Splitsville: The Guilt Of A Primary Custody Parent

Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

At the risk of repeating myself for the hundredth time, I have sole custody for my daughter. Once every three weeks or so, she visits her father for the evening. Her dad has an amazingly hectic work schedule that makes his time very unpredictable. Do I wish he saw our little girl more? Of course I do. Does he wish that he had more time to spend with his daughter? I feel very confident that he does. But this is our situation and it’s one that we’ve just had to adapt to.

I realize that my schedule is different from the majority of people’s, who often have court-appointed visitation to follow. However, I don’t think that changes the basic principle that one parent is constantly missing out when their child is visiting the other. And when you aren’t the non-custodial parent, there’s a whole lot more that you miss out on.

This is the main reason that I started worrying about how to keep my daughter’s father informed of what’s going on in his little girl’s life. For now, we’re going with the planner. What can I say? For all I type on the internet, I’m a paper and pen kind of girl. I’m writing down dance practices and horseback riding lessons. I’m sending notes from the teacher and including lists of our favorite books of the moment. I’m really trying to keep my ex from missing any important milestone in our daughter’s life.

And I still feel guilty. I still feel like he misses out on adorable, hysterical, small details of our daughter’s life and I just can’t catch him up on everything. It’s a guilt that I carry around every time my little girl has an important first or does something impressive. I feel guilty that her dad isn’t around to see it, even though his absence isn’t my choice.

This weekend, my daughter jumped back into the pool after a winter out of the water. Within minutes, she was floating on her back and paddling around the deep end with me. I could not believe that she was still such a proficient swimmer after the long winter without lessons or practice. When she confidently jumped off the diving board to the applause of my parents and husband, I felt that familiar twinge that her dad didn’t get to see it. I pulled out my phone so that I could immediately send pictures of our strong little girl.

But it’s not the same as being there and cheering for her. It’s not the same as pulling your hand away so she can float on her own and then hugging her with pride once she’s done. And I feel horrible that her dad is missing those things.

Schedules and planners can keep us organized. They can inform him of every activity under the sun so that he never misses an event because of my forgetfulness. But it’s impossible to catch him up on the all the little things that are missed when he’s away from his daughter. I feel perpetually guilty about all the awesome bits he’s missing. And I can’t find any planners or calendars to fix that problem.

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