When you’re co-parenting with an ex, it’s all or nothing. Unless you have one of those ultra-modern (and rare) arrangements where you all live together, which certainly makes pickups and drop-offs easier — “Daddy is waiting in the kitchen for you, kids!”
This isn’t how we do it.
If we’d been any good at living together, we might have stayed together, so we have to work at keeping our kids happy and healthy while diving their lives between two homes.
I’m either flying solo — being anything and everything to my two kids — or I am literally solo. As in alone — or, at least without kids — sometimes for several days at a time.
And it makes me a better parent.
Don’t think this doesn’t mean I don’t miss my kids. I do, desperately. After five years of co-parenting, I may be accustomed to a quiet, peaceful house whenever they’re with their dad, but I’ll never stop missing them. Their chatter, their laughter, their footsteps racing up and down the stairs. I even miss the bickering and the infuriating drone of the Xbox — the stuff that regularly drives me crazy. Because their activity is the heartbeat of our home, and it will never feel quite right without it.
So yes, I miss them. A lot. But I also enjoy the time I have without them. It took me a long time to get to this place, but I’m here now, and it’s pretty awesome. You’ve probably seen Eleanor Brownn’s quote, “You can’t feed from an empty vessel” popping up on various social media pages, and the reason we’re all sick of reading it is that it’s true. It’s Self-Care 101 for parents, whether your kids are with you 100 percent of the time or not.
When my kids aren’t with me, I can take a long bath before bed without having to get out halfway through because my daughter wants me to read her a story or my son has a nosebleed. Hell, I can even take that bath in the middle of the day if I want to. These are little rebellions parents get a kick out of because 2 pm bubble baths are mostly impossible and typically frowned-upon.
I can also sleep. I can go to bed early. I can hit snooze on the alarm as many times as I like. I can nap on the sofa after lunch. I can meet friends, go to the movies, and have sex whenever, wherever, and however I like. I can do anything — and it normally doesn’t amount to anything particularly exciting, but whatever it is, it’s all done on my terms and without having to worry about how it affects my kids. It’s a brief respite from the stressful, exhausting, uncompromising role of parent.
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When we first started our co-parenting journey, I felt enormous guilt about taking time out from parenting. It didn’t help that friends reacted with envy, grumbling that I was so lucky to have a “weekend off” — as if the sole motivation for ending my marriage was a Saturday night out without having to pay for a babysitter or a Sunday morning in bed beyond 8 am.
I felt as if I should be apologizing for my situation when the reality was that it was one of the most painful, heart-breaking, soul-destroying things I have ever gone through.
I realize now the time I spend away from my children is the time I need to take care of myself. And parenting experts agree: “When parents aren’t able to take care of themselves, it can make the job of parenting that much more stressful and can lead to exhaustion, illness, and resentment. By taking small steps toward caring for yourself, you’ll notice a change in how you feel and cope with the unique challenges of parenting,” says Ered Massie, LCSW, ACSW.
It helps that I know my kids are safe and happy with their dad. And ultimately, co-parenting is about compromise and sharing. My kids love their dad, and the fact that we’re divorced doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a strong relationship with him.
It’s also good for my kids to experience different parenting styles. As much as my ex-husband and I are on the same page when it comes to the bigger picture, we do a lot of things differently. My kids are open-minded, adaptable, tolerant people — and that has a lot to do with the fact that they don’t follow the same rules 24/7. They also know first-hand that there are many different types of families out there, and that one is no better or worse than another.
The best thing about being apart from my kids? When they come back to me. Even if they’ve only been away for one night, the reunion is always epic — a moment of true love and appreciation I’m grateful I get to experience on a regular basis.