I have spent years feeling guilty. Guilty for making my eldest three children live two distinct lives, at two different houses. Guilty that they have to traipse themselves and all their belongings between the two places, and negotiate with two sets of parents all the rules and regulations at each location.
Guilty that nothing is as simple as when there is only one house, and only one set of circumstances to consider.
More than anything, guilty that my separation affected them so very much and that we only get to spend half of our lives together.
I am slowly learning to let go of some of this emotional baggage, although it will never completely disappear.
Over the years, however, I have come to see that there are certain advantages for my kids in having two homes.
My most placid and easy-going child, Miss D, fits seamlessly into any situation. She moulds herself around people and enjoys nothing more than making others feel good. She is happy, kind, giving and willing to help in any way possible. In our house, she is the ‘Mother Hen’, nurturing and loving the little ones, and looking for ways to make the lives of everyone around her easier.
No she is not perfect – she has her faults like the rest of us – but she is a naturally selfless person, and tends to put her own needs second to those of the family.
It is nothing for me to get up in the morning and find that Miss D has made breakfast for the little ones, changed Miss L’s nappy, and entertained them so that we can sleep in, or at least have a little peace and quiet. She prepares the vegetables for dinner at night, does her homework independently, and generally organises herself and her siblings in any way she can.
With the hustle and bustle of working full-time, running the household and ferrying everyone around to where they need to go, it is easy to take Miss D for granted and to rely on her more than we should given her age. She rarely complains – in fact she loves spending time with the kids. This, however, isn’t the point.
The point is that as a thirteen-year-old girl, she should not have to concern herself so regularly with what the little ones are up to, whether someone has started dinner, or whether there is washing to be done.
At our house though, she does. She loves it, and draws so much joy and satisfaction from feeling both needed and appreciated.
At the same time, Miss D has her own room at our house – her own space – that the other children are not allowed to enter without her permission. We are careful to respect her privacy and ensure she has the option of retreating when she wants time away from the noise and chaos. She is starting to pull away somewhat – as teenagers tend to do – but she won’t do this if she thinks she is needed.
In contrast, at her other house, Miss D is the baby. Theirs is a calm, quiet environment where her time is spent concentrating on activities she enjoys. She explores interests she would otherwise not have time to, and she has the chance to spend time in ways she perhaps wouldn’t when with us.
Master Z too, gets this balance between his two houses. Although he is not as keen on the noise and chaos created by his younger siblings as Miss D is, he benefits from spending time in both environments. He is learning to be more tolerant, and to appreciate the many demands we face in raising young children and managing a large family. Whilst so far this has worked to show him exactly what he doesn’t want for himself, he has the opportunity to make an informed decision when planning his own family many years down the track. He has also learned the importance of living on a budget, and not to simply expect that his concerns are put before those of others around him.
At his other house where he is the eldest of two, Master Z gets the chance to dress himself up in his beloved brand label clothing, and to spend his time as he chooses, whether it be socialising or watching all his favourite Netflix shows en masse. Once his set chores are completed, his time is his. At our place, there is so much activity in the form of sport, extended family catch-ups and other family outings that he rarely gets the chance to do this. Jobs seem to randomly ‘pop up’ and life, overall, is just far more busy.
Master M, who is eight, is an only child at one house and the middle child of five at ours. He adores his older siblings, however he and Master C fight like cat and dog. It is a typical sibling relationship for my two young boys. I have no doubt at all that they will be best mates – when they are older. For now though, time at his other house gives him a chance to have a break from brotherly squabbling and invasion of his personal space, where he can play independently without being interrupted or antagonised by younger siblings. Being an only child at one house, he gets more one-on-one time than most children, and at the same time, benefits from the balance of learning how to fit in and play cooperatively with others at ours.
It is difficult to feel anything other than guilt when your kids’ lives are adversely affected by relationship breakdowns. But in time, once the dust settles, there are positives that can be found, particularly when parents are able to work together and put the individual needs of kids first.