A sad reality of the modern family

As the door slowly opens, light from the hallway begins to spill into the room and lands on a disheveled head of sandy brown hair barely visible under the covers. The deck of an aircraft carrier couldn’t be much louder than the nasal blasts emanating from this child right now. Her future spouse will certainly need to sleep with noise canceling headphones or likely in a separate room. I have been awake for all of 3 minutes. You see, experience has taught me that unless I wake Sunshine up before the rooster crows we face the likelihood of being rushed, possibly late for school, with the potential of everyone being in a grumpy mood as a result. But as Sunshine so eloquently has explained to me

“Daddy, sometimes a girl needs to take her time”.

Well said my dear and time you shall have, even if that means I must get up 30 minutes earlier than I normally would (the sacrifices that a father must make).

On this particular Monday morning, I leave Sunshine to begin her regiment to prepare for school while I make my way downstairs to check email, inspect book bags, and prepare lunches. Before long, noticing that it is now time to get her brother, Bubba, up and going (he has his father’s ability to get ready in under five minutes so he reaps the benefit of more sleep); I poke my head into Sunshine’s room to find her putting on socks, bed already made, and a stuffed backpack on the floor. She looks at me, sensing that I’ll ask how things are progressing, and says

“Daddy, I’ve already packed my suitcase”

While beaming with pride at her proactivity these words hit me with an immediate rush of emotion, as it was a startling reminder of how different her life is. Living out of a suitcase isn’t reserved for the frequent business flier, for my children it is a cold hard reality. I often wonder how they will come to define ‘home’ as they get older? Will they ever have a real sense of what that idea is supposed to mean? Or will they simply view home as as dwelling and a place to lay their head?

We’ve lived this ping-pong life for as long as they can remember, going from the days of cribs and diapers to the those of football games and dance recitals. They have absolutely no memory of a prior existence outside of this living arrangement, it’s all they have ever known, it’s their ‘normal, and as strange as this is going to sound I’m thankful for that. Knowing anything more would make it all the more difficult. So yes, sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Over the past six years I have experienced every conceivable emotion that a father can after realizing that he will not have a traditional relationship with his children, that informal milestones will be missed because they don’t happen on my weekend. My feelings range from annoyance at having to go back and forth to deep sorrow that I can’t see them every day. But occasionally the reality of our circumstance hits me in the face like a dam that’s suddenly burst and, similar to a small town in the barrier’s shadow, my spirit gets washed away in the onslaught. This specific morning was one of those times as our reality came rushing in that the past weekend together was temporary and tonight they will step back in other lives and resume other routines they left the previous Friday, like an actor playing dual roles.

During Valentine’s dinner with Sunshine this week, I watched as a family ate their meal while completely ignoring each other, choosing instead to occupy their time with cell phones apps and video games.  At first I thought how fortunate those parents are to see their children everyday. Then my envy turned to pity as I realized how much they are taking for granted, and I pondered how their perspective might change if their time suddenly became court mandated. Because moments with my children are counted in hours, days, and weekends, I’ve learned to maximize what we have together, but regardless of how much fun we have or how deeply we bond as a family the reality always remains that all to soon Sunshine and Bubba will pack their suitcase once again.

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28 responses to A sad reality of the modern family

  1. Lori

    *This* is what hits me, what I struggle with. Because I am a parent, and there must be some way to fix this for them – that is what my heart tells me. There’s not, we just have to deal. Excellent post.

  2. I know what you mean about these families who are all involved in other activities during their together time. We try to be truly together during me…cell-free zone.

    PS. LOVE the picture. You guys look great together!

  3. What helped me, from the primary custodial parent point of view, was when my ex created space in his home (that he shares with his bachelor brother) for our kids. They have their own room, which my ex-brother-in-law gladly sacrificed for his beloved nieces. He is buying them new bunk beds today to replace an old hand-me-down bed from his parents. I sent over a ton of clothes and he buys them more to put in their closet there. We no longer have to pack a suitcase. I send them to school and he picks them up, one night a week and every other weekend.

    It is reality. It is their normal. Honestly, my kids like having two different spaces to call their own. More and more, this type of lifestyle is normal in their friends’ lives too…. but not always with the same friendly co-parenting aspect. They enjoy the fact that daddy’s rules are a little more bendable than mine. They adjust to each space accordingly, a valuable lesson to take into adulthood.

    I will never be able to enroll each of them in separate extracurricular activities since I can’t be 2 places at once. They have to do chores and handle responsibilities at relatively young ages. They don’t always get to be just kids… nope…. because Mommy needs help with things.

    But seriously, my kids are the most well-rounded, kind, intelligent, and intuitive children I know. They HAVE to be.

    It may not be a perfect life for them but it’s OUR life and we’re making the best of it. Here’s to hoping that translates into some pretty outstanding individual contributors to society.

    P.S. LOVE the pic. Beautiful family.

    P.P.S. ((hugs))

  4. As i read this my soccerboy is on his way to his dads.
    Even though he lives with me full time, I dont take advantage as much as i should. We dont even eat at the dinner table together but on rare occasion.
    I try to chalk some of it up to he is a teen boy.
    ITs not cool anymore to spend time with your mommy.
    but in all honesty I could make the effort to force him into eating dinner with me at the very least.


  5. Great post. Extreme emotion. You’re a great writer CP. I can totally feel the emotion in your words.

  6. Great post and beautiful family! Thanks for this, I really don’t spend enough time with the kids when they are here. Something I need to work on.

  7. 3girlknight

    We ain’t lying when we say this is a good post. Very well written.

    I finally did away with the suitcase thing. Bought a few pieces and their mom came up with a tub to fill it out. Hopefully someday we can have a house where they can have their own rooms. Right now they share a tiny room with a twin-over-full bunkbed. That’s not going to last too much longer, but it’s nice that they still see my lap an available place to sit.

  8. The main reason the word step is forbidden in my house is because the kids insisted on it. Children are more resillient than we give them credit for. The other day I was whining and moaning like a baby because my ex gets to decide the extracurricular activities for my 7 yr old and she missed the soccer signup deadline. I said to my wife “Lyla (bug) isn’t going to have the same childhood as our other two girls.” Before my wife could kick my butt for saying it, my teenage daughter said “that’s silly. she has us and she has you. She’ll have a great childhood.” As Jack said, normal is what you make of it. Getting through that emotion is vital to being a good father, especially to girls, who need for dad to be strong and fearless. My kids are teaching me more than I am teaching them, at times.

  9. True, yet that also applies when it isn’t our choice and we have no control on the outcome and little on how we got there.

  10. Lori, I agree that as parents it seems so alien, but to your point we simply have to deal with it, as it is what it is. As hard as that is to admit it is the reality that I have come to operate in.

  11. KC, dinner is a prime time in my house, we eat together every night at the table. Just the 3 of us, I have found it is a ritual. Over the years sharing dinner together will be a time that I try my best to work into our schedule. I can still remember dinners with my family and that’s been almost 25 years ago. Maybe if you just ask for once per week he might come to enjoy it and want to do so even more.

  12. Angela, start small, set aside just a while and build upon it, as your sons get older it will become more and more difficult. I am trying my very best to get it is as much as I can, while I can.

  13. Thanks 3GK, I enjoyed writing it. Due to a bit of selfishness I’ve decided to allow the ex to do the clothes shopping things. Granted Sunshine has a dresser full of clothes she can wear and doesn’t necessarily need her mom to pack, as you’re probably well aware, girls have a tendency to change their minds.

  14. It’s great that you have such a positive dynamic in a blended family. Candidly the horror stories I hear sometimes frightens me about that future. I’m looking forward to reading your insights into that in the future.

  15. I have no doubts they will.

    I have done virtually everything I can, within reason, to create a complete home for them here. Rooms, etc. It is important to me, while I don’t want to shelter them from our reality, it is important to me that they feel that they are home when they are here.

    Thanks, I am a blessed daddy!

  16. Wow, you summed up me and my kids lives so succinctly. This too is our new reality. I hope its not misery that is finding comfort and company in your blog post, but I can tell you that I feel relieved that your children look healthy and loved. Racking up frequent flyer miles over the past year is certainly not the vision I had in mind for my children’s future. It refreshing to know and I hope everyone takes note that the pervasive and predominate image of Father’s neglecting their children, is not REAL. What is REAL are fathers like chopper papa, my close friends, and my father, who no matter what will love adore and cherish every moment we have with our children regardless of time or distance. Thanks for writing this, it has served as inspiration despite a situation that is filled with despair.

  17. Hunderdc, thanks for your kind words and your commentary. You’re right, we certainly don’t walk down the isle saying to ourselves, ‘yep, about 7 years from now this will all blow up’. But like you, we have to make the most of it, play the hand that we’ve been dealt and do what needs to be done.

    Please come back again, your feedback will always be welcomed!

  18. Danielle

    You sound like an amazing dad! I think your kids will be more able to adapt to all of lifes situations because of their “normal” and there love from you!We all do the best we can!

  19. You’re right Danielle, I do what I think is best and pray for the rest.

    Thank you for the kind words.

  20. […] This all ends in a parent that isn’t nearly needed as much anymore and if handled wrong a marriage that is in tatters after years of neglect and want. She finally wakes up one day to realize that all of this time spent micromanaging her kids lives has masked the resentment that her husband has for being put on the back burner for the last 10 years and now their marriage is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. They become virtual strangers. And to often the wounds are to deep to heal and the final outcome is another addition to the modern family. […]

  21. […] Regardless of how often I’m told that I’ll always be their ‘real’ father or recognize the rights I have  under the law as their biological father I have never been able to completely erase the idea of being the odd-man-out. My kids get a traditional family one weekend and a modern family the next, like actors playing dual roles. […]

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