parent opinion

'Every Friday, as I watch my girls head off to their dad's I have mixed feelings.'

Family life after divorce isn’t the family life I imagined when I had kids.

It’s this crazy train station with schedules; it’s arrivals and departures. I make an effort to smile every Friday, when my girls head off with their dad. "You’ll have such a fun weekend," I say. 

Most weeks they agree and bounce out the door. The merry-go-round of home life feels exciting for them those weeks - dad’s house is fun; there are bunnies, building projects, adventures with friends at the beach. 

Things have changed.

Watch: Robin Bailey and Bec Sparrow share why their first marriages were big mistakes. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

But then my teenager will cry. Some days she just wants me. The nine-year-old picks up on her mood. "I want to stay with you too, Mum," she whispers. "Please don’t both cry. I can’t stand it," I think.

I hold her briefly. Get her busy finding a jersey. "Which shoes do you want to take to Dad’s?" I say. Distraction.

"What’s wrong?" their dad asks, arriving at the door. The girls hang back, heads down, clinging to my sides. The nine-year-old hides her face in the soft folds of my winter jersey.

"It’s okay, they’re just a bit tired," I rub the teenager’s back. "You’ll have fun," I smile at her. Who am I reassuring, I think, her or myself?

"I know I will," she says. She wipes her eyes and picks up her bag.

"Dad!" the nine-year-old switches parents and clings to her father. Her tiny arms wrapping partway around his waist.

We have a blended family now: two families each with step-parents and step-siblings. The train station is busier.

I never wanted my kids to live in two houses. 

My partner didn’t want that for his kids either. Who does?

When we hold our babies in our arms, no one imagines spending so much time away from them. But that’s how it is in many families.

ADVERTISEMENT

There are thousands of parents living with the same reality as us. We have it easier than some. I know parents locked for years in the courts over their kids. Child custody is a battle no one really wins.

"Family is the people you love," I tell my girls. "You have such a lot of family who love you now."

"Yeah, we’re lucky," they say. They don’t see their home as a broken one anymore; they’ve welcomed their step-parents and new siblings with open hearts.

Every Friday when they go, we sweep through the house putting their belongings in their room. The turntable rotates; my young step-kids will arrive soon and the older ones don’t want their things broken by a preschooler. 

As I close their bedroom door, it feels like I’m removing them — eliminating them. It’s an odd feeling and I can’t think about it for too long or it starts to hurt.

I try to ban myself from missing them, but parents aren’t built to be away from our kids for so long. "I miss my girls," sneaks into my head on Fridays and I slam the door on it, like an unwelcome visitor.

Other times I’m excited when they go. I can work uninterrupted. I can go out with friends and stay as long as I like. I’m free to be Kelly, instead of Mum, for a few days. 

My step-kids are often there, but weekend step mum duties are lighter. I get to be more like the fun Aunty.

Instead of missing my older girls, I focus on making the most of my rotating family. Friday comes: one family leaves, and another arrives. 

The seven-year-old fills our conversations with fart jokes. He walks in the door, his dad and sister behind him, as if he’s lived here all week. "Hey Dad, you’re a stink bum," he giggles. In seven-year-old boy world it means, "I love you."

The three-year-old grabs my hand. Conversation continues where it left off. 

"I wanna play dolls." She leads me to the lounge and sits, w-style with her knees pointed forward, in front of the large white dollhouse. 

She’s starting to see me as part of her family. Or at least, she’s not pushing me away at the moment. She hands me a rabbit dressed as a mum. Her other tiny hand rests on my leg. "You be Mummy."

Later, after dinner, I sit next to my partner on the couch, watching him play Minecraft with his son. 

They laugh about the blocky pigs which have somehow made their way into the equally blocky houses. My stepdaughter climbs onto my knee. She puts her head back, wanting it rubbed.

ADVERTISEMENT

"We love Kelly," her dad says.

"We love Kelly," she mimics in her piccolo voice. A tiny three-year-old with silky blonde hair, petite, chattering constantly; it’s difficult to look at her sometimes without missing my older girls — she looks so like them.

My partner and I make eye contact over her head. "She’s starting to like you," he whispers, his eyes lighting up. 

I’ve known my step-kids most of their lives, but these things go at their own pace. I learned from my own step mum it’s best to be patient. I smile and don’t say anything, in case it breaks the spell.

On Sunday, my partner drops his kids off at their mum’s or nana’s and there’s a tiny moment when I’m alone.

A rare hour or two where all the trains have left the station. Sometimes I feel sad in that space. I sit in the biggest bean bag, and look out the glass sliding doors to the street. I think about how my family used to be — all together as one unit, parents and kids that live together 24/7. The memory of that still stings.

Other times I feel grateful. Grateful to have such a loving, happy family. Grateful to have so many people to love.

My partner comes home and in the space between arrivals and departures, we lean against each other, his face in my hair, my lips against his neck.

"That was a busy weekend."

"I’m so tired."

"You look tired."

We make each other coffees and sit in silence; we look at Facebook; we talk about the cute things the kids said; we talk about the gross poop that ended up in the bath.

Then it all starts again. My older girls arrive — piling through the door like passengers off the train, with noise and bags and welcome-home kisses.

"Dad took us shopping, and I got heaps of clothes and look at this, I’ll try it on, it’s just like an elven cloak, don’t you think?" They burst into the hall with armloads of stuff and hours of stories to catch us up on, as if they’ve been gone for months instead of a few days.

Family life is not what I planned or expected. When is it ever? Broken, unbroken, with us or not — what matters as parents is we’re always there, ready to welcome them home.

Kelly Eden is a writer and writing coach living in New Zealand. Ready to tell your own story? Get free weekly writing tips.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission.

Feature Image: Getty.