Tales From The Main

Snapshots of small town life - zany characters and our neverending poker game.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

How to Design a Perfect Family Life - First, Break One Family. . .

Last weekend, Jan, who is 10, called me on my Blackberry to ask if she could go to a friend’s house to play. I was getting ready to tell her to hang on while I gave her friend’s parents a call when she put me on hold, flash-conferenced her friend into my call and organized the whole thing. Seems like only yesterday that I had to help her dial the phone.

I am often asked how I manage my life with so many kids. In reality it isn’t that difficult. Both Carol and I have responsible (if difficult and at times frustrating ex-spouses) which does make a world of difference. We also have a somewhat unique method of sharing our time with the kids that I thought I would take a moment and share with the world. It works for us – perhaps it might work for you.

When my first marriage was in the process of disintegrating and I found myself facing the prospect of caring part time for three very small children it was an understandably scary situation. I was not at all interested in becoming a Weekend’s and Wednesday’s type of Dad, nor did I think that the traditional method of joint parenting where the Mom keeps the kids for one week then they pack up and move to Dad’s house for the next week would be an ideal situation either. My ex – for now I’ll call her Edna – and I settled on a scheme whereby the kids would stay with me every Monday and Tuesday and her every Wednesday and Thursday. We would then alternate weekends. It sounds complicated but in reality it is extremely simple and provides something the kids need more than anything – routine. For example sports teams are usually organized in such a way that games and practices fall on the same night of the week. In my world if an activity is on a Monday night then it is Dad’s responsibility - end of story. If it is a Wednesday then Mom takes care of it. Similarly if I get a request from friend’s or an assignment at work that needs my presence outside of regular hours I know without looking at a calendar that the only nights I am free from here to eternity are Wednesday and Thursday – Monday and Tuesday are family night.

When I met Carol it was interesting to find that she and her ex had adopted a slight variation on the same theme. They too split the week in half and also alternate weekends however the only difference is they switch Monday/Tuesday and Wednesday/Thursday blocks each week depending on who had the kids the previous weekend. In my situation you can go for 5 days without seeing the kids every second week while in Carol’s arrangement the longest stretch you have to face without kids is the Friday to Sunday weekend.

The real magic came when Carol and I formed our Brady Bunch. Luckily our weekends were in synch with each other so we did not have to supplicate ourselves to the exes and within a short period of time the kids all got along with each other (and by get along I mean they fight, scream, laugh and cry just like brothers and sisters do – I bet most outsiders would have a really hard time telling who was Carol’s and who was mine). From a logistical standpoint we work on a four week cycle. Two weekends in four we have all six kids at home from Friday after school until Monday morning. The other two weekends we have no kids at home – Carol and I use this time to catch up with each other, take weekend jaunts out of town, host parties and quite often dip into the lives of the kid’s for their special events. During the 16 week days in our 4 week cycle (Fridays count at weekend days) we end up with 4 days where we have all six kids at home (2 Mondays and 2 Tuesdays), 4 days with just my guys (2 Mondays and 2 Tuesdays), 4 days with just Carol’s kids (2 Wednesdays and 2 Thursdays) and 4 days with no kids at home (2 Wednesdays and 2 Thursdays).

The net result, with my glass half full attitude, is a best of both world’s situation. I look at a lot of my friend’s who have intact marriages with kids and their biggest complaint is the lack of time to spend with each other. Carol and I have lots of time to spend with each other and we take advantage of it. Not only that but we have lots of time to spend with the kids, both as a large family, as an individual parent with our ‘own’ kids, and as a two-parent unit with a small group of kids. The other thing we are able to do and which we take advantage of on a regular basis is spend one on one time with individual kids. We generally do this on one of our 4 free week days during the cycle or on one of our weekend days when the kids are not home. It gives the exes a break and gives us a chance to spend some real quality time which can range from shopping for Marcia to playing Nintendo for Bobby. The situation we have created for ourselves has the benefit of making us appreciate both our time with the kids and our time with ourselves. We find that we don't become complacent about either aspect of our lives and we tend to enjoy each minute as the precious gift it was meant to be.

I really think the children are going to grow up with a huge support network in place. They have a very large extended family – there are six kids and two parents in our household and Carol’s ex is remarried also (Edna is not). I think it was Hilary Clinton who said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” We don’t have a village but we certainly do have a small tribe.

That’s my sociology lesson for the day. I am going to try and close a deal at work today then it’s off to a friend’s house for the afternoon to watch some sports. He is the CEO of a major technology company so I can justify taking off from the office. Tonight I am taking the family out for dinner to celebrate Carol’s birthday. I left it up to the kid’s to pick a restaurant and unfortunately we are going to a local branch of an Italian chain that specializes in all you can eat pasta. Oh well. Carol and I are planning to go to Manhattan in a few weeks on an adults only eating weekend so I guess we can stomach an evening of garlic bread, chicken strips and spaghetti with meat sauce.

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