Two homes and some distance?
August 7, 2010 4:07 PM   Subscribe

My partner and I are ontemplating separation and I am thinking of moving several towns over. I have read stories of parents separating and the benefits of the two homes being close as in a few blocks. But what should I know about making it work for myself and my kid when the homes are further apart? I would like to hear positive advice from parents and kids who have negotiated two homes with a little distance between them . Were their plusses to this distance to balance out the minuses? How did you make it work?

My co-parent is likely to have our kid more than half time during the school week. Our child is not old enough to drive. Distance between homes would be 30 - 45 minutes by car.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as a kid who had this situation (not different towns, but our city is big enough that the drive was 30-40 minutes) the only issue that came up was transportation. I didn't notice it when I was little, but my parents both remarried within a year of each other when I was 9/10 and when my mom remarried, I switched schools. At that point, my dad (who had us one night a week and every other weekend) decided that the best solution for school was for my sister and me to use public transportation. We would travel together for about 8 subway stops, then my sister would get off, and I would go one stop further on my own and then take a bus. It took a long time and I had to get up much earlier than I did from my mom's house. I never got used to it. After a year of struggles over it with my ceaseless complaining, my parents went to court for some non-related reasons, and among the outcomes of that was that I stopped sleeping over at my dad's on school nights, He could have us after school and for dinner on the weeknight, and up until after dinner on Sundays of his weekend with us, but he had to drive me home to sleep at my mom's.

So I guess my take-away lesson would be to remember that you adults are the ones disrupting your child's life here. Listen to him/her about any issues such as this one and do your best to work together on a solution in the best interests of your kid.
posted by JoannaC at 4:21 PM on August 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

For a long time my exhusband and I lived in the same house (yeah, don't ask, I don't know how we did it now either), and then when we made the move, we were five hours apart, and he would come to my house on weekends and stay in the spare room and I would mostly stay out of their way so they could have time without me without having to go out. We ended finally living in the same city, though a good 45 minutes apart now, and basically we manage it like we always have. We call every night to chat and say goodnight, and my son visits with him just about every other weekend; his dad doesn't make any real effort to see him in between those visits, despite numerous offers on my part; he does go on short week long breaks with him, though they usually include dad's new wife and family so it's not particularly focused dad and son time.

My son doesn't particularly enjoy the phone calls, but they're important, and I make sure they happen. His dad doesn't really return the favor for me when my son is with him, but I can live with that; soon enough the kiddo will be old enough to have his own cell and that'll solve that problem. They've tried emailing too, and that's a good plan if you're dedicated to it and can accept that you're going to have to do most of the work keeping the conversation going.

There's stuff like - we make sure they have books on cd that they can both listen to on long trips, and his dad got a gameboy advance for him to play with only in the car - I'd think of things like that to use the travel time as constructively as possible.
posted by lemniskate at 4:44 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

You will have to consider the actual custody schedule and your child's extra-curricular activities. How smooth it goes will depend a lot on how organized your child is. It's only about 5 miles from my house to my ex, so it's close enough that it's not too big a deal for things like 'I forgot my uniform at the other house'.

We have it set so one person drives the child to the other's house in time for dinner. That way the child doesn't have to haul uniforms & special clothes etc. to school with him/her, things like lunch boxes come back to the same house, and one parent doesn't have the burden of both driving and getting dinner ready. It makes the mornings less rushed too.

It can help if your kid has a special suitcase or bag that goes back & forth. You may want your child to have duplicates of some clothes at each house- things like sweaters, raincoats, boots, whatever, so there's less chance of being caught without. Definitely stock extra socks and underwear at each house. And you could ask the school if they can issue extra textbooks if that's a problem- I've done that for some of my students.
posted by TDIpod at 4:44 PM on August 7, 2010

I Agree with JoannaC.

I had to travel (about 30 mins by car) between parents on weekends. For a while my parents would share in the driving. My Mom would drop me off at my Dad's and my Dad drove me home. When I was 11/12 they decided to let me go by public transit. It scared the crap out of me the first few times but more than that I felt like they (my Dad in particular) were inconvenienced by me. That they didn't want to see me that badly if they couldn't even drive me. Eventually my Dad wouldn't even walk me to the bus stop. It didn't take long for me to decide to go to my Dad's less and less.

So, being further away from each other is going to be inconvenient. Don't forget how your child might feel when you are inconvenienced by the logistics of seeing them.
posted by sadtomato at 4:47 PM on August 7, 2010

I grew up with my parents having split custody, much like some of the answerers above. I stayed with my dad one night a week and every weekend, and my mom the other four days.

My dad lived various places, sometimes out in the country and a good 45 minutes away. He always just came to get us and dropped us off, and there never seemed to be any problems. From a kid's perspective it seemed almost fun- like a little mini-vacation every week. When I got old enough to drive I kind of started de-facto choosing on my own who I would stay with each night, based on who I was mad at, if I wanted friends over, etc.

The only caveat I can add is that one reason going to my dad's seemed like a vacation is he was the more permissive parent. So my mother was (and still is, a bit) resentful, feeling like he was bribing us to prefer his house. So, from an adult perspective, I think it's important the parents collaborate on a discipline/what's allowed strategy if at all possible, so one house doesn't seem vastly preferable to the other.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:09 PM on August 7, 2010

My parents split when I was in junior high. Mom bought a house a mile away (I know you asked about greater distances, but I still feel like I have something to contribute). Monday & Tuesday we were at mom's, Wednesday & Thursday we were at dad's, and Friday we would go wherever we were going to be for the weekend, and the weekend alternated.

My brother and I were not organized kids, and trying to manage the logistics of what was where in that schedule, as I'm sure you can imagine, was a constant struggle for us and made school harder than it needed to be. If we'd been a half-hour away, I can't imagine how we could have thrived constantly losing that much time to transport to school when at the alternate house, not to mention lost casual opportunities to see friends, and the inevitable forgotten needed object with that much distance between houses.

That said, in terms of making it easier, I'd say buy a set of the child's school books for the alternate house. Be prepared, as others have mentioned, that the alternate house may feel to your kid very much like "not home" for a long time, especially given that the surrounding terrain will be unfamiliar and not be his/her neighborhood, and that he/she may decide at some point that he/she doesn't want to switch any more. Even as nearby as my parents' homes were, I eventually got fed up with the constant flip-flop and stayed with mom full time. When my mom moved back to the Midwest (after I'd graduated, but before my brother had), my brother went with her too.

Best of luck to you all.
posted by jocelmeow at 5:13 PM on August 7, 2010

My brother and I did the long-distance shuffle for alternating weekends (and longer in the summer) when we were early teens. In one way I appreciated the chance to see my dad as often as I did. That bad part (that wasn't really his fault) was, he didn't really have friends with kids our ages.

You can't do "fun stuff" together all day long. Making every visit an action-packed pre-planned vacation is too exhausting for you and feels kind of fake for the kids (or at least, did to my brother and me, until that kind of tapered off.) There is going to be down time where the kids might want to go out and ride bikes or whatever. Neither of us were very extroverted, so we didn't really make any local friends where my dad lived until we actually moved there for a school year. Once we had friends there, the visits were more enjoyable.

Also, it was kind of a bummer to be unable to commit fully to things like baseball teams, etc. Missing every other weekend makes you feel like a part-timer and not really part of the team. On the other hand, I DID want to see my dad, and also didn't want to hurt his feelings by skipping visits. So I kind of felt like I couldn't do those kind of things.

I wouldn't have given up the visits, though, as inconvenient as they were. Sometimes the best part was the conversations we'd have during the 2-hour car ride or the random diversions we'd make on the way, road trip style.
posted by ctmf at 5:45 PM on August 7, 2010

I know that you're looking for positive experiences, but really, for the child? That kind of upheaval seldom is positive. There are things that you can do to make it easier, obviously.

My parents were separated from the time I was 8 until I graduated high school, and I had to shuffle back and forth from home to home, based on their schedules. Consequently, I didn't make friends in either neighborhood and didn't go to schools in either of my neighborhoods.

It sucked, end of story. Adding more distance would have made it suck even more.

What you could do to make it easier:

Be responsible for getting your child into activities that will take the place of the lack of full time neighborhood. Try to keep them in a school that is closest to where they'll be most of the week. Be responsible for providing transportation, and don't slack off on this once they're old enough to negotiate the public transportation system if at all possible. Be aware that a child may say "It's OK" when it's really not and that an arrangement that worked in the past may not work in the future. Be prepared to put in the extra work this arrangement will require.
posted by Issithe at 5:57 PM on August 7, 2010

My parents had week-week joint custody when I was growing up and never lived more than 10 or 15 minutes apart. It was great for things like sometimes being in the same school district, or driving me to school not being a hassle when we weren't. It also wasn't a big deal in terms of having to great other friends (which was awkward early on when they lived further apart and I only had weekends with one parent). So: close is great, from a kid's point of view.
posted by soma lkzx at 6:02 PM on August 7, 2010

My parents lived about an hour and a half apart after they got divorced. My brother and I spent a *lot* of time in the car and hanging around the gas station in the middle of nowhere that our parents picked as a meeting spot to switch kids.

It wasn't a lot of fun for anyone and I don't recommend it.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:53 PM on August 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

My parents lived 30-45 minutes apart when I was growing up. I had friends in both towns. It was weird growing up with essentially two social circles, and it was hard not being able to be present on the weekends when my school friends would have parties, or vice versa. I also remember really hating it if I left something I needed behind, like homework, or a favorite shirt, or a CD or something. It had to be pretty life-or-death to warrant another 45 minute drive to go and get it. It wasn't the end of the world, but some things to keep in mind.
posted by pazazygeek at 7:54 PM on August 7, 2010

My parents split when I was in junior high and my mom bought a house about two miles away, in no small part because me and my sister didn't want to lose our friends by moving too far away.

It was -- strange. Not exactly bad, but you should fully expect that if you do the split custody thing, your children will have a favorite parent re: amount of freedom.

My dad was much stricter than my mom, so as I got into my high school years and girls and being able to drive, there was no small amount of anger from my dad. If we had a fight (or if I fought with his new wife), hell, I was out the door over to mom's for the week. Eventually, he told me I wasn't welcome in his house (the house I grew up in).

My father and I really didn't speak while I was in college. Four long years of bitter resentment. We get along fine now, fwiw but I don't see how this situation could have been avoided.
posted by bardic at 1:53 AM on August 8, 2010

The Former Mr. Thumbscrew and I have had joint custody of Lil' Thumbscrew since he was 1 (he is now 5.5 yrs old). Over the years, we have lived anywhere from 20 to 60 miles away from one another. The experience has been PRETTY DAMNED POSITIVE for all involved. Some things which helped us:

- Meet in the middle. For whatever reason, two shorter drives each week is easier than one looooong one. We exchange Lil' Thumbscrew at a local mall's food court. While we're there, we all have dinner together. And the more casually friendly you and your ex can be, the better - even if it's hard and pride-bruising and uncomfortable at first.

- Have fully separate sets of "stuff" at each house. Make sure you're sending the MINIMUM amount of "stuff" back and forth every week. This results in an untold quantity of annoyingness.

- Firm, firm schedule. Deviating by a few hours is fine, but shifting from week to week is just confusing for all involved.

- Not an option for everyone, but: we picked a private preschool which was pretty equidistant from our homes/jobs/etc. Lil' Thumbscrew has the same friends and teachers all week long, so there is some consistency for him there.

- I can't say it enough: foster casual friendliness between you and your ex, if at ALL possible. Swallowing your pride will be bitter now. You will get down on your hands and knees and thank GOD you did it years down the line, when people with more acrimonious split-ups are still frog-marching their poor kids across police station parking lots and YOUR ex is buying you milkshakes at the mall and telling you funny stories about things your kiddos did on his watch.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:15 AM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've been separated for about 9 months, with kids now age 10 and 7. At first we lived about 20 minutes away, at opposite ends of the same town. Now we live 2 houses away. The kids spend Mon Tues with him, Wed Thus with me and alternate weekends. They have toys, books and complete sets of clothes at both houses, so that they only things that travel are favorite stuffed animals and school bags. And the schedule works out so that I keep the tae kwon do stuff (for Thursday) and Dad keeps the hockey stuff (for Monday). It's harder when the weather is changing and stuff is at the "wrong" place - somehow 4 bathing suits ended up at one house last week.

I like this schedule because the kids know where they are when, and most transitions happen through school rather than in person with my co-parent. We get along fairly well and sometimes will meet for dinner or sit together at school functions, but it is easier to greet the kids solo.

It's definitely easier on the kids to be closer, so if it is at all possible, try to avoid 45 minutes away. I'm not sure I recommend 2 doors down, but even 20 minutes led to things at the wrong place and the kids feeling like it was their fault. If there was a benefit to being further away, it was the sense of novelty we all felt of living in a new neighborhood (but one with familiar faces on the bus).
posted by Sukey Says at 12:17 PM on August 8, 2010

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