My children haven’t mentioned the plain white walls in my apartment — but I know they’ve noticed them. The same goes for the fact that there’s only one lamp in the whole home. My kids are still young enough, thankfully, that they don’t notice the fact that I’m constantly washing dishes because I don’t want to spend more money buying an extra set of utensils.
The thing is, co-parenting since my divorce has been so much more expensive than I thought it would be. While rebuilding a family post-divorce means creating a new normal, splitting time with your children also means re-buying what you once had — to rebuild a home.
When my ex-spouse and I separated, I didn’t take much with me. Not much had been originally mine anyways, and I had wanted a fresh start. But I hadn’t budgeted for this. At the time we split, I didn’t expect all the nitty-gritty of putting a new home together for myself and my kids. Now, I’m faced with setting new financial goals for myself as a single parent, creating a budget for furniture, clothes and kitchen supplies, and going through the expenses of a divorce process and court costs — all while trying to throw in a little fun for my kids at the same time. I already know saving money this year will be tough.
At the time of my divorce, I had just started working full-time after years of being a stay-at-home mom and freelance writer. But even with my new full-time writing job, I couldn’t afford a full set of furniture to fill my new apartment. I even had to ask my mother for help for the basics (a couch, my bed, and the kids’ bunk beds), which I hate to admit.
Then there’s the fact that my immediate family is five states away. My best friend is far-flung, too. I didn’t even have anyone around to help me move out of the home I shared with my ex-husband (and my kids are too little to lift much!). I had to splurge on the shipping and set-up costs from the furniture store.
Even though I’ve since bought a dining room table, we still eat dinner on the couch. My heart is squeezed when I see my kids sitting side-by-side watching movies, playing on their Kindles, or even jumping on the new couch I couldn’t even afford. I hope they remember this couch as they get older — a symbol of being home, when they are with me. It’s only when I sit on this couch when they aren’t here, during their dad’s week, that there is so much room I can finally stretch out — and the despair of a quiet home hits.
After the basics, I put money into the kids’ bedroom and bathroom first, so they could have a place that was just theirs. I was so proud to show them their new sheets and blankets, the towels and soap pumps, a couple of fluffy rugs, a geometric shower curtain. Then I showed them the bath bombs and face towels they can grab anytime, like normal. Their stuff, like it had been back when we all lived together.
The kids helped to pick out the microwave, coffee maker and toaster for their favorite waffles, and then later a grilled-cheese maker for my daughter’s favorite lunch. My sister helped me get desks for the kids. Then came the cost of dressers, a bookshelf, even laundry baskets… It all adds up. I had a goal of purchasing one thing for my apartment per week. But I’ve had to put my own home dreams (a balcony oasis complete with a bench, colorful lanterns, plants, and outdoor lights) on hold.
When the COVID-19 pandemic closed in this past March, I was thankful I had purchased only the necessities, and that I’d done it when I had. Just as stay-at-home orders came to our Texas town, I finally had accumulated enough kitchenware to actually cook.
I do spoil my kids some, and that costs money, too. When it’s not my week with them, I plan for little treats and small surprises to give them when they are back. Shopping for these items when I miss them incredibly has helped my grief and my mental health.
Still, it’s all far more than I expected — and far more than I expected to pay, at the time of the divorce. During the pandemic, my kids and I have said goodbye to the museum memberships we once loved, and I cut out my cable bill. Right now we just have Netflix and Amazon Prime, and my kids haven’t complained (they just want to watch YouTube videos for free anyway). And there have been unexpected pandemic-related expenses I never anticipated, which may seem excessive but have proven so necessary: A laptop just for the kids, as they transitioned to online learning this spring; and an Amazon Echo Dot to entertain them while I work from home.
While my kids go back and forth between homes, it’s easy for them to forget a pair of sandals, a thermos, a bathing suit, a charger, a shin guard — it all happens, and it seemingly never ends. To avoid conflict with their father, I end up just buying another one of the missing thing, so my kids will always have two. On my to-do list now is building our book collection, so that their favorite stories are at both homes.
The cost of co-parenting has also meant trial and error sometimes, such as last week when I bought the wrong power tool to set up a bookshelf in the kids’ room — and ended up keeping it even after I bought the right one.
As the months go by, my walls are still bare. After all, it takes time to create a home. Although I’d love to speed through the process, adding paintings to the walls, I know it’s not in my budget to shop for home décor right now. So far, it seems we are almost there, and when I see my kids’ smiles as they walk through the door of our apartment, however bare, I know the heart of our home is already well set in place.
Keep your kids safe (regardless of which home they’re at) with these comfy, cute kids face masks.