy? Can I justify making my mom unhappy just to make me happy?
Funny coincidence: Last month, I read an op-ed in the New York Times about horrific custody arrangements that, like this one, fail to take into account the wishes of the kids they affect. And as I did, I thought to myself, “Ugh! Is this for real?”
And then, like a reply direct from the cosmos, your letter appeared in my inbox and answered my question as follows: It is for real, and it is AWFUL.
And truly, Sparkler, I’m sorry. This sounds like hell, and I’ll tell you now, it’s one from which it’s going to be tough to extricate yourself.
Because here’s the thing: Most kids your age have the freedom, more or less, to decide how to spend their leisure time. And most parents expect, more or less, that kids your age will use that freedom to spend time with their friends instead of clinging to the apron strings. Because most people, more or less, understand that that’s what kids do when they start to grow up.
And the fact that your mom is taking personally this totally normal part of your teenage development means that yes, she’s probably also going to take it personally that you want a normal teenage level of control over your life.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for one. Because yes, your opinion should count. You deserve a normal social life, one that includes spending time with your friends on weekends. You also deserve a settled life, one that doesn’t require shuttling back and forth on an unsustainable schedule for the next three years and feeling like home is nowhere. And above all, you deserve to have some input in a decision that’s supposed to be in your best interests, and that affects you more than it does anyone else.
So, approach your parents, starting with your dad; you'll want him in your corner from the get-go, and he may have some valuable insights about other ways you might work your schedule . And then, pick a calm moment with your mom, and say your own personal version of the following:
“Mom, I know that spending time together is important to you, and it’s important to me, too. And because of that, I’ve really tried to be okay with this schedule, but shuttling back and forth every week is miserable for me. Can we talk about some other possibilities that still let us have quality time together, but that won’t be as disruptive to my life?”
And then, be ready to talk about those possibilities. You should be coming to this conversation with some concrete ideas about how to make things better, so if you don’t have a different schedule in mind already, come up with one before you approach her—and ideally, more than one. Some things to think about:
- Quality, not quantity. Try to frame your plans—and the conversation—as being less about divvying up the hours, and more about how those hours are spent. Even your mom should realize that it’s a lot more pleasant to spend one day with a happy kid who’s there because she wants to be, than seven days with an exhausted, resentful kid who’s only there because she has to be.
- Taking advantage of the natural shift between weekends and weekdays. For instance, it sounds like the proximity of your mom’s place to your school—and your dad’s to your social circle—would make it feasible to spend weekdays with her and the weekends with him. Your mom gets more days with you, total, and your dad (who sounds more understanding of your desire to not spend every waking minute of your leisure time with your parents) gets the more flexible weekends . And though you’re not traveling any less, changing things up from Friday to Sunday—when you’d be changing your routine anyway—means you’d be keeping the same schedule overall from week to week.
- Having both houses feel like home. Even if the unthinkable happens and there’s no way to change your schedule, you can still improve on the one you’ve got by making the weekly switch less disruptive to your life. So, at the very least, get your parents to carve out a permanent, private space for you at their respective homes, with clothes, toiletries, and anything else you need—so that you’ll be settling into an existing life at each house, not schlepping your whole existence back and forth.
Will your mom be unhappy to hear your feelings, and unhappier at the prospect of giving up her ideal arrangement of weekly switch-offs? Almost definitely. And guess what: that’s okay. Because that’s the thing about working out a good compromise to a tough situation: The best solution isn’t the one that provides one person’s perfect happiness at the expense of someone else’s well-being; it’s the one that no one is perfectly happy with, but with which everyone can live.
Do you have to live in two different homes? Did you get any say in your schedule? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.