“It must be so nice to have a kid-free weekend, every other week!” an acquaintance said to me recently on a Saturday night during a weekend when my six-year-old son was with his father.
“Yup! It’s the silver lining of shared custody,” I responded, a smile plastered on my face, while inwardly cringing. I can’t count the number of times people have said that it must be nice to have a ‘break’ from parenting, as a result of shared custody.
Perhaps you’re recently separated and a newly single mother? Perhaps you have suddenly found yourself in the role of single mother? Perhaps you’re married and fantasize about what it would be like to really be a single mother since you feel that you do most of the hard work anyway? Perhaps you dream of having shared custody, thinking it is a blessing in disguise (after all, you have every other weekend, and a couple nights a week free of kid-free responsibilities!)?
But here are 18 truths, in no specific order, of what it’s really like to co-parent when you have shared custody.
The Hard Truths of Being a Parent Who Shares Custody
1) You will hear things you don’t want to hear. “Mommy! Daddy was kissing somebody that looked like you!” my six-year-old said to me last week, for example. Even when you get to the point where you’re completely ambivalent about your ex, your child, especially if they are young, will tell you these little details, because pint-sized children have no filters. You will learn to bite your tongue and how to change the subject, but at the same time, you do want to know what happens at Daddy’s, even though you hate to admit it. But…
2) You do not know what is happening at Daddy’s, really, when it’s not your days. I have no idea what time my child goes to bed, what he is eating or what he is doing when it’s not my day to have him. You will feel you are missing out on something, but, again, you don’t want to press your child(ren), for fear they will feel they are being interrogated, or worse, put in the middle. For half of the week and every other weekend, you have no idea what your own flesh and blood is doing, and who they are doing it with. You do not know if they are happy or sad.
3) Very, very few will admit that you feel you have to vie for ‘favorite-parent’ status. When your child tells you that Daddy took him to a cottage for the weekend, you will feel the immediate need to find something just as fun, if not more fun, to do with your child(ren.) You know this is immature, but you can’t help yourself. Neither can your ex. Oh, Daddy took you to a soccer game? Well, I’m going to take you to an arcade!
4) You will feel guilt. And not necessarily over the demise of your relationship, or how it will affect your child – but that’s there too. You will feel guilty when it comes to going out with friends, or on a date, on ‘your days,’ even if you really need a night out. Sure, yes, you have every other weekend off, and a couple child-free nights a week, but because your children are only with you half of the time, you feel guilty leaving them home with a babysitter, on your days, even if you can’t get out of your plans or a work event. You will feel guilty when you’re staying in. You will feel guilty about going out.
5) Suddenly, you will have to learn how to play video games, learn the rules of football, know all the types of dinosaurs, learn how to play poker, because what once was Daddy’s territory, is now yours, on your days. You will learn too, how to change a lightbulb, find the fuse box, and mow your own lawn (or pay someone to do it.) You may not have any interest in video games or watching football on a Sunday afternoon, but you do it because you love your kid and Daddy is not around.
6) If you have more than one child, and you are on your own, you will realize quickly that, on many occasions, you can’t please both kids. You will miss out on watching your daughter in a weekend soccer tournament (which her team ends up winning) because it’s cold and windy outside and your little one refuses to go and wants to go indoor mini-golfing instead. Likewise, sometimes you will have to force your child(ren) to do something they don’t really want to do, because you won’t always have help, to watch one kid, while the other has to be somewhere.
7) You will learn how to sob silently, especially if you don’t have a support system. Getting sick is not an option, because there may be no one else to look after your child(ren) If your child is ill, and you don’t have support, you will have to miss work. Your career may, and probably will suffer.
8) You not only will miss out on what they are doing when it’s not your days, but you may miss out if their first tooth falls out at Daddy’s. You will take your child(ren) for a haircut and wonder if you should be asking the other parent for ‘permission.’
9) You will become an expert on silent sobbing, for example, when you realize one of your children has to be at a birthday party and your other child is in a hockey tournament, at the exact same time, and that you can’t be in two places at once. Your son wants to go to the party. Your daughter wants you to watch her play. You will sob silently because it smacks you in the face that you are only one person, and can’t be at two places at once. One of your children is going to be disappointed. And your heart will crack. Again and again.
10) You will have to learn how to celebrate your own birthday or other celebrations, like Mother’s Day. You can hope that the ‘other parent’ will at least remind your child to make a card for you, but you can’t expect this to happen.
11) You will be exhausted on ‘your days’ not just because you are responsible for dinner, homework and bathtime, all on your own, but you want to spend as much time as possible with your child(ren) having fun with them too, so you keep them busy, busy, busy. You will take them to the park, or to the playground, instead of watching television at home, because you want to soak up every minute of seeing them smile and hearing them laugh.
12) You will spend a crazy stupid amount of time, in full-on panic-mode, looking for skates, uniforms, equipment, winter boots, homework, tearing your house apart, before realizing that said items are at “daddy’s house.” This will happen more times then you care to admit. It’s stressful.
13) You will feel a slightly judged, for example, when at the start of the school year the teacher sends home a form with, “Anything I should know about your family?” And you have to write down, “shared custody.” You are constantly reminded that you are a single parent, on the days you have your children and on the days you don’t.
14) Your ex will not always, but sometimes, question your parenting choices on ‘your days.’ You will receive texts like, ‘Why didn’t you bathe him?” Or, “If you couldn’t take him to his hockey practice, why didn’t you tell me?” You will want to throw your phone across the room.
15) You put so much energy into your children on your days, that when it’s not your days, usually you are so exhausted, that you can’t even force yourself to go out with friends, although you know you need a life too. Either way, you feel you can’t win.
16) Unless you have a responsible older child, to look after a younger sibling, you are screwed when you realize you have no bread left to make a sandwich for school, for example. You can’t just run out to do an “errand’ because there’s only you to look after your kids. Your children will be forced, on many occasions to come with you to do chores, because you can’t leave a five-year-old alone in the house, not even for a second.
17) You start imagining worst-case scenarios, especially if you have young children. What if Mommy falls down the stairs and is unconscious? What if Mommy suddenly has a panic attack in front of her children? What if Mommy needs medical help immediately? You teach your young ones to call 911 and you don’t run down the stairs because why chance it?
18) You will learn to plaster a smile on your face, while inwardly cringing, every single time someone says to you, “It must be so nice to get some time off from your children.” You will say, “Yes, it’s the silver lining of divorce,” all the while knowing that either the person is either lying and would never want to become a single parent, or that they are unhappily married and do fantasize about being a single parent. You will hear this a lot. Like, an insane amount of times.
You learn that you need to force a smile a lot, because a lot of people just don’t get it.
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