Back in the days, my dad was living in one house, and my two brothers and I lived with my mother in another house. We all went back and forth between the two homes, and that was that. We never had the feeling that this arrangement reflected a disconnect in their relationship, but more an adaptation to our situation.
Our lives were initially based in and around the city; school, shopping, friends, everything we interacted with would always be within the city limits. When the recession hit, my father decided the time had come to focus his attention on finding an alternative income stream. My grandparents had a farm a few hours away which had been left abandoned. None of the children took an interest in it, and the fields had been left out to dry, unattended for years. My father collateralized our city home and managed to get a substantial loan. He took it upon himself to breathe new life into the farm hoping to make it a profitable enterprise again.
The week after school ended that summer, we helped my father move half our home into the farm. The first time I saw the place, I gasped! It was a total disaster, but my gasp was directed at the potential of it. I knew the type of man my father was, stubborn as a mule. And stubborn mules are the ones that always get things done.
We stayed there the rest of the summer fixing up the place, making inventory rounds with my dad, and exploring the rest of the land, getting a feel for the surroundings. Mom had literally placed “DO NOT ENTER. NO CHILDREN ALLOWED.” tape on the sections of the farm house she had colonized for herself. Outside of the meals, we didn’t see much of her for weeks that first summer.
Summer flew by, and before we knew it, school started again, and we moved back to the city. We quickly got back into our daily routines, school, playing with the other neighborhood kids in the park, homework, dinner, and sleep. But there was a huge change now. Dad wasn’t there. Mom was now running the show on her own. As obvious as this would be to any adult, our brothers and I hadn’t really fathomed the changes this would bring to our lives. But we would soon get acquainted with what Living Apart Together meant in our context.
The first big change was at the dinner table. It didn’t have so much to do with my father not being there, but more with the fact that there was only one adult. And three boys. So the topic menu for dinner started shifting more to our age range. And even more so, conversations amongst the children at the table. That was totally new! Before, the whole conversation was routed almost exclusively via Mom or Dad. This created a completely different dynamic, one we liked a lot.
My mom on the other hand, she used this time to really observe us. Really put her finger on the pulse of each of her sons. She encouraged an equal opportunity conversation, so if she felt anyone didn’t get enough air time, she would loop him into the discussion -something that would benefit my youngest brother a great deal. Until that point, he hardly got a word in. I admired how many times Mom bit her tongue to allow the natural flow of our childish conversations to continue. She knew she would get a lot more out of us if we felt we could say -almost- anything.
The direct relationship with our mother would also change with this LAT arrangement. When my father was home, he would take care of most disciplinary measures around the house. Now it was her turn to “carry the whip”. One evening after dinner, she sat us all down. And posed a question to us. She said, “As you know, your father won’t be with us while we’re in this house and I will be doing all the work by myself. I need you guys to step up. So this is how it’s going to go:
- If I tell you to do something, you do it.
- If I tell you not to do something, you don’t do it.
If you break rule 1 or 2:
- First time: You lose TV privileges for 1 week.
- Second time: You are in your room after school everyday for a week.
- Third time: You truly don’t want to find out.
Do you have any questions?”
I could feel the same OH MY GOD! reaction from my brothers. When Dad would sit us down, we would go through what seemed hours and hours into I have no idea what. At the end of his talks I would just hope to the heavens one of my brothers had understood what he was saying and could explain it back. I was always unsure of where the lines were. But this new 1 slide presentation style from Mom, are you kidding me? Way to go Mom!!
We had no idea my mother had this in her! I loved every bit of it. What I took the most liking to was that it was so crystal clear. The “ask” was perfectly defined, and we knew what the consequences would be. With the previous administration, the infraction boundary was so vague, and the punishments were heavily influenced by what was going on at the time my father would find out we did something wrong.
The other part that I loved was that she told us “why” she was introducing this no-nonsense policy, and this to us was huge! Our parents had never justified any of the decisions they took regarding us, and now from one day to the next…they are!? This was our first taste of getting treated like young adults, and we were all in.
As the months rolled on, we got more and more used to how my mother ran things on her own, and found our place in it. I felt a lot closer to my mom during this period, she was all mother, no wife; this was such a wonderful change. A mother will always be a mother, but to say that she gets the opportunity to act like the mother she wants to be, is an entirely different conversation. I had never felt my Mom as motherly as in this set up.
Another new aspect of LAT for us was that we became a lot more aware of all the work our mother had to do in order to keep the house running. This tipped us into volunteering more often when it came to helping out. And with boys, even the most trivial thing can turn into a competition at the drop of a hat. So now it was all about who can take more garbage bags out, who can mow the lawn faster, who can clear the table quickest…my mother was l-o-v-i-n-g it.
After the heaviest parts of the renovations were completed, we started going to the farm on a more regular basis. Every other weekend, school holidays, and more often than not, we would spend the entire summer there as well. Our farm was focused primarily on growing crops, but it was the few animals we had that my brothers and I were totally crazy about! We had:
- 4 cows
- 6 pigs
- 10 goats
- ~30 chickens
That will keep three boys busy the whole summer long, and we couldn’t get enough of it.
The first time I saw with my own eyes the trajectory a scrambled egg takes before it gets to your plate, I was sold. This is just amazing! My brothers and I spent some of the happiest moments of our lives on that farm.
It goes without saying that these were actually “working holidays”. My father would have a huge list of chores for us every week. And this need for “family laborers” introduced a new element into the father & sons relationship: we could negotiate. Something that was strictly against all the terms and conditions of Mom Inc. With Dad we could go back and forth for hours arranging and rearranging the chore list with our brothers. One of the brilliant elements of a good negotiation is that whatever the outcome, you feel it’s part of you. You had something to do with it. We developed a strong sense of ownership, and pride about delivering good work for the family.
Once negotiating about farm chores became the norm of how we would operate, my brothers and I slowly migrated the practice to other topics, like: curfews, sleepovers (the kids from school would line up to stay at our farm), and as we got older, yes, the one and only thing any teenager cares about: the car.
As for my mother and father’s LAT relationship -from the viewpoint of a young man- I felt this was as good as I had ever seen it. While we were in the city, we only saw Mom of course, and this new LAT Mom we had, was way better than the previous one. She was lighter, more rested, she laughed a lot more with us, spent a lot more time with us. I never had the feeling she didn’t love us, but now she actually had the time and energy to make us feel loved. This was the first time that it dawned on me how loving someone is not enough, you really need to show it, if not, it’s just a thought in your head. I have never seen my mother more “in her element” than when my parents started their LAT relationship.
Another surprising aspect of their LAT relationship was that my parents seemed to find a sort of new love for themselves. It would happen sometimes that no one knew where either Mom or Dad were. That had never happened in our city home. We always knew where at least one of them was. It would then turn out they were out on the fields having a walk. A walk!? Since when do you two go off on a walk together? Late at night, we could hear them on the terrace sitting back on their lazy chairs sipping single malt. And every now and then during dinner, they would have a chuckle about all these new private jokes they had between them…what is going on here!? If ever saw them in love, it was for sure when we came over to the farm.
I had no idea what a Living Apart Together relationship was back then, for us that was simply how our family worked. We didn’t know any better. If there was a kink in the background, we certainly didn’t perceive it. I have never seen my mother happier, and without question, my father lived his golden age during this period. We got to experience two very different styles of parenting which turned out to be a great thing. We were prepared for the “black and white”, “yes or no” side of life by my mother, and were taught how the more nuanced and “in between the lines” parts of life work by my dad. It forced us to adapt to two very different environments which put us so far ahead of other kids that came from a 1 doctrine home.
To this day, my brothers and I all feel we had the best childhood a kid could have ever had.
- If you would like to learn more about LAT:
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Is Living Alone Together (LAT) a phase, or is it meant to be forever?