By ELLY VARRENTI
‘Is tomorrow a daddy or a mummy day?’ my son asks me. He should be able to work it out for himself given he’s currently learning the days of the week in Prep.
My six-year-old son is leading a double life and he’s been living like this, an intrepid little traveller, since he was six months old.
This year he started school in the city with me and lives with his dad and stepmother in the country on the weekends. The rhythm feels easier. Our son is more settled. I feel better. His father probably feels more cut off.
These days shared parenting is common, they say. One in four families – or is it one in three- is co-parented, blended, or outside the traditional nuclear model. These days children commonly have two homes: two bedrooms, two sets of photographs and Lego. In my son’s case, two different linguistic universes as well. My son and his father and stepmother speak only German when they are together. I don’t speak German.
The first time I handed my six-month-old baby over to his father for a couple of nights it felt like surrendering a limb without anaesthetic.
‘Don’t do it. You’ll regret it’, said a friend.
‘You’re still in shock!’ said my mother.
But I did do it. I handed over my son, I mean, our son, to his father that first time because even though his father had stopped loving me, I knew he hadn’t stopped loving his child. I knew he was as good a parent as I was. Maybe even better, given I had post-natal depression at the time. I grew up without my father; I wasn’t going to let it happen to my child.
Today and five and a half years later it still feels like an amputation every time my son goes off to his father’s house for a few days a week. Except that now it’s the status quo. Now I am meant to be used to it. I should be relieved my husband and I separated when we did, and not later, when our son had got used to the idea of his parents living in the same house.
I have friends who do it. Some do the one-week on, week off thing or the half-week here, the other half there. For us, there’s one birthday party in the country and another one in the city. His father lives in the country and I live in the city. That’s our shared-parenting set-up. It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock n roll. It’s a little bit acrimonious too.
Usually it’s the logistics, the legalities and the nuts and bolts of how to co-parent we hear about. We all know for example, that it’s a far more workable scenario if the two parents get along amicably. It’s even better if they live close by. You hear less about the complex and confusing emotional life of the co-parent spending half the time outside their own child’s life.