Arlie came home tonight after ten days in Spokane with her mom. Normally I don't like to schedule her return the day before school starts back up again, and certainly not on an evening flight (that was delayed twice!) and for good reason. No matter what, where or when, kids who visit the "other parent" need detox time when they return to their primary residence. My own kids can be impossible to live with the day after they get back from their dad's, and especially after a longer than normal visit. Arlie has it worse, because she has a week or more at Christmas, spring break or summer. Going from one household to another is just plain hard on kids. No matter how hard you try to make transitions easier, it's just going from one world to another.
My kids will often return from their dads in a daze of too much TV, late nights, and unsupervised time. It's just a more permissive environment and the girls, especially, are often left alone and unsupervised which leads to too much texting, tv, computer and "down time". They often don't even leave the house on a nice weekend. Or change out of their pajamas. Now, I'm all for a lazy day now and then, and I totally value that kids need their downtime, but I think they get it in spades at dad's house. Arlie comes back from an extended vacation and there is a period of tears, lamenting that "things are different" at our house, etc. Well, of course they are! At the other parent's houses, it's all about fun, games, relaxation and little parental authority. It's the weekend, or it's a school vacation. The kids don't have school or regular chores to deal with. Mom or dad is at their disposal to entertain and hang out with.
At "home", or their "primary residence" as the courts like to call it, is where real life takes place. And real life is NOT as much fun as fantasy life. Real life involves chores, homework, busy parents trying to keep a roof over the kids' head, feed them, take them to various activities, spend quality time with them, buy their food and clothes and generally leads to a very busy lifestyle. Sure, we have down time and days of all-day pajamas and too much TV, but for the most part, life goes on in the way that real life does. It's just not as much fun when you're learning to be a responsible memeber of society.
What really bothers me about this is that no matter what, I will NEVER get the chance to be the "fun parent"..........the one who has no pressing issues, who's only job is to spend quality time at a preassigned time with my child. Because someone has to work, pay the mortgage, feed and clothe the kids, make arrangements for them to go to college. Plan for their future. Teach them how to do laundry, cook and keep a house. Teach them to drive, earn money and value hard work and an honest living.
I'm not saying the other parents don't contribute..........they do, in their own ways. However, "primary parent" to the courts might mean "parent the child lives with the majority of the time" but in reality it's the parents who will do the lion's share of work and enjoy the smallest amount of reward. They say parenting is a thankless job, but I'm here to tell you, being a stepparent is THE most thankless job on the planet. Stepkids will never know how hard a stepparent works or how much a stepparent loves them. Arlie worships her mom, and rightly so, she's her mother after all. But I am the one who is there every day to help with homework, listen to her worries about friends at school, make her lunch, take her to gymnastics, shop for school clothes, attend her school functions and field trips, volunteer for things. Likewise, Harrison worships his dad, but it's Jeff who works every single day to bring home the money that puts the clothes on his back, the food in his mouth and it's Jeff who shows him how to restore a truck, fish for salmon, hunt for pheasant, take out the trash. The other parents simply are not here to do these things. And while they may lament that they can't contribute this way because of their location, there is no arguing with the fact that they simply do not have to bother themselves with the nuts and bolts of everyday life with kids. Never once do the other parents have to worry themselves with whether the shoes are too small or there is money in the lunch account at school. Those things are simply done for them and they are given their little cherubs on the weekend to enjoy, the slate wiped clean of worries. Do they have worries? Hopes, dreams? Sure they do, all parents have wishes for their children. The difference is, it's the "primary parents" who have to make this all a reality.
Truth be told, I'd love to just spend fun, quality time with my kids every single day. I'd love to tuck each of them in at night and have a few minutes to talk about their hopes and dreams. But it's just not reality. I do the best I can and I'm torn every day with how much quality time I have to spend with my kids. I worry about working too much and neglecting their needs. Someone has a dentist appointment? The logistics of that fall to me. Someone missing school for illness? Who's going to stay home? Me. Planning birthday parties? Camping trips? Driving on a field trip? Me. I'm not complaining. I WANT to do these things. Being a mom is and always was my number one priority. I might not have known what I wanted to be when I grew up, but being a mom was never a question. I never knew I'd have a stepdaughter one day, but I don't regret that for one minute. I am so blessed to have her and I thank God every day for the family I've been given. But I walk around most days with a knot in my stomach wondering how to make ends meet, how to be the best mom to all four of my kids, how to do it all and still hold down a job, and still try not to be the least bit disappointed when Harrison asks to spend an extra night or two with his dad (because, hey, it's more fun over there) or Arlie hints about wanting to live in Spokane (why not? It's "quieter" over there).
And I could go on and on about this subject but the bottom line is NOTHING will ever change the way things are. The grass will always be greener at the absent parent's house. And just once, I'd like to feel what it's like to enjoy my children with no strings attached. With no looming umbrella of responsibility and mundane details hovering overhead. I'd like to be the "Disneyland mom"........the one who's only agenda item is fun and quality time. Just for a day. Because I'm glad I'm the one who's teaching the kids to be responsible adults. I'm glad I'm the one who watches all the practices, rehearsals, and performances. I'm glad I'm the one making the lunches and giving lessons on laundry and healing the hurts. I just hope when my kids look back on their "growing up" days, they remember the fun stuff and the good times as much as the chores and yelling and chaos and noise. I hope they know how much they are loved - not just by the parents who created them, but by the parents who made them who they are.