Adjusting to the changes as court-ordered parenting time ends

Meet my youngest son, Garrett, who turned 18 yesterday. It’s a big milestone for any kid. But it’s also a different milestone, a sad one, for me.


It’s the end of “parenting time.” That’s what they call it here in Indiana, the court-ordered time a noncustodial parent spends with his children. It ends at 18.

The parenting time guidelines grant every Wednesday evening and every other weekend during the school year, plus holidays on alternating years, half of winter break, all of every other spring break, and half of every summer. We were fortunate: our judge also ordered parenting time every Monday night and an overnight stay every Wednesday when school was in session.

I have not needed to be compelled by court order to spend time with my sons. I always wanted to live with them every day of their childhoods. Parenting time limited me, constrained me, bound me. I always ached to be present with my sons more often.

Obviously, I could have had every day with my sons had their mom and I worked out a healthy, happy marriage. We were not capable of it. Our destructive relationship was ruining us all. We are all healthier and happier since it ended.

I reminded myself of this each time I pushed through the worst rush-hour traffic in Indiana en route to my sons. Each time we left for their suburb at 5:30 am so they wouldn’t miss their school bus. Each time my sons went home at the end of our time together, leaving me alone in my empty house. Each time they had an especially good, or an especially bad, day and if we could talk about it at all it was over the phone or via text. Each time I did alone a thing that would normally be done as a family.

Yet this yin met its yang when I put to good use the time I wasn’t actively being my sons’ dad. Half of my days I could behave like a childless man, directing my energy to my own interests. Photography and blogging. Deep involvement at church. Founding and running a nonprofit. Doubling down on my career, which really took off.

I’ve felt guilty that I did these things rather than being home with my sons. Yet I’ve also reveled in these things. Fortunately, I processed those conflicting feelings years ago and have found contentment in this life.

What I have not processed yet, what I have experienced as looming for months, what is now irrevocably here, is loss. The loss of my decade-long routine with my sons, a routine to which I clung, around which I organized my life. And anew, the loss of what I never could have but desperately wanted for me and my sons: the ability to be a present parent every day. It was never going to happen,

Now it’s up to my sons and I to figure out how and when to see each other. My older son, Damion, has been very good about making time for his old dad. Will Garrett do likewise? I hope so.

There are no state guidelines for mapping adult relationships with your children. No court can compel it. And I have no personal experience to use as a guide. My parents are still married, more than 50 years now. When I was college-aged their home was always open to me. It was where I returned on break, and our normal family life largely resumed as if never interrupted.

That’s what I wanted for my sons. More than that, it’s what I wanted for me. But it’s not what we got.

We will make the best of this, too.

I’m sharing two bonus posts later today, reruns of stories that involved Garrett. If you’ve read my blog for a long time, perhaps you will enjoy now seeing Garrett’s face as you revisit those stories.


6 responses to “Adjusting to the changes as court-ordered parenting time ends”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    Growing up as a child of divorced parents, this has been a struggle. The dynamic was different as Dad remarried and had 2 other kids while Mom never did and sort of remained a victim of the divorce, a situation that continues to this day. Mom’s was always “home” while Dad’s was always a place to visit. I never even saw the pattern until I was an adult with kids of my own.

    All you can do is make them welcome and loved and keep a home where they will want to be. And with 2 homes, they will never have as much time as they want to spend at both. As necessary as it may have been, my experience is that it makes everyone’s family relationships more complicated for the rest of everyones’ lives. Not bad, just complicated.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My older son has been more willing to talk about his experience and has said that while he’s felt at home here and enjoyed his time here, home is simply his mom’s. It’s where most of his stuff is, it’s where he went after school, it’s where he did the vast majority of his homework, and so on.

      He hated the long trips back and forth, though. He asked a few years ago if we could end the Monday evenings here — his exact words were, “I hate spending 90 minutes in the car to spend 90 minutes at your house.” That was hard to argue. So we switched to me going out there to take them to dinner every other Monday.

      And the minute Damion graduated, Garrett asked to end the Wednesday overnights, because my night-owl son struggled so to get up at 5 am Thursday mornings. He goes home Wednesday evening now.

      Or at least he did. I doubt his mom will participate in transportation anymore, and I don’t know if I have it in me to drive both ways Wednesday nights. But Garrett wants our weekends to continue through the end of the school year and I’ll make that happen.

      The forever complicated relationships is something they don’t tell you about when you contemplate divorce. Forevermore I will juggle holiday times with the time they want to spend with their mom. And their major milestones will continue to have to be shared with their mom — graduations, weddings, and so on. Those are uncomfortable.

  2. DougD Avatar

    Luckily for me, this is a situation that I have no direct experience with. But, given that it is what it is, if you continue to approach the situation thoughtfully and be willing to make the effort you can’t ask more than that.

    Also, Garrett is rockin’ that beard. I wish I’d had a beard like that when I was 30!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have never been able to grow decent facial hair so he must get it from his mom’s side. I would not have chosen this look for him but it’s only hair so I keep quiet about it. Much as my dad did for me when I got my ear pierced at 19.

  3. Heide Avatar

    OF COURSE Garrett will make time to spend with his dad — and I hope it will be all the more rewarding for you both when it happens spontaneously, for no purpose other than to enjoy each others’ company. Congratulations to your youngest on reaching his big milestone … and to his father, too, for doing his absolute best for his sons.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks H — you are always so encouraging!

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