09/10/2011 12:47 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2011

Mom's House, Dad's House -- When Going Back and Forth Doesn't Work for Going Back to School

It's that time of year again, back to school. Like most families, we get ready for a new school year purchasing school supplies, shopping for school clothes, and getting in that last trip to the beach or pool so we can officially say goodbye to summer. But, in our blended family household of yours, mine and ours, this year back-to-school takes on a new meaning, since this year, we are changing our custody arrangement. Let me explain.

My husband and I have been married 8 years and together for 10. He came to our marriage with two girls, ages 7 and 5. I married my husband when my son from my previous marriage was only 4. We added another child when we had our son, now 7 years-old. Throughout our marriage, we have shared 50/50 physical custody of the kids with our former spouses. Our arrangement has changed with time and as the kids' needs have changed.

When my husband and I first married and the kids were very young, we split the week in half, with the kids living with us on Mondays and Tuesdays and every other weekend. Later, as they grew, and became more involved with their friends and activities in our neighborhood, they asked for longer periods of time in each house. So, we changed the arrangements, and the kids have been living with us for a complete week and then go to their other parents the following week. I know that most families don't have to deal with sending their kids away for a week at a time, and honestly, I hate that I miss out on so much of my son's life. I talk to him everyday on the phone. Last year I hired a nanny to pick up my son everyday after school and bring him to our house, where his father then picked him up and would take him to his house, on his custody weeks. This meant I was able to see my son everyday, even on those weeks he is with his dad. It's not perfect, but one of the things I have had to learn about being in a blended family is that you have to compromise and make the best of what you have.

Besides, to be fair, I can't really complain. While I certainly didn't plan on ending up divorced with shared custody, my ex-husband and I were the adults in the household and we were the ones with the power to decide to stay married or not. It was not an easy decision, but during the final months of my former marriage it became certain to me that divorce was the only healthy decision I could make. So, here we are, making the best of it, and our kids are trying their best to keep up with the back and forth every week. They really do have two houses, with one set of "stuff" at Mom's house, and another set of "stuff" at Dad's house. Each week, they return, lugging their school backpacks, favorite clothes, scout uniforms, and sports gear, and settle into their bedrooms in our house.

Since the kids have become teenagers with their own fashion sense, and a social life, they have opinions about their clothes, and which outfits they want to wear to see their friends. As of recently it takes several trips to the car to unload the multiple bags of stuff that the kids bring home. I feel badly for them, dragging all their belongings from house to house, especially for my step-daughters, who can't seem to unpack the entire week they are with us. Their rooms are never completely tidy anyway, after all they are teens -- their rooms usually have dirty laundry on the floor, half-used soda cans, and a bed that never gets made -- but when they add their opened suitcases with clothes overflowing, it's chaos.

So, I wasn't really surprised when the week before she was supposed to start her junior year in high school, my step-daughter asked me and her father if she could live with us full-time. She has done this before, but usually it's in the heat of passion or frustration that comes when a teenage daughter clashes with her mother. This time, my step-daughter asked in a very reasoned tone, laying out her argument and stating her points like the daughter of a lawyer, and the debate team star that she is. She told us that this school year is very important to her, that she wanted to do well in school, that she wanted to stay organized and she wanted to feel -- well -- settled. Who could blame her? I looked around her room and saw the two suitcases filled with school uniforms, favorite clothes, and the book bags filled with notebooks, text books and school supplies. Who would want to cart all of this around from house to house, one week after the next?

Her dad and I talked. We both knew we could not refuse her request. But how would her mother feel? Luckily, her mother agreed that it would be best for her. So, for the first time in 8 years she will live in one house. She will still see her mom on alternating weekends, but hopefully that won't mean she has to take more than one bag with her at a time. She finished her first week of school this week and seems calm. She didn't have to worry about packing up her suitcases in time for the weekend with her mom. Her books stayed on her desk, her school uniforms hung in the closet. Now, if I could just get her to pick up her dirty laundry from the floor