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Family dynamics

12th Jan 2022

“I sit in her bedroom when she’s not with me” – the raw truth about co-parenting

Trine Jensen-Burke

the raw truth about co-parenting

For the absolute vast majority of couples, making the decision to start a family is something you do because you assume – and hope – that you are in this for the long run.

That you are going to raise those children together, see them through school, spend every Christmas and summer holiday with them and create magical family memories that will last a lifetime.

Sadly, though, the reality is that for so many families these days, this isn’t to be, and instead of the family bliss you dreamed of, you find yourself sharing custody of and co-parenting your children.

And while it can be hard to imagine what this feels like if you have never been in the situation, Facebook user Laura Fletcher shared her thoughts on the matter in an open letter that makes for a heartbreaking read.

It received a huge reaction online and you’ll see exactly why when you read it for yourself.

And although it’s not a new post, this hasn’t stopped it from resonating with readers and people were quick to share their appreciation in comments below the post.

You can read her letter in full below:

“A friend just asked me if I had Isla today. I don’t. She’s with her Dad. The friend then said how lucky I was and how jealous she is that I get a lie-in tomorrow AND get to have every other weekend “off”. Hmm ‘lucky’ isn’t the word I’d use though for co-parents….I don’t think I’m lucky to have to miss half of my beautiful daughter’s life because her Daddy and I couldn’t make our marriage work so split up and now share custody of her.

I don’t think I’m lucky to not get to have her and celebrate her very existence, on her birthdays – if they happen to fall upon a day where she’s with her Father that year.

I’ve lost count of the times/years I’ve arranged a special treat for Isla, like going to the pantomime, or seeing Father Christmas, or going to the cinema to see the latest Disney film, only for Isla to announce she’s already seen it all with her Dad. That’s not what I’d describe as ‘lucky’. It’s like it’s a constant competition of which parent can get in first or arrange the most fun surprise or activity. It’s overwhelming, it’s heartbreaking, it’s exhausting and it’s so frigging expensive!

I don’t think I’m ‘lucky’ that the gorgeous handmade Christmas Eve Box (yes I totally fell for that bloody new age tradition) and Father Christmas plate, that we painstakingly made together, only comes out every other year when it’s “my turn” to have her for Christmas. And, if it is my year, then we’ve barely finished playing Dough Nutters and eaten the Turkey broth before she’s gone and her brand new toys are just left, half-played with and forgotten about. If it’s not my year, well that’s just the saddest thing ever and I’m a miserable cowbag until the 27th…just leave me be with my bottle of Amaretto, a straw and my immense misery. Bah humbug.

And it’s not only Christmas you have to contend with if you co-parent/share custody, there’s Mothers Day and your birthday too. These may not fall on your ‘official’ day with her so you have to appeal to the ex to let you have her for the day, or at least part of it. There was one year where it was ‘his weekend’ so I only got gifted her for a couple of hours that Mother’s Day. I decided to take the two of us out for lunch, just me and her, to her favourite restaurant. Oh good God above, it literally took everything I had not to crumble and cry at the intense pressure I felt to make it joyful and keep my darling three-year-old daughter entertained, all by myself with just a few wax crayons and a paper tablecloth, for the two hours I had her. I was so determined not to look like the incapable sad-sack loner of a mother that lunchtime, I swear Gina f-ing Ford would have hailed me her prize protégée if she’d witnessed my superb parenting that awful Sunday.

Some may dispute this but I also don’t think it’s ‘lucky’ not to get to do my girl’s hair or choose what she’s going to wear every day. From the minute I found out I was pregnant with a little girl, I maxed out my overdraft on bows and tights and headbands and glitter. Having my own dolly 24/7 was a thing of dreams until then and I swear, that kid has been turned out like a Boden model every day of her life since exiting the womb (obviously, in turn, I dress like a visually-impaired mental hobo with a 90’s scrunchie obsession who only wears flip flops…..all year round) But my daughter, oh she looks the bomb daily baby. It physically pains me that not only do I not get to choose what she wears each day, someone else now does and she now wears clothes that I’d never choose (and worse still, sometimes she prefers them.)

Birthday parties cause a whole load of friction too – who is going to do what, who pays for what, who will make the cake, who will do the party bags, whose weekend is the party going to fall on, etc etc. Last year was baaad, not only did I have to let the ex-husband and his girlfriend get her ready for her party, I also had to watch my baby go back home with them (it was his weekend) whilst I returned to my horribly quiet house with just half a jungle-themed birthday cake, a dozen walking tiger balloons and a very poor quality video my Mother had taken on her phone of pass-the-parcel from earlier on to keep me company. That was a new low.

I often just sit in her bedroom when she’s not with me, holding Larry the Lamb and Stinky Slinky (the comfort blanket) and I look at the wardrobe of tiny pretty clothes that, inevitably, she’ll grow out before she’s ever worn them all as she’s not here every day. Her bedroom is too neat for a normal five-year-old’s – it should be messier and more disorganised.

I drive around half the week with an empty car seat in my car. The kid-friendly food in my fridge all goes off before she’s back to finish it (okay, sometimes I eat it – mostly just the cheese strings though). I have to propose all my holiday plans for us (the location, the duration, the times, dates and proposed itinerary) and wait, with absolutely everything crossed, that he’ll ‘okay’ it and write me out my permission letter so I don’t get stopped at customs being accused of abduction.

There have been times when she’s been ill and I only found out about it when I called to speak to her that evening. I hate that I wasn’t there to comfort her or just have the opportunity to worry and stress ‘in the moment’ and do all the ‘normal parent’ things you do when your child is sick.

I often don’t get told what letters she’s bought home from school or what birthday parties she’s been invited to as her Father (being a man) forgets to pass that information on. He probably doesn’t see it as important but being the control-freak woman that I am, I want to know EVERYTHING…and check she’s been invited to snotty Ophelia’s pony party three weeks on Saturday on a weekend when I don’t even have her.

I feel so out of control on so many things in her life – I don’t know who has taken photos of her, who babysits her, who paints her nails – and how come she suddenly eats eggs after five years?!

I also feel like I need to be the most organised person in the world EVER. We both get our calendars out on Jan 1st and map out all the weekends for the upcoming year ahead. We organise who has her for which Bank Holidays, school holidays, Easter, what planned trips he’s booked or I’ve booked….it’s all written on the calendar IN PEN(!) and on our phones and in the shared diary and translated to various inquisitive family members all by 6pm on New Years Day.

If I want to go out, I need about 3 months notice to arrange childcare. My family and I are forever arranging and rearranging getting together in order to work around Isla and her various arrangements. Spontaneous plans are a rarity. I honestly dream of a life where I can be truly flexible and blasé. They say only children have a greater sense of importance and self-worth, well my daughter (as the beloved only child of divorced parents) knows quite well that the world revolves right around her.

I have had to forgo being the one who takes her to the dentist in return for being the one who gets her hair cut. The fight over whose address was going down as her contact details for the Doctor and her school was monumental.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve either had to drive to my ex’s house because he or I forgot to put the PE kit or the lunchbox in the school bag, or forgot to hand over the comfort blanket or the school trip return slip that needed to be in the next day. We now have two sets of school uniforms and school shoes, two pairs of wellies and dance shoes, two Rainbows uniforms, two pairs of her glasses, two of literally everything. My ex and I try to keep our communication purely to matters relating to Isla. This avoids high drama. If you look through our threads of conversation it’s usually about when Isla last washed her hair, how is the dry skin on her forehead, what’s her NHS number, did she have a normal poo when she was with you yesterday….y’know, all the standard stuff you’d discuss with your ex.

That said, we still argue, fight and compete over stupid things like who gets to sew on the Rainbow badges, who keeps the swimming and drama certificates, whose house does Isla display her Christmas cards from her friends, who gets to keep the end of term artwork folder (which, to be honest, I doubt neither of us really ‘want’ but just have to argue over and have for the sake of it.) We each took half the baby photos when we split but I dread the day she loses a tooth as I know there’ll be fights over who gets to keep the disgusting bloody thing!

And her grandparents miss out too. For the first three years of her life, they all saw her loads and I mean LOADS. Now, whenever my ex or I have her, we’re greedy and just want her all to ourselves. She rarely has sleepovers anymore with any of them and the mass family Sunday dinners altogether are now just a memory for everyone. I feel bad for them and I know they desperately miss her.

I just feel like I’m forever trying to be ‘the better person’, remembering to put my daughter’s needs and wants above everything else, having to constantly agree to disagree or ‘get over it’, having to co-exist so closely with an ex-partner is not easy and I’m not bloody ‘lucky’, friend. I’d forgo lie-ins for the rest of my life to have my daughter with me every day (and anyone who knows me and my love for sleep knows what a big deal that statement is).

I would do anything to not have to put up with any of the sh*t above! Truly, I would.

I never had a baby thinking this is the parenting I would have to do. I want her 24/7, goddammit. I don’t want to conduct a relationship with her through technology half of her life (but thank God for FaceTime, iMessage and Skype, without it I’d be even more lost – and I long for the day I can directly contact her rather than having to go through her Father every day.

The main thing, though, is that I want her happy, like any parent wants their child, and to have great relationships with both of her parents and their partners and their families. If that means I had to have a lie-in on New Year’s Day then so be it. Only under a year to go until I get really lucky and have her waking me up at stupid o’clock on January 1st…”