Going Away to School — and Staying There!
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.
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.