The Non-Custodial Visit: A Journey to a Foreign Land

by Carolyn on April 15, 2010

Have you ever been on an extended vacation to a faraway place?  It’s so exciting.  You anticipate it for weeks.  You think about it all the time in the days leading up to the trip.  And then when you get there, you feel in awestruck by everything!  Everything that’s new.  Everything that’s different.  You enjoy seeing and learning the culture and language, immersing yourself in all it has to offer.

But after some time, whether it’s a day, a week or two weeks; at some point the culture shock sets in.  And suddenly nothing feels exciting or interesting any more.  Suddenly it all just feels…foreign.  And the only thing you crave is something familiar.  Something the same.  You find yourself desperately searching for something native to wrap yourself up in.  And then, once you’re back home and settled into routine? You can’t wait to go again.

That’s how a non custodial visit can feel.  Like a journey to a foreign land.

One of the newer and more self sacrificing trends for divorced parents involves living close to each other after divorce.  Some parents even opt to live on the same street or in the same neighborhood.  I cannot speak from experience, but I can only imagine how nice that must be for a child.  Children under that custody arrangement would surely not relate the example above.  And the experts agree that the healthiest scenario for children of divorce is for them to have open and easy access to both parents.

While talking to a teen aged child of divorce just last week, I happened to ask, “Do you live with your mom or your dad?”  He replied “I live with both, they only live a couple of blocks apart.”  I couldn’t help but smile at the fact that this young person actually felt that they had two homes.  Because for me after the age of eight, a career opportunity didn’t just lead my father to another city, it eventually led him to another country.  Like so many families after divorce, mine was separated.  First by 300 miles, then few years later by 2500 miles.  After which my non custodial visits were relegated to a schedule of alternating holidays, spring breaks and a month in the summer.

And here’s the thing about visitations being few and far apart like that.  The non custodial parent’s life moves on.  And I don’t mean that in a negative way.  It’s inevitable and what is supposed to happen.  My father was married and building a new life with his wife.  He was making new patterns, new traditions, having children, growing, maturing, and changing.  But I wasn’t there to see it or experience it with them.  Then I would show up and everything would feel different to me.  Not only different from my home, but different even from the last time that I visited.

And it was fun.  So fun that there often wasn’t time to see this new life in it’s natural habitat.  We were always doing neat and exciting things as they showed me the sights of their area.  It was just like being on vacation with my best friend and their family.  Except, my best friend wasn’t my friend but my parent and the head of that family we were with.

For them I’m sure it all felt neat yet awkward too. But they had each other and the comfort of the normalcy they all provided each other.  I always felt like I was playing ‘catch up’ in the family.  Not really knowing the ropes but feeling like I should.  All the while missing the ropes I did know.  While never wanting to express that for not wanting to appear ungrateful for the time I had with them.  Never wanting to appear like I wasn’t fitting in or being a part of the family.

There’s a certain level of stress that ensues from that situation.

I remember when I had my first son.  In the weeks after I brought him home I was overwhelmed by the changes he brought to my life.  Previously, I had come to a place in my life where I felt competent and comfortable in my abilities as a grown woman when suddenly, I felt unsure and ignorant about everything.  I remember one day my husband in trying to lend a hand, said that he was going to go downstairs to do some laundry while I was holding our son.  I started crying and yelled, “I want to do it.  I know how to do laundry.  I don’t know anything about being a mom.”  I loved my son.  I was proud to be a mom.  But that culture shock had set in and all I wanted, was to do something familiar so that I could feel confident again.  Even if just for five minutes.

I often read about step parents feeling slighted when their children don’t acknowledge them or always turn to their biological parents during their visitations.  And I can’t help but wince, thinking their step children are just trying to do their own metaphorical laundry and probably feeling very unsure about themselves and their surroundings as a whole.  Their biological parent represents their one shining symbol of familiarity.  Of home.  Because although my dad had changed, he was still my dad.  He was the one I had come from and I knew he loved me no matter what.  That’s what I could be sure of and what I could count on.  He was my link to comfort, assuredness and confidence.  He was my laundry.  And sometimes when we aren’t sure what to do or what to say, we err on the side of doing or saying nothing.

The non custodial visit.  A journey to a foreign land.

That’s how it was for me.  What were/are non custodial visits like for you?

**Feel like you need tips on how to make it better?  Watch for upcoming  ‘How To’ articles which will be entitled Preparing For An Extended Non Custodial Visit and Using Technology to Bridge the Gap.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Crystal April 15, 2010 at 1:37 am

Your blog looks very interesting. Can’t wait to read more. Stopping from SITS.
.-= Crystal´s last blog ..Hello Misery, My Dear Friend =-.

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2 Carolyn April 25, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Thank you, Crystal.

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3 Babes about Town April 15, 2010 at 12:25 pm

Hi there, came by from SITS, find your blog and site fascinating. I’m not a child of divorce but i’m a stepmum to a beautiful boy who lives in another country, so this post touched me. It’s not easy on either end of the step-thing, there are so many spaces to negotiate. It takes a lot of love and humour…and patience!
.-= Babes about Town´s last blog ..Go Dutch in Trafalgar Square =-.

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4 Carolyn April 25, 2010 at 7:05 pm

It sure does. Thanks for your comment!

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5 Blend and Stir April 15, 2010 at 2:20 pm

We are just a month away from our own annual venture into extended culture shock. My step kids will visit for 6 weeks this summer. It ultimately turns all of our worlds topsy-turvy, inspite of all of our good intentions.

I was a step kid once. My sister and I visited my dad on an extended visit in the summers. He worked hard to keep us entertained with trips to amusement parks, vacation spots, etc. I think keeping us busy was easier than dealing with the awkward feelings we felt. We had no language to discuss them and not tools to figure out how.

It’s much easier I think, now, as people are beginning to tell their stories about living in step culture.
.-= Blend and Stir´s last blog ..The Ugly Truth for Dads =-.

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6 Carolyn April 25, 2010 at 7:06 pm

So true. I wish you all the best this summer as your step children spend their time with you. I agree. It is good that we are telling our stories and coming to understand each other.

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7 Theta Mom April 15, 2010 at 8:14 pm

I loved how placed this whole post in the context of a foregin land – because for many , this is foreign territory!

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8 Carolyn April 25, 2010 at 7:07 pm

True, but surprisingly enough step families are starting to overshadow nuclear ones. In numbers, at least.

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9 WhiteSockGirl aka The Fabulous Bitch April 15, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Once again, I can’t relate. But the post made me think, and made me. Once again, made me realize that once children are involved, there are more reason to be cautious and not just react in accordance with our own feelings of hurt and betrayal.

I have a rule in dating, I don’t date men with children. I have been judged about that but that is my decision. Initially, it was just because that I don’t want deal with Baby Mama drama. And there is always drama. Now, I am convinced it was the right decision for me. I am very honest about my selfish needs in my personal life, and I do know that I would cause more damage if I have to be the Stephmother to a visiting child.
.-= WhiteSockGirl aka The Fabulous Bitch´s last blog ..A Story for Every Picture: No Words =-.

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10 Carolyn April 25, 2010 at 7:10 pm

I think it’s great that you actually *think* about it. I worry that so many don’t really consider everything they are entering into. Love is not the end all be all reason to enter into a relationship or even marriage. We all have histories that need to be considered both for ourselves and for our partner. We all need to decide with our heads, not just our hearts.

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11 Alexandra April 17, 2010 at 12:13 pm

I have to disagree. My parents lived on the same street, I walked to school in both cases and had my friends close by but it still felt like I was moving every week. I still had to pack my stuff, get used to another room etc… both sets of parents had different rules and I would spend the first couple of days getting used to everything… not being excited…

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12 Carolyn April 25, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Exactly. That is a very different experience. Just like I wrote, the sentiment I expressed would of course be very different for someone who’s parents lived in such close proximity. But when you only get to visit two or three times a year for usually extended visits and usually during holiday or vacation times, the feel of it all is very different.

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13 toothless April 19, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Hi Carolyn,

What a great post! You can talk about difficult subjects really well.

Both of my parents stayed around the same area so I didn’t experience this. I was also a lot older than you were.

I can relate to how you talk about your Father as your “Friend,” though. I thought of mine as an uncle. Once I moved away I only saw/communicated with him once a year at the holidays and I was so alienated from all of his experiences I couldn’t think of him as my Father.

Have to admit I always sort of imagined that it would be better to have parents living farther away. Every time they ran into each other there was so much drama that nothing ever really settled down. It pretty much never stopped until their deaths.

I suppose I would have been upset to have to leave my friends during the Summer.

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14 Carolyn April 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Hello Toothless. As always I love getting your input. It’s funny how most of us think that a different experience will usually be better than ours. I’m not sure if the physical distance did anything to reduce the drama. From the view I had, everything was more passive aggressive. And yes, as I got older the prospect of leaving my home, not being able to work or hang out with friends did start to weigh heavier.

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15 toothless April 26, 2010 at 8:52 pm

Oh, passive aggression, yes, that’s difficult to deal with as well. My parents were trying very hard to be open, it was the 70s and all. I remember the moment when my Father commented on how that behavior doesn’t work very well either. It was kind of a big experiment back then. Haha, there’s just no easy answer.

I’m sorry about my insensitive comment about leaving friends as it pertains to your situation.

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16 Carolyn May 11, 2010 at 1:01 am

No apology necessary! As children of divorce, we all have so many similarities yet our experiences will inevitably shape us all differently. And it can be hard to see things from the other side of the fence.

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17 Mayhem & Moxie April 19, 2010 at 7:54 pm

I’m with Heather. The analogy you used in this post was fantastic. Having only ever experienced divorce through my friend’s parent’s relationships, you made the struggles and the reality of divorce so very real.

You have a true talent for connecting with people through writing. Very well done!
.-= Mayhem & Moxie´s last blog ..Facebook Terrorist or Facebook Enthusiast: Which One Are You? =-.

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18 Carolyn April 25, 2010 at 7:17 pm

What a nice comment! Thank you!

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19 Sherri April 22, 2010 at 3:19 pm

What a great metaphor. In my case, my parents divorced when I was in high school and lived in the same city until I graduated. While I was in college my parents both went their separate ways, got married, and started new lives. So my situation wasn’t one in which I had to deal with non-custodial visits, mine was that I had to adjust to their new lives as I went home to visit each one for a few days at a time during college breaks or during vacation time once I entered the work world.

I still feel that foreign land feeling now even though they’ve both been married for more than 10 years now. Going to their homes and feeling like I don’t know what’s going on and have to catch up can feel really disconcerting, much like the example you gave of visiting your best friend (i.e. father).
.-= Sherri´s last blog ..Too Young to Have a Kid So Big =-.

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20 Carolyn April 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

I can completely understand how you would still get the same sense. I wonder if all children who leave their hometowns and see their parents sporadically feel similarly? Probably not, because their parents are at least still together, but who knows? It might feel the same.

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