LETTING "THE UNFAIRNESS" GO

Custodial single parents may resent the good and easy time their ex-spouse and the children have together on visitation. Beforehand, the children get excited, during visitation they have nonstop fun, and returning home they are so grateful for everything the noncustodial parent did to entertain and make them happy. How can custodial parents compete with this performance? They can't.  By comparison, home seems dull and ordinary, boring and routine.

To custodial parents, who feel overworked and undervalued, this comparison fels unfair. Who does the drudgery of daily supervision? Who keeps the home stocked and supplied? Who asserts demands, defends limits, enforces rules, and disciplines violations? Who settles fights, soothes upsets, attends sickness, and solves problems? Who bears constant responsibility for the children's care? Where are the thanks for doing all this? Nowhere.  Custodial parents either feel taken for granted by their children, or blamed for being moody when they'te tired. It feels like a double standard, and it is.  Although the children expect less from the noncustodial parent, they appreciate that occasional parent more. Although they expect much more from the custodial parent, they seem to appreciate that constant parenting far less.

Before custodial parents give into this resentment, however, they might want to consider this apparent inequity from another perspective. In terms of the children's trust and openness, their relationship to the two parents can be very different. Between children and their noncustodial parent there is sometimes something missing: authenticity. Wanting so much to make their visit a success, the special effort to please each other that children and their noncustodial parent make often gets in the way of expresing hard feelings that normally arise. Neither adult nor children, for example, may feel comfortable expressing anger or dissatisfaction with the other, or making demands that would spoil their limited time together.

This is often a "best behavior" relationship on both sides, neither party wanting to disappoint the other or arouse their disapproval. For this reason, some degree of authenticity is sacrificed for the sake of harmony.  When full intimacy is restrained, children and noncustodial parent often come away from visitation feling mixed. They had a good time, and yet feel dissatisfied because they did not connect as completely or as deeply as both longed to do.

In one way it is true that the noncustodial parent gets the best behavior from the children, and the custodial parent gets the worst. But on a deeper level, this statement can be false. With their custodial mother or father, the children have an open enough relationship to risk sharing their worst sides, unafraid that by doing so they will jeopardize their loving standing with the resident parent. Although being taken for granted can be irritating at times, custodial parents can also treat this assumption as a compliment and statement of trust. The children are implying: "Because you are always here, and because you will always love and accept us, we don't have to worry about our bad moods or misbehavior driving you away. Because we live together, we don't have to act like it's a visit. We can just relax and be ourselves."

What custodial parents get is usually an honest mix of good and bad from children, whereas their ex-spouse must often make do mostly with the good.