I used to let the custody schedule dictate our lives.
I would decline invitations to adult get-togethers that fell on the nights we had my stepdaughter, Krista.
If family invitations fell on the days we didn’t have her, we’d graciously decline.
I planned outings, vacations, and crafts for the days we had her.
And on the days she was at her mom’s, I stayed at work late, got caught up on schoolwork, and *maybe* made time for a date night.
I made sure everything was fun and that our schedule was filled when my stepdaughter was with us. And I did my best not to do “fun” things without her, so she wouldn’t feel left out.
I thought that was how life as a stepmom with shared custody was supposed to be.
But it left me burned out, exhausted, and honestly, a little resentful. I felt like I was living my life around a schedule someone else set.
I learned an important lesson at this point in my stepmom journey. If you want a successful marriage and a stepmom life you love, then you CANNOT live 100% of your life 50% of the time.
Am I sad that my stepdaughter misses out on some things now that we’ve started living our life 100% of the time? Of course I am.
But the reality is, my stepdaughter’s life doesn’t end when she leaves our home. She’s not living her life 50% of the time… So why were we?
Your kids need a positive example of a healthy relationship.
A key part of our responsibility as parents is to role model healthy skills for our children. One of those key skills is to relate to others in a healthy, kind, and fulfilling way.
Your stepchildren are looking to you to show them what a healthy relationship looks like. That includes: kind communication, prioritization of connection time (like date night), loving affection, and a teamwork attitude (always us vs. the issue, never me vs. you).
Showing the kids that your marriage is the first priority (even though sometimes the kids need to be your first responsibility) helps them to understand how to structure their family for success when they’re older. Checking out of the relationship when the kids come back to your home does a complete disservice to them.
Further, giving them positive, loving examples of fiercely protected boundaries ensures they’ll feel comfortable setting boundaries to protect themselves when they need to.
Living your life and being present in your relationship 24/7, not only on the days when you don’t have the kids, is actually one of the best things you can do for your kids.
You put an unreasonable burden on your kids to be “on” and responsible for your happiness.
When you are living your life fully during custodial time, you are (perhaps inadvertently) sending your kids the wrong message. You are communicating to your kids that your life revolves around them, and they are responsible for your happiness.
Not only does this lead to a whole host of other concerns: parentification, codependency, mini wife syndrome, entitled children who think the world revolves around their desires, etc… but it also puts an unreasonable burden on them as kids.
A burden to be “on” energetically for you every time they’re in your home.
If they’re having a bad day, feeling sick, or just generally not feeling it one day—which is totally normal—they’re being taught to put a smile on anyway because their parent has been waiting for them to come home.
They begin to believe they’re responsible for your happiness and being present in order for you to live your life. But really, their focus should be on their own happiness and living their own lives.
It reinforces the feeling that you live two separate lives.
Planning your life around a custody schedule can clearly impact your kids and your relationship, but this arrangement also negatively affects a stepmom’s mental health.
Feeling like all the “fun” things needed to be reserved for when Krista was home made me sometimes feel like she was more worthy of the eventful than I was. Shouldn’t our relationship, me, be enough to warrant some fun on the non-custodial days too?
Turning away invitations to see family or friends because it didn’t fall during the “right” time of our custody schedule eventually made me feel like I was missing out. And when that became a pattern, it ultimately led to resentment. It sucked that my plans were being determined (indirectly) because of my partner’s relationship with his ex.
Living half of the time with a devoted partner and autonomy over decisions and half of the time completely focused on the kids, means that who you are, who you’re surrounded with, and what your priorities are one day may look dramatically different than the next.
That’s extremely challenging to navigate. And if that challenge affects your life enough, it could easily lead to resentment, typically directed at your partner.
You cannot live 100% of your life 50% of the time.
Does this hit hard for you the way it would have hit hard for me in those early days?
Make a conscious decision not to live your life around the custody schedule. Accept the invitations. Go on the date, no matter if it’s an “on” or “off” day. Balance your workload so it doesn’t pile up on days you get your partner to yourself.
Refuse to live your life in response to the custody agreement, in response to your partner’s past.
You’ll be really glad you did.
And if you need help making the adjustment, communicating your intentions and schedule boundaries with your partner or stepchildren, you don’t have to go it alone! Apply for stepmom support coaching, and let’s work together to ensure you build a stepmom life you love!
P.S. Learn more with this quick reference custody schedule.