I had a conversation with a friend earlier today. He's a parent, has a fourteen year old son that he hasn't been much involved with. He pays child support, but for various reasons, his visitation has always been haphazard. He'd like to get more involved, and believes that the best way to do that would be to file for full custody. His son lives in NH, and getting up there is a pain. I advised against that, and in the course of the conversation realized a couple of things that I hadn't fully articulated to myself before.
1 - I believe that children fare best with two loving, involved parents.
2 - I believe that children fare better with one loving committed parent and one that's never there than with one loving committed parent and one that is unreliable. In other words, if you aren't going to do it right, don't bother. Don't show up sometimes, take a few months or a year off, dance in and out of your child's life. Either commit for the long haul, or don't do it at all. Don't get me wrong - I believe that if you have a child, you have the obligation to parent. Not negotiable - this is your child, and he/she NEEDS YOU. But having a parent you can't trust or count on is incredibly damaging to a child's psyche. Either do it or don't - but don't pretend to do it halfway.
3 - Staying together for the sake of the children isn't enough of a reason to stay in a crappy marriage, but once you have a child, you don't EVER walk away. You live as close as you can, you get joint legal and physical custody, if not primary physical custody. You make your children the focus of your life, whether you stay with their mother or not. You live in the same town, you know their friends, their friend's parents, their teachers and their homework. Don't make a child pay the price of your bad choices.
I grew up as a child of a "broken home." That's not a term that's politically correct now, and thank God for that. I had an actual single mother, no child support, no help, no nothing. My father... well, he just wasn't cut out to be a parent. Although I guess he tried for several years, he wasn't ever able to actually do it, and when he disappeared when I was fourteen, I was a little bit relieved. When he called me when I was nineteen, I just wasn't interested. I had lived for so long without him, and it was much easier to live with just a mother, than to have a mother and a father sometimes.
I married a man with children. I have two stepdaughters - and one consistent thing about my husband, one of his MOST attractive qualities to me, is that he's a parent. A GOOD parent. We live in Worcester - which is a horrible city. City - with crime and dirt and drugs and I have lived here for five years and still feel like a visitor. I left my hometown, an itty bitty town, where I had roots that stretched back for generations, and would LOVE to have raised my children there. But my step kids live in Worcester, and so this is where I'll stay for at least another ten years. Because they are my kids too - and they love their dad, they love me, and they love their brother and sister. Because this is where my husband's ex lives and works, and because it's crucial that we see them as often as possible. That we attend school functions, and help with homework, and go to birthday parties, and all the other stuff that goes along with having kids.
I told my friend to move to NH.