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Notes From a Single Mom: Sunday Drive—The Toll of Shared Custody Miles

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My favorite holiday movie of all time is “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” with Steve Martin and John Candy. I’ve seen this heartwarming comedy about a dozen times, and I could see it a dozen more. It’s about two out-of-town businessmen trying desperately to make it home for Thanksgiving after their flights are cancelled during a monster snowstorm. They attempt every mode of transportation available to reach their loved ones, only to meet with hilarious mishaps along the way.

Every other Sunday, I’m reminded of this movie as I make the grueling, 60-mile (roundtrip) drive to fetch my kids from their dad’s house. Only, I’m not laughing. I mean, why did he have to move so far from his kids? Couldn’t he have settled for a view of the freeway instead of the Pacific Ocean?

I look around at passing cars and wonder how many other single parents, at that very moment, are making similar trips to retrieve their children from shared-custody situations. It’s like we’re all part of a court-ordered frequent-driver program. In fact, if radio advertisers were smart, they’d target our growing market in a special, Sunday-night drive-time category.

Think of all the antacids they could sell.

Like my favorite movie, our journeys usually end happily . . . we get to see our children again. But, honestly, what a hassle it all is. Total drive time, for me, takes about two and a half hours. It could be worse, I guess. I know a woman who has to drive every other weekend from the Los Angeles area to Bakersfield, a nearly two-hour drive each way, to pick up her son, in a gas-guzzling SUV, no less.

Yes, shared custody is sometimes a hardship on parents. But what about our children? Let’s not even discuss the emotional toll. Nevertheless in many cases, children are the ones racking up the frequent-traveler miles—especially over the holidays, as they commute back and forth between different households to evenly distribute happy memories of Christmas time.

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And it’s far from rare. According to an MSNBC report, millions of children between the ages of 5 and 14 fly alone every year on major airlines, although every airline has different rules for when children can travel alone and how. Most of these “unaccompanied minors (UMs)” are the fallout from shared-custody issues. Family Travel Forum calls UM travel “a necessary evil.”

With the ongoing threat of terrorism in our wary skies, not to mention that airlines have been known to put children on the wrong planes, I could never allow my babes to fly without being under my own wing, court order or not.

To further compound the problem, parents now need to worry about the possibility of their children being seated next to a child predator. While no major U.S. airline prohibits men from sitting next to unaccompanied children, a man traveling recently from Brisbane to Sydney on Virgin Australia was asked to change seats so he would no longer be next to two underage boys.

One authority at John Wayne Airport in Orange County says it’s heartbreaking to watch these young, frightened children board the plane alone, crying the whole time because they’re scared to fly without mom or dad.

On second thought, maybe that 60-mile drive isn’t so bad after all.

Guess which holiday movie Lynn Armitage plans to watch this weekend with her daughters? She welcomes your comments and stories about single parenting at: