My husband and I were married for 10 years – during most of those years I was unhappy. We have one daughter who was 8 at the time of separation.
She has always been very close to her dad and missed him terribly after he moved out of the family home (at my request). We separated 16th July 2008. Initially we followed the traditional arrangement that daughter lived with me and had contact with her dad. At my husband's request our daughter spent every weekend with him – and I had to negotiate really hard to have any weekend time with her.
My daughter and I had very little time together, I would walk her round to school in the morning, jump in the car and dash to work – late most days. I didn’t finish work until 5pm, so my father would collect my daughter from school. Much as she enjoyed this time with her grandfather it meant she was unable to play out with friends or have friends round after school. On leaving work I would crawl through the traffic home, picking her up about 5.30pm. Then the mad dash of cooking tea, eating tea, helping her with homework, getting her in and out of bath and in bed by 7.30pm began.
Some days it felt that all I did with my daughter was to tell her to hurry up, get a move on, don’t dawdle, etc. There was no fun in our time together – just an ongoing succession of tasks to complete. I really missed time to do fun things with daughter at the weekend. At the same time daughter expressed feelings of boredom with her dad at the weekend. It was an arrangement that was not working well for any of us - least of all her.
My husband proposed that our daughter moved in with him, with she and I then spending weekends together. The plan was that I would pick her up from my dad’s on a Friday after he had picked her up from school for me, and she would return to her dad's Sunday evening. As my husband is employed at the same school our daughter attends, the weekday arrangement became very simple – she would go to and from school with him. This meant she had more time with her dad midweek than she ever did with me. It also meant she was able to play with friends during the week. And of course we had the weekends together - proper, quality fun time together again at last.
Before agreeing to this arrangement I had to think really long and hard as to whether it was what I wanted for my daughter. One of my reasons for ending the marriage was I was aware that daughter was becoming to be influenced by her father’s attitude and behaviour towards me and was starting to act in the same way. It therefore concerned me about her spending more time with him - would this lead to difficulties in our relationship, and the way she related and interacted with me? I was also concerned that finances might be the motivating factor behind my husband’s decision – if daughter lived with him he would receive child benefit, child tax credits and other benefits, as well as maintenance from me. Without this additional money it would be very difficult for him to maintain the financial responsibilities of living in rented accommodation. I also felt I was “the better parent” – we had always disagreed about things such as discipline, bedtimes, eating before meals etc etc. At that point the decision that met my needs best was her continuing to live with me – it gave me more control over every aspect of her life.
Despite all my misgivings it suddenly dawned on me that this decision was meant to be about what was best for my daughter, not what was best for me. The arrangement of living with her dad would give her the best of both worlds – time with one parent (her dad) during the week and time with me at the weekends. The rest was really irrelevant – obviously if subsequently she was unhappy or there were any other issues about the arrangement these would be dealt with. Despite the fact the he had not been the right husband for me, he loves daughter very much and wants to be the best dad he can be – even if he doesn’t always do things my way!
The current situation
Our daughter moved to live with her dad in March 2009, and this arrangement continues now, and will do into the foreseeable future. My daughter enjoys the additional time she has during the week with her dad, and the opportunity to play out with her friends in the vicinity. Having weekends together gives us the opportunity to do things we were unable to do before. She now attends swimming lessons on Saturdays which she enjoys, and we often go swimming together on a Sunday as well. She has time to play with friends who live near the family home. We have the opportunity to go out to places of interest, or have friends round to play and for tea.
One of the things I have found difficult is the lack of control over my daughter’s life, and the feeling that her dad won’t do things the way I would. Well no he probably doesn’t – but I have realised that doesn’t necessarily mean what he does is wrong. If she is happy and healthy then what he is doing is right. Only seeing her at weekends, I don’t always feel very involved with her life, despite phone calls during the week. We have recently sorted out maintenance arrangements privately. I pay the majority (approx 70%) of the maintenance to him directly. The remainder I keep and purchase things such as school uniform, brownie uniform, and pay for her swimming lessons and leisure activities, and school trips. This has the benefit of allaying some of my concerns re his abilities to manage finances, and lets me feel more involved in her everyday life.
There is however one thing that makes this arrangement very difficult for me. And that is other people’s perceptions. People tend to automatically assume that children live with the mother, and always appear very surprised when I explain that this is not so in our case. I always feel that I have to explain and justify this to people. I’m sure there are some people who will automatically assume I don’t love my daughter, or am not a good caring mother, or that there is perhaps some sinister reason for this arrangement. A friend of mine actually said to me that were she and her husband ever to split up, she couldn’t do the same arrangement....”As she would miss her daughter”. I have to say statements like that make me very cross and upset. I miss her greatly – of course I do, she is my daughter that I carried for 9 months and brought into the world, and comforted when she cried. But childcare arrangements are meant to be made with the best interests of the child at heart, not either parent. In our case I firmly believe that we made a decision that is right for her.
The author of this piece requested anonymity.