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“’I remember the stewardess took really good care of us and made sure we got to the right gates,’ says Deborah, whose mother sent the 5-year-old and her 4-year-old sister, Kimberly, to stay with their father in New Hampshire for the summer. That was the beginning of Deborah’s bicoastal childhood. … ‘It was difficult to go back and forth, saying goodbye to one parent and hello to another. At the airport there was always lots of crying.’ She may have had equal time with both parents, but there was a price.”

-- The Divorce Generation Grows Up, cover story, Newsweek, April 21, 2008. David J. Jefferson. Available at http://www.newsweek.com/id/131838. Authors note: This is a superb article chronicling the lives of children of divorce from Mr. Jefferson’s own 1982 high school graduating class.

 

I do not remember being upset when they sat me down in the living room. At school the next day, I made my way to my cubby and nonchalantly told my teacher that my parents were getting divorced. I kept thinking there was bigger news to come. I waited for the schedule to change, and for one of my parents to disappear from my life until the weekends. That never happened. Although they no longer slept at the house on the same nights they seemed like they were both there because I woke up with one and the other was there after school.

For as long as I can remember my parents alternated their days with me.  Even before the divorce they arranged their work schedules so that they each had time with me on certain days after school. 

On Mondays and Wednesdays my mom would be waiting for me and my best friend Katie out front of our elementary school.  She shuttled us over to the Mexican restaurant she owned and managed with her brother. She would get us a plate of nachos and check in with her employees while we wrapped silverware and played football with sugar packets across the tables.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays my Dad would come into the school invariably he would arrive ten minutes after the last bell.  He would come up to the classroom where Katie and I would be helping our teachers clean up.  We would all play a game of hearts then my Dad would take Katie and me to a small diner close by.  We ordered the same thing every day: grilled cheese with french fries and a chocolate milk shake.  That is where my dad taught us both how to figure out the tip and where we spent long hours making big plans for our championship soccer and softball teams.          
I had other friends whose parents were also divorced but I never felt much like them.  They each lived with one parent, almost exclusively and I had both parents and three houses.  My friends called the main house “Whitney’s house” but my mom, dad and I named it “Rushmore”, for the street on which it sat.  It became the center of a fairly complicated schedule for my parents, and it was the place where I stayed with our dog Daisy while they rotated around us. 

There were exceptions to the schedule.  Both my parents came to all of my sporting events, all my school functions, and jointly hosted all of my birthday parties.  On Sundays they made sure their days overlapped to discuss the week and any important goings on at Rushmore.  I actually dreaded Sundays because it was the day where they often sat me down to discuss anything from my grades to my behavior.  These scheduled sit-downs made up the majority of the time that I had with both parents together.  Now, when all three of us are together alone for any occasion, we slip into the same dynamic, and it is like being back at the kitchen table talking about chores and homework.

Although now I know my parents took the schedule very seriously it never seemed like they felt unduly obligated to maintain such a lifestyle.  If they were annoyed or frustrated I never knew it. They also remained flexible about my many sports; neither of them missed many games. My extended family and friends were so supportive and accepted our unusual arrangement as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

We sold the house when I left for college and I still long for it almost 5 years later. It was the only place that sheltered the obscure version of ‘family’ that my parents pieced together for us. It was outside of that home when I felt like the child of divorce, and that feeling became only more realized when I returned home from college to find my family life gone, along with the house. I really do admire what my parents set up for me, but I wish they had outlined some kind of plan for how our family would function while I was in college and on into adulthood.

Everyone I know who has gone through divorce at one point or another had a really difficult transition period.  My parents saved me from having that phase during elementary school.  They stayed friends so that I would not have to experience it in middle school or high school either, but they did not prepare for what my life in relationship to theirs would look like after graduation. Those first few years after high school I often felt as though I was being forced to choose which parent I saw more, and also that I was impeding on the lives that they had kept outside of Rushmore.

I am in college now, a week away from that graduation. If I do decide to have children and something happens to my relationship I would want to try to mold my parents’ idea into something that would work for my family. I would want a plan for my children that would allow them to see both of their parents without a lot of shuffling. However, I would prepare more for my children’s entire lives and to help them navigate their relationship with their parents not only through their childhood but also into adulthood as well. I look back now on the risk my parents took and I am proud of them. It was right for us, perhaps for you as well.

 

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