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Dear Custodial and Local Non-Custodial Parents

It’s been a week since my son, Leading Man #1, came to visit me in Massachusetts. For four glorious days, I was, as I call it, “Live and In-Person Mom.”

I made pancakes. I did laundry. I administered discipline and punishments. I gave chores. My ears bled at bad teenage angst music. I have never seen my spare bedroom, now my son’s room, door locked. I did for four days.

I treasured every moment.

I still haven’t made my son’s bed yet, or packed up his Xbox. I haven’t folded blankets. I haven’t put his winter boots, which he only needs in New England, in the closet. To me, these are all confirmations that I am mom. My son lives, at least some of the time, with me.

I did do my son’s laundry and put the clothes I probably didn’t have to buy (that his father would have sent up here with him from New Jersey anyway), away in the drawers of the dresser I keep for him up here.

It will be six weeks before I can see my son in person again. I am counting, as the Zach Brown song says, “the days and the miles.”

I did not lose custody of my son because I was a “bad mother.” I voluntarily gave up residential custody so he could stay in the home, and the school district, with the support system he already had when I got divorced. I moved to Boston when no jobs that would pay child support appeared in New Jersey.

I speak to my son twice a day. I see him every night on video chat. I travel to New Jersey once a month to see him. I get weekly letters from his teachers and I participate in every IEP and parent teacher conference. (Ah! the joys of autism!)

Somehow, it is never enough for me.

I would give my right arm to be the daily parent. I would love to fight the homework fights. I would give anything to have loud teenage angst music blaring 24/7 from an allegedly (my bedroom doors don’t actually have locks, and if they did, I would have dismantled them) locked door. I would take the arguments about wardrobe, and, if necessary, makeup, curfews, and bad grades. I would clean my son’s room. I would do his laundry.

I would take all of the most trying parts of parenting on, just to have the best parts of my son living with me. He is the best and most important part of my life. I miss him every day.

My advice to custodial parents is this — treasure every moment, even the most trying ones. You are there every day. There are hundreds of non-custodial parents who would take your place in a heartbeat.

My advice to non-custodial parents who live near their children is almost the same — take advantage of, and fight for, every second you get with your child. Luxuriate in being able to attend parent-teacher conferences in person, not just over the phone. Celebrate having your child with you every other weekend. Attend every school concert, art show, and theater production. Again, there are hundreds of non-custodial, long distance parents who would take your place in a heartbeat.

Above all, stay connected to your kids. Never let them think for one second you are not there for them.

Still married parents, custodial parents and local non-custodial parents you have been given a tremendous, awesome gift every non-custodial parent in your place would give the better part of their lives to have — the opportunity to be a daily part of their child’s lives.

Don’t waste a second of that.

Treasure every moment of being a parent.

— A Mom Who Would Gladly, If She Could, Take Your Place

Photo credit: simonapilolla/Getty Images