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Different strokes for different folks: family time reinvented

When I was growing up my dad left home at 7.30 every morning and came home from work at 6 every night. Within 10 minutes of him getting home we’d all be sitting around the kitchen table eating dinner

We’d talk about our day, laugh at Mum’s cooking, fight over second helpings and race to drag out dessert and put off homework.

It is one of my fondest long-term memories and something I’d always hoped to continue with my children.

Fat chance. That dream is long gone in another unrealistic puff of smoke.

Our lives are just so different now. My family is never going to fit into that pretty little nuclear family mould. Nor are the next-door neighbours, nor are the people across the road.

Jamming it all in and finding a way that suits you and your family is the new normal. And while every family is different, the constant hustle of the new millennium is what makes us all normal.

Two of my kids don’t even get home until 7.30, the third needs her dinner at 6pm or she becomes a feral banshee. Then there’s the fussy eating – the boys need bulk protein and carbohydrates and there’s really no point varying off course with anything remotely adventurous. My husband comes in at some point, depending on what’s happened at work and what kind of mood it’s put him in. During the week, or on weekend shift, he never gets to eat with the kids.

I like to eat in peace, maybe even something from a cookbook, preferably with my husband, when the noisy family members have all disappeared to their rooms and I might actually get to taste my glass of wine.

For now we have slotted into a strange, semi-regular routine. My husband deals with the mornings. He coordinates lunches, uniforms, hair and drop offs so I can leave for the office early. I do the afternoons and evenings.

Sometimes we are all in the same room at the same time, usually not

It’s not the Brady Bunch but it works for us.

Across the road the routine is different – three days a week kids live there, four days a week they don’t. Next door there’s a drive by every morning – four kids troop out at 7 in various states of dress and jump into their Mum’s car.

I don’t know how she looks so chirpy every morning but she makes it work.

The key is figuring out what works best for your situation, how your family will juggle its time and the most flexible way to cater for wherever the various members lay their heads at night.

Whether you are two parents in one house, or separated and living apart, the kid shuffle is tricky for everyone. Trying to do it on your own is diabolical. Trying to co-parent with someone you can’t stand to look at or talk to is a nightmare.

That’s something to think about as you go through a relationship breakdown – your marriage may not have survived the “for better or worse” part, but you are still joined as parents. You need to find a way to both be a part of your kids’ lives.

Be open to options, be as flexible as you can. Try really hard to be civil, even when you’re exhausted. If your kids have two parents they are lucky – even if those parents live in different houses with different people.

And when it all seems impossible, stop and decide what you can do today; tomorrow might be different. One way or another you just need to figure out the best way for both of you to suffer the little darlings equally.

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