The Family Picture

familyGrumpy Preschooler arrived home the other day with her packet of papers, eager for me to see them. As I flipped through them, proud of her work, I got to the last one – a picture she’d drawn of a little person and two taller people. I asked her what the picture was, and she replied “our family” and smiled. I asked–with trepidation–where Sissy was, and I felt my heart actually wrench (can hearts wrench?) in that moment, when I heard her reply softly, “At [her dad’s].”

And there were depths of my soul that actually hurt in that moment.

Happy Blonde, who is 11 now, has always lived primarily with me, and since her (very involved) father lives in a different jurisdiction, she sees him every weekend. This summer, we essentially switched custodial status, and she spent Monday – Friday with him, and weekends with us. It was my first taste of being a non-custodial parent–and it was awful. I learned the gritty part of it – how quickly the visitation goes by, how hard it is to readjust in a short period of time, and how it’s nearly impossible to have a child on weekends feel like they are part of the working household. It’s hard to mold them and discipline them, because you hardly want to spend what little time you have picking battles.

I learned how hard it is to plan things when you only have your whole family for very brief periods of time. I learned how many activities that they miss because they’re not with you. I learned how it’s nearly impossible to get on a true rhythm. I learned how jam packed visitation days were, trying to somehow make up all the things you waited on, because your whole family wasn’t there.

Even worse, I realized that this was not even close to what her father’s family experiences throughout the school year. I wasn’t paying child support to “enjoy” this arrangement. I wasn’t held hostage by someone else’s parenting style. I wasn’t experiencing this for nine months straight, as they do. I still interrupted it with vacations, and I actually still had her longer on my visitation times than he does during the year.

It made me thankful, and grateful, that he has taken on that burden in order to give our daughter a stable childhood where she isn’t constantly traveling. It made me painfully aware of the sacrifices his home makes so Happy Blonde does not have to deal with interruptions to her school week. Most of all, it gave me the gut-wrenching realization of the pain they must feel if their son draws a picture of his family, short one beloved little girl they all wish they had more time with.

So thank you, to all those who make unseen sacrifices.