If you want to fully understand the concept of mixed emotions, ask a parent with shared custody what an exchange is like. Half of your brain is sobbing, because you’re going to miss your crazy little nugget. The other half is thinking – I’m free and can run through the poppies while music plays, drink beer, sleep late, and do whatever the hell I want. Living your life as a single parent that shares custody has a lot of high highs and low lows. Finding the balance between them can be quite a challenge.
When I first left my ex, my single parent friends all told me that it was actually a pretty great lifestyle. I didn’t believe them. They must have been making the best of a bad situation, right? I mean, when you’re young and thinking about your future nobody ever dreams of being a single, middle-aged parent swiping on Tinder. So when things went south in my relationship, I went through a lot of scary emotions relating to adapting to my upcoming new single life with my daughter. Turns out, none of them were right.
Single parenting is a very different experience from relationship parenting, and that can be both good and bad. In Single Parent Land, you get to make the decisions when your child is with you. This, my friends, is AWESOME. No consulting with your partner, no asking permission, no coordination. You want to go to a movie in the middle of the afternoon? Just go hop in the car, no need to ask anyone. However, if you’re going through an acrimonious court battle, every decision starts to take on an exaggerated meaning. If I give my child an applesauce pouch made in China, will the ex bring it up in court? Will letting my child stay up an hour later to watch the end of that movie be construed as bad parenting? After awhile, it can start to become parenting by court, rather than parenting by heart. This can become exhausting, and although your ex may not be hovering the specter of the court certainly can be. See? Single parenting can be liberating, except when it’s not.
Another aspect to consider is that when your child is with you, it’s your rules. When they’re with your ex, it’s theirs. When you have two parents who respect those boundaries, most kids can deal with those differences pretty well. It’s when you have two parents who are far apart in opinion, or when one parent tries to control the other side, that things can challenge your child to adapt. My daughter gets to spend all day watching an iPad at my ex’s house. At mine, she’s never watched a single TV show or movie without me on the couch next to her (other than that one time I had a 104 degree fever, when she could have burned the house down and I still probably wouldn’t have gotten out of bed). So I just bite my tongue and don’t make comments about it, even though I’m pretty sure I have no tongue left at this point. In the end, it’s more damaging to talk badly about the ex than for my daughter to watch too much TV. I don’t know any kids who grew up getting a face tattoo from watching too much Paw Patrol, but there are plenty who got one because their parents fought in front of them. You can’t control the other side of the fence, so I just let it go, take a deep breath, and pretend it doesn’t exist. It sounds like parenting by sticking your head in the sand, but I’ve found that it’s actually the best way for you and your child to survive this one aspect.
Things can get really rough in school if you’re looking for things to be equal. For example, I assure you that everyone invites the child’s mom to birthday parties and not the father. Moms tend to be the gatekeeper for this stuff while dad golfs, or something or other. But if you’re like me, kids’ birthday parties are part of the parenting experience too. I love watching my daughter play with her friends! If that party falls on your custody day, though, good luck – you may never even hear about it. And don’t even get me started on how to figure out which parent gets to take home which pieces of artwork after school for the archives. So even though Single Parent Land is awesome, there are some pretty serious challenges. If your child is hurt during class, you can’t expect the nurse to look up your parenting agreement to determine who to call each time, so even though you want to be your kid’s hero and console them, you might miss the boat. In the grand scheme of things, I try to just keep my cool and remember that parenting is rocky at times, even in a traditional family.
There is a silver lining in all this, though. By having less time with your child than you would have in a relationship, you savor and relish the time you do have more. I don’t think I know any parents who are as devoted to attending every soccer match, dance rehearsal, or art class as I am (with my obnoxious giant camera in hand…out of my way!). I may get less time, but the time I do get I cherish more. Taking that time for granted is something I see a lot of married couples do, and from my perspective I see that as a huge mistake. My daughter is always happiest when I’m present, and I am too. Just don’t take it too far and become the helicopter parent from hell. I don’t want my kid to have abandonment issues, so I try to not have a bunch of them either. Finding that balance between giving your child independence but letting them know you’re there is a struggle for any parent, but it can be especially rough for a parent who is only able to be around half (or less) the time. I think about this a lot, frankly. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you’re the sort of parent who’s conscientious enough to think about how to divide your time to begin with then you’re probably the sort of parent who’s conscientiously handling it well.
But let’s get back to the easy stuff for a minute. Remember naps? You know, those times when you could sleep in the afternoon on a weekend without your ex coming in and yelling at you for not helping out? Those naps are here to stay, baby! Remember leaving your drink in the fridge and when you get up it’s still right there for you? Or how about blasting your home theater system until 2AM without worrying about waking everyone up? Ahhh, the good old days. They’re back with a vengeance because half the time you have love in your life and can focus on your kid. The other half, you’re single again and pretty much can do anything you want (pants optional). Despite the challenges, living in Single Parent Land has wound up being a pretty great lifestyle. If I had known this in advance I may have actually left my ex sooner, since my fears didn’t come to fruition. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get ready for my late night date…right after I’m done crying that I won’t see my kidlet until Friday.