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The Joint Custody Juggle

Photograph by Getty Images

When you’re a stepmom with joint custody, your life is measured in “kid time.” For our family, that means I’m often found with a calendar in one hand and my opposite index finger touching each Friday and mumbling “Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes. No.”

“Sorry, mom. We won’t have the kids on your birthday.”

“Babe, we need to reschedule the pumpkin patch trip. We won’t have the kids that weekend.”

“We can’t make it to your party, sorry. We have the kids that weekend.”

RELATED: Christmas With the Stepkids Comes Later This Year

For parents who have their children all of the time, this can be a hard concept for them to understand. My husband and I are asked out to dinner, out for drinks or to a Braves game often—but we usually have to turn them down. “Sorry, we have the kids that weekend,” we say.

“Oh,” our friend replies. “Can’t you find a sitter?”

And here’s where people often think I’m crazy, but no. We can’t. Ever. We will never hire a babysitter or ask someone to watch our kids on our time.

I’ll admit it; my husband and I are selfish with our kid time. When people ask to see us or do something “kid-free,” we turn them down. Always. It’s just not worth it to us. We love all of our friends, truly, but when we only see the kids every other weekend, giving up that precious time to do something we could do any other day of the month is just not OK with us.

And, unfortunately, the same applies when other people want to spend time with our kids.

I’ve learned quickly that the only people I should worry about pleasing are our kids.

We get it. It’s hard when you want to see your grandchildren, but your son only has them every other weekend. We know grandparents want their own time with our kids, cousins want to invite them over for sleepovers and aunts and uncles want to take them out for lunch, but my husband and me? We come first.

We hate sending our kids off on our only Saturday for two weeks. We hate having to tell their grandmother that, no, they can’t go to Chuck E. Cheese with you because we want to spend time with them. We hate feeling guilty, but we’re selfish. They’re our children, and it’s our time. We don’t mind doing big family outings together, but if someone’s planning a fun day with our kids on our day? Well, we’d like to be involved.

As the holiday season gears up, this applies even more. We hate that everyone has to accommodate our custody schedule for holiday get-togethers, but there’s nothing we can do about that. And, unfortunately, a lot of feelings get hurt because of this. We know each side of our family has its traditions and schedules, but our family is no different than any other traditional family; you have to be flexible.

In the beginning of our relationship, I worked really hard to please all of our family. We would attend two Thanksgivings on the same day, two Christmas celebrations and still have to run around to either pick up the kids from their mom or drop them off. It didn’t take us long to realize that no one was benefiting from this. People were either upset we had to leave early or angry we arrived so late. Our kids were exhausted and tired of being in the car, and as for my husband and me? Oh boy. I just don’t want to relive those days.

RELATED: Too Much Family Time

I’ve learned quickly that the only people I should worry about pleasing are our kids and, as we delve into the holiday season, I’m putting that at the forefront of my mind. They are the most important things in this world and they are the ones we’re calling all of the shots for, no matter what anyone else thinks.

And sometimes that means turning down a party invitation or rescheduling a fun activity. After all, our lives are measured in weekends and there’s only a few each year. We’re going to make them count.

Are you a stepparent with joint custody? How do you juggle keeping everyone happy with your kid-time?

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