Going Away to School — and Staying There!

the common app

My oldest is going through the college application process.  It’s stressful.   I’m not sure whether he’ll get his first choice, I’m not sure how it will all work out with financial aid/scholarships, etc., but that is my stress.  I want him to concentrate only on getting in somewhere, somehow we’ll figure out the rest.   He and I agree on one thing.  The goal is for him to go to a residential college and live on campus, preferably hours or even a plane ride away.   I know there are many different ways to get a college education, from living on campus to strictly online.  And I know it’s a personal and family and financial decision.   But I want my son, and then later my daughters, to go away.  It’s largely because of the divorce.

For years the children have had to navigate a visitation schedule on top of all of their many activities.   I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  The cute little visitation schedule that divorced families create when the kids are little turns to a burden when those same kids hit middle school and beyond, especially if the kids are involved in sports or other school activities.  You can divide time all you want, put at some point there are many other demands on those same hours.  You think you can’t split the baby?   Try splitting a teen.  When kids get older, parents are no longer in control of their time, other people and institutions set your kids’ schedule, and let me tell you, they don’t care about the custody order.  But for us, when something pops up on the calendar, our first thought for years has been, “Wait, is that a Daddy day?”   The schedule has given the children an added stress that’s frankly getting really old.

Also, though I was able to keep the kids in the same schools, we had to move to a neighborhood that carries a bit of a stigma (understatement).   It’s safe;  it’s just not very nice.   The kids had no choice in this.  I barely had a choice, except  as a compromise to keep them in the same school.   It was an obvious compromise, just like so many things in our daily lives, occasioned by the divorce.  My Ex-Husband has remarried, and I’m assuming happily remarried, but for the kids that carries with it an obligation to meet and mingle with an entirely new extended family.   It’s not that there is anything wrong with the new people, it’s just yet another community that the kids are unfamiliar with, did not choose to join, and to which they have no connection.  It’s an addition to already divided time.

Wait, where are we going now?”  is something my kids have to deal with a lot.

Animal House

So yes, fly, fly away, little bird.  Go and study and stay in one place.

I support my son trying to get into a school where he would have to live on campus, one that is not close to home, where he will not have the ability or expectation to come home on weekends.  I want him, for the first time in his life since childhood, to live and STAY in a community of his choosing and not commute between two or more worlds.   I want him to make friends and have the ability to hang out with them whenever he wants, without regard to his parents’ schedules.

Right now, my kids are  living in a very artificial world.   Usually, for two parent families or single parent families when the other parent is not in the picture,  a teen is not required to spend Saturday night with his or her parents and siblings.   Normally, a kid is not required to travel to another house for a three-hour dinner on a school night unless they have a valid, acceptable excuse not to go.   In our house there are days that my kids leave the house at 7:00 am and do not return until after 8:30 pm on a school night and then start their homework.   Don’t get me wrong,  family time is great. Having dinner together is important, but as kids get older on which days that happens and how much time it takes should naturally change, without getting lawyers involved.  The way it is now?  Not natural.

And as my son ages out of the required visitation schedule, I do not want him to be anywhere nearby where he’ll either feel pressure to continue to honor the visitations or guilt when he doesn’t.   Imagine if he was living at home while his younger siblings still went on the visits.  His not going would be a statement.  His choosing to go would be a statement.   I don’t want him to have to make statements anymore.  I just want him to study and grow as an adult and connect with family because he wants to, not because he’s required to, or is afraid of the fallout if he doesn’t.   I want him to be able to make plans for consecutive weekends.  (Gasp!)  And I don’t want him to need a ride or a car or permission or explanation.   I want him to manage his own schedule without regard to the custody order entered into when he was elementary school.  And I don’t want him to have to adapt to new people, extended families,  and sketchy neighborhoods that were the choices of his parents– not him.    It’ll be the first time he’ll be on an even playing field with fellow students of similar abilities.  He’ll actually live where he fits in and won’t have to commute elsewhere to put time in different communities.   I  want him free from being defined by his neighborhood, his parents’ marital status, or an old court visitation order.

I want him to be somewhere where no one is expected (or required) to spend time with either parent.

My son is troubled.  He’s a complicated, quiet young man.  He’s anxious to go away.   He understands the difficulties of the home situation more than he talks about and he plays the game.  He picks and chooses when to approach his dad about a change in the schedule, knowing that asking too often will make his dad angry and might draw a “no” when he really needs a “yes.”     My ex-husband is sometimes less open to the kids choosing to spend time elsewhere unless it is a sanctioned school activity.  He takes it personally.   In response to the boy’s request to go to an end of the season sports party (they’d won states — yay!) on a “Dad Day” my ex-husband texted me, and said,

 “He’s going to have to miss things to spend time with me.  The kids need to know that.”  

Well, no more.    I want the boy to  live in a community of his choosing, day and night, a community  that reflects his interests, his abilities and his personality.   And one that values his time.     Of course I’ll miss him and  I’ll look forward to him coming home on holidays and some breaks, but I think it would be a breath of fresh air if, for the first time, when Mom or Dad want to see him, we will have to carry our behinds to him, on his schedule, that is,  if he’s available.

Just Me With . . . a little birdie planning to leave the nest —   or should I say “nests.”

 All of this reminds me of when I went away to college many moons ago, and  my ex-husband, then boyfriend, still scheduled my time with him.   See, The Night I Became Cinderella.

15 responses

  1. We went through that this year. My oldest wanted to go far, far away but because of my single mom finances, she only went far away. Now if the ex wants to see her, he meets her halfway for lunch and doesn’t go through me. It’s freeing. Only two more to go. I feel ya’.

    1. Thanks, good to hear it worked out for you. I’m not sure how the money part will work out with regard to where he ends up, I’m just hoping he can settle in somewhere that’s not near here, to be his own person. He really needs that. Like you, even if he can’t go far, far away, I hoping he can still go far enough away.

      1. Mine is an hour and I told her I didn’t want to see her until Thanksgiving. It’s been a tough adjustment and we’ve met a couple times but she’s really flourished and is coming into her own person. It forced them to grow up. Good luck to you. Love your blog.

  2. Well look at you, you clever momma. You have raised your eldest mancub and got him ready for college, ready to take on the world – and did so with your ex snapping at your heels…you are my momma inspiration.

    I went to a uni approx 300 miles away, my mom cried all the way home apparently, I was in my element. I wish him all the best for his new adventure, I wish you all the best for this next stage with your girls while your boy is off forging his new path.

    1. Oh thank you. And you describe that “snapping at my heels” so well. I just want to get him somewhere where he can thrive and blossom. I suspect there will be some tears on my part, but also a huge sense of relief. And for the girls? It’ll be good not to be in his shadow, I’m hoping they will blossom as well.

  3. My ex caused my children to miss their summer activities–ball, swim team, friends–because he demanded the visitation be followed strictly. They were lost that summer because he dropped them off and left to go far away with new wife and her children who never missed a beat with their activities because their father was flexible. He was inflexible but expected me to make exceptions when he needed a change in visitation for his turn.

    1. I’m so sorry. Mine has threatened to not give “permission” for the kids to sign up for activities if they fall on visitation days. But except for scheduling lessons, etc., there’s no way that I have any control over activities. “They just want to play ball, that’s a good thing,” I said. As they have gotten older and the Ex has a new family he seems to question the activities less, unless they ask one too many times. He cancels visits when he has to, but I can’t do that unless there is an official school event that the kids are involved in. and I still need permission. We have an issue coming up because two kids have been invited to Halloween parties and a third has a babysitting job. Not official school events but important nonetheless. So now the challenge is to figure out the best way to ask him (and who should do it) which would get the desired result. So much stress. Because of the his sports/activities, it would be difficult for the kid to get a regular after school job, so he’s been looking to do babysitting and odd jobs to make some money for himself. But when he finds work, we always have to worry about “the schedule.” Sigh.

  4. On the weekends my ex wants to take off for his country house. Rather than let my daughter participate in the activities she so wants, he forces her to miss him. It’s sad, but unfortunately there is nothing I can do about it. I realize she’ll eventually reach an age and put her foot down.

    1. Ahh, so you understand. Mine has been willing to allow them to miss visits when they conflict with school-sanctioned activities. If it’s something else, we have to ask and wait to get a response. It seems like a control thing, remote control. And nope, nothing we can do about it. My oldest hasn’t put his foot down, yet. I actually doubt he will, confrontation with the Ex is never pleasant. I think he’s just counting the days until he’s outta here. The other kids are less social so when they do get invited somewhere it is very important that they go, but sometimes they miss stuff. It is sad. Nice to connect with people who understand.

  5. I am so sorry! I, too, have five kids. Unlike you, however, my problems are a bit different. My ex has not see the kids in three years nor even called them in two. Compared to what you are dealing with, that may sound like a blessing, but it has it’s own issues, believe me! His abandonment is so extreme that when I wanted to move abroad last year, I didn’t even have a current address with which to notify him of my intent to relocate. Believe it or not, he STILL tried to fight it in court! The judge told him, however, “What difference does it make whether they are in the US or South America if you never see them?” and he promptly gave me permission to relocate.

    1. I’m so glad you got permission to relocate. It’s too bad you had to get permission from an absentee father, though. I’m happy for you!

  6. Oh, thank you! This post was brilliant. My parents split when I was 2, and I remember all too well growing up with these stresses and conflicts. Good luck to your son on this next step!

  7. […] I finally got my oldest child off to college.   He lives hours away from home now.  It’s been a process.   Depending on how you I calculate it the process began 18 years ago when I started talking to my growing belly, taking prenatal vitamins and playing music for my unborn child, reading and talking incessantly to him as a baby,  or the process can be measured in the last year of making college visits, college choices, buying dormitory bedding or the untold joy of filling out financial aid forms. My particular journey was salted by the sudden yet not completely unexpected visual appearance of my ex-husband —  just in time for the graduation celebration and going off to college festivities.  See The Unspoken Pain  of Sharing Celebrations. Despite the extra anxiety, the kid is safely enrolled on a residential college campus.  He won’t be home until Thanksgiving.  Going Away To School — And Staying There. […]

  8. […] Going Away to School — and Staying There! […]

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