50/50 Custody Isn’t Lucky

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“God, you’re so lucky you have every other weekend off. I would do anything for some time away from these kids, they are killing me!”

I hear this often from my friends, all of my friends, actually. They are still married to the person they had their kids with. They still go home to their house every night together.

Her husband still sleeps in bed with her, the kids crawl in. Every night. Every night she gets to smell her baby’s head, make her family dinner, gets hugs with dirty hands and unwashed faces. Every night, she gets to look into their eyes and know that they are okay or if they aren’t and need to talk. Every night.

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I get my kids 50% of the time, the rest of the time they are with their dad. 50/50 custody. We work together well for the sake of the children, we are not perfect at it, but I think we are better than most, we rearrange our time for each other if needed. We both work outside the home and we both have to work. We have to support two households. That means, two blenders, toasters, dishwashers, washing machines and yes, two sets of bedrooms and living rooms and dining rooms. We both have those rooms empty 50% of the time.

My heart aches every time I say goodbye to them as they go off with their dad. My arms feel like dead weights and they drag me down unable to move freely. I start to worry almost immediately, what if they get a cold, what if they have nightmares, what if they have a great day, what if they have a bad day, what if they make a new friend, what if they fight with a friend, what if they feel lonely, what if they don’t. I don’t know. 50% of the time I cannot see that, I don’t know. I pray and hope they are okay, that they are laughing and happy and they are, in the end.

They come home; they run into my arms and start chattering like a bunch of monkeys at full volume. “Guess what mom, I got a 100 on my spelling test. Guess what mom, I skinned my knee and it bleeded. Guess what mom, I got my math right today. Mom, my library book is at your house” and there it is, “your house”. Not our house, “your house”, my house.

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They have two, they have mine and they have their dads. So as they are chattering away and I am smiling, hugging, nodding and consoling, I think back to a wedding day filled with promise and what I thought was unending love. I reach down and I hug them tight, my arms lighter, my heart so full I could burst and I try so hard to not cry. Not because they are home, but because they will only be home until they go back. And I cry because their lives are two lives. I smile and they look at me with their big eyes and ask with a twisted grin “happy tears or sad tears?” My answer is always “Happy Tears”. They giggle like it’s our little secret, that my emotions escape me.

So, as I sit next my girlfriend and listen to her complain about her husband, and kids, and house, and, and, and… I think to myself “God, you are so lucky”.

Related post: An Apology To Single Parents

An Apology To Single Parents

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My husband is currently going to school and working nights which means he’s gone from the house from two in the afternoon until four in the morning, and then sleeps from about five in the morning until one in the afternoon at which point he gets up, eats, showers, plays with the kids for a few moments before heading out the door. This is happening five days a week and it’s been wearing on me. I’m home with my 1.5 year old son and 2.5 year old daughter all day every day. I love them.

I love them so much it hurts sometimes.

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But between boundary testing, potty training, and tantrums because the sky is blue, I am tired.

I am so tired that I said something really, really dumb. I told my husband that because of his work and school schedule right now…I feel like a single parent.

That is the stupidest thing I’ve said in recent time.

The fact is that I am not a single parent.

I do have a husband who is out working hard and going to school which allows me to stay home with my challenging and trying toddlers. The fact is that if I needed him to come home for some reason, he’d be in the car before we even got off the phone. The fact is, no matter what my warped sense of perception is, I’m not a single parent. Not even close.

I don’t know what it’s like to work all day and then be both mom and dad. I don’t know what it’s like to be so exhausted and just want a reprieve which I may be unable to get. I’ll never know the weight of decisions a single parent must face, and I can’t fathom the struggles and fears that encompass their heart day in and day out.

So to all of the single parents out there, I’m sorry.

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I’m sorry for taking what I have for granted. I’m sorry for being insensitive and pithy and downright whiny. I’m sorry to make light of a situation I can’t even wrap my mind around.

And, actually, I’m sorry for even apologizing. You don’t need it.

You’re doing just fine on your own.

Related post: How To Survive as a Newly Single Parent

5 Things Men Should Know About Dating a Single Mom

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My boyfriend and I have been fighting a lot lately. I can’t even tell you what the fights are about exactly. The thing is, he’s awesome and I’m awesome. And my kid is definitely awesome. But if you take away who we are as people, what remains is our differing positions in life; I’m a single mother and he’s a childless dude. It’s a huge disparity that can create a lot of discord without the right level of understanding.

If love is about putting in the effort to understand one another, then it’s my duty to express who I am and what I feel. Through this exercise, I put together a few guidelines for dating a single mom. (Disclaimer: This will either make you run for the hills or step up your game.)

1. Being a single mother can be the loneliest job in the world. Sure, I am never really alone. I have my child with me most of the time, and the joy that comes from that is a true blessing. At the same time, I’m taking on the responsibility, that naturally, two people should share. I put in everything I’ve got- physically and emotionally- so he never has to feel like he’s missing a parent. Sometimes I feel pangs of jealousy when I see conventional families with a mother and a father. It must be nice to share these experiences with the one other person who contributed in making your child. But there is no sharing as a single mother. Even if I have a village of wonderful people to help me, I am the only person that can be the parent.

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I invest everything in my child and, at the end of the day, I’ve run out of gas. Vroom! Vroom! That’s where you come in. If I am going to be with you, I want you to fuel me in some way. I want to share stuff with you. It’s not that I can’t be strong on my own, but everyone deserves fulfilling companionship. I want to be with someone who makes me feel alive and makes my time worthwhile. That being said…

2. My time with you is golden. Time with you = Time away from my kid which means you better make sure it is worth it. That doesn’t mean we have to have candlelit dinners or climb a mountain every time we’re together. It means that we have to make our time together a priority. That means planning in advance. I do not have the luxury of dropping what I’m doing and heading out. I have to get a babysitter and schedule how long I can be out and when I need to return. The clock is always ticking for me.

But do you know how happy I am when I get that alone time with you? Very. To me, it’s like a romantic getaway, a mini-vacation. Put in the effort into making it special every time. Effort = Planning in advance, which means I feel like you respect my time. Also remember, however….

3. Our relationship will not flow like other peoples’ relationships. Sharing hobbies and traveling together are important aspects in evolving relationships. They help us grow together, experience things, and even help determine our compatibility. When you’re dating me, those experiences are few and far between. While our coupled friends are planning to run a marathon together, I’m still trying to find a babysitter for our date next week. We don’t even have the freedom to make love, cuddle, and sleep next to each other whenever we so desire. Our benchmarks as a couple are totally different, the obvious being your relationship with my child. Just like shared hobbies and travel experiences can help bond two people, your relationship with my son helps bond me with you. My child is my everything, and that is why….

4. Everything counts as double. Everyone has a guard up to protect oneself. But I have a guard up to protect not one, but two people. If I get hurt, I don’t function well, and that affects my parenting, which in turn affects my child, and all I want to do is protect my child. Whew! I’ve acquired a lot of strength and resilience in life, but it doesn’t mean that my vulnerability to love has waned. If anything, I am more vulnerable because I am more serious about my time and my relationships. When you treat me well, you’re treating my kid well. When I’m upset with you, my kid can feel it in my energy. I understand this is a difficult concept to remember, but it’s the truth. I believe a man that accepts his girlfriend as a mother will learn to adjust himself to that lifestyle. Our dates will sometimes have to include my child.

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But please don’t run away yet because…

5. I forget to understand your position. This is the one that ties a neat bow around the whole thing. I have to constantly remind myself that you do not share my responsibilities nor my past experiences. When I’m so consumed in my own responsibilities, I get frustrated when you don’t understand my anguish. Sometimes when you say, “I am tired.” I want to scream- “YOU’RE TIRED? YOU’RE TIRED?! I’m still catching up on two years worth of lost sleep!” But that’s not fair, is it? You should be allowed to have bad days, and as a girlfriend, I should hold them to the same regard as my bad days. I have to remind myself not to use double standards.

Overall, it is a thrilling position to date a single mother. Be prepared to have a woman who is upfront, passionate, and nurturing. Whether or not you planned to be a father, there may also be a kid who falls in love with you, too. The reward is in the risk.

Related post: An Open Apology To My Kids On The Subject Of My Divorce

An Open Apology To My Kids On The Subject Of My Divorce

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I am sorry we failed. I will forever feel guilty that we broke your home and world apart. I know it’s ultimately for the best, but I know, and you have explicitly told me, that you would rather us all live together with some tension than separately tension-free. You don’t know that I was no longer living and now you have a mother, when before I could barely breathe. I know at 7 and 10 you want your mom and dad together and for that I am so sorry.

I am sorry you have to move back and forth between two homes. Going away for a weekend causes stress when I pack. I plan what I need: clothing, jewelry, shoes, jackets, electronics and toiletries. You are forced to move several times a week and you don’t complain. If something is needed from the other house you make do without or mention it without reprimand or annoyance. You are always in one car going to another house. It’s exhausting for me and I am sure it is for you. I created this and I am sorry.

I’m sorry you will have to deal with the uncomfortable and embarrassing reality of your dad and I dating, loving, kissing and hugging someone other than your mom or dad. It will be great for you to see what a stable and healthy relationship is. But, I get that lesson is not top of mind for you. Affection between parents is nauseating enough for kids and teenagers. To bear witness to your mom or dad with their girlfriend or boyfriend must be even more skin crawling.

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I’m sorry that even though your dad and I are really good at not putting you in the middle, your reality inherently makes you smack dab in the thick of it. If we were married and you went out for a day with dad and had fun, great! Now sentences start with “no offense mom but I had the best time…with daddy and my cousins.” No offense taken, my heart is filled whenever you have good quality time with your dad and extended family, on either side. My heart breaks a little that somewhere inside, you feel a twinge of guilt for it.

I am sorry that you miss me at bedtime, are lonely sometimes in your new home, miss your dad when we go on vacation and have to always think about whose house you are sleeping in tonight. I’m sorry you have to tell your friends you have two homes, grasp for words to describe our significant others and have to spend every holiday split. I’m sorry that even though we try to handle it all behind the scenes, you still wind up being the western union, relaying messages back and forth. You are people, not robots, and I’m sorry that just because today is Tuesday and that is “my day”, doesn’t mean you don’t want to hang with Dad. And maybe on a Thursday, “dad day”, you want some time with me. You don’t have the luxury of having complete access to your parents. As you go to bed on your 10th birthday with tears in your eyes and tell me that now you have a to wait 365 days until you can get one dinner with just your dad, sister and me and how it really sucks that you only get that once a year, I am more sorry than you will ever know.

I’m mostly sorry that I am not a child of divorce. I know what it’s like to be left out from a group of friends, not be picked first for a team, feel insecure, lonely or do poorly on a test. I know what it feels like to be teased, want the skirt your friend has or wish you were allowed to watch a movie that I keep saying no to. I know what it’s like to want chocolate and not carrots, be annoyed with your sister, or brother, have a great day and want to run home and tell both parents. I know how it feels to yearn to be older, do more, make more decisions. I can relate and offer advice on all of this. I do not know what it’s like to be a kid of divorce. I do the best I can to empathize and put myself in your shoes. I will walk down your path next to you. But I can’t know your pain, the pain I have caused, and sorry is too small a word for what I feel.

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I am hopeful that this will be your sucky lot in life and that your other roads will run smoother. We all have shit to deal with and within the pain there are innumerable lessons you will learn. You won’t realize these lessons, they won’t stand out. They will be part of the fabric of your soul. You will be compassionate, flexible and have a world-view that is one more expansive than I had growing up. From a young age you see your dad and I, as people, not just parents and this will serve you well.

My love for you is greater than my guilt. While I am so very sorry for all the sucky things that divorce means for you, I have the knowledge of what our collective alternative was and am unwavering in my decision that this was the best path for all of us.

But I’m still sorry.

Happy Father’s Day, Single Moms

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The other day as I was picking up my son from preschool, a little girl from his class tugged on my sweater and asked, in front of my son Eddie, “Where is Eddie’s daddy?” Without missing a beat, I smiled and matter-of-factly gave what has become my standard reply, “He doesn’t have a daddy.” The little girl stood, processing this impossible factoid, and before I could snag Eddie’s lunchbox from his cubby and dash away from the impending stream of potentially awkward questions, the young Barbara Walters asked, “Did his daddy DIE?”

“No,” I responded. “Eddie just doesn’t have a daddy. Some families have mommies and daddies, and some have just mommies, or just daddies, or maybe just grandparents. Eddie has a mommy and a sister, and that’s his family.”

This statement rendered me a total oddity of nature in the eyes of this five-year-old girl, who had, as I was discovering much to my chagrin, been fully educated on all things bee and bird related. She smooshed up her face in confusion and began to ask, “But…”

And then my son interrupted.

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“I twied a new food today, Mom! C’we go to Tahget?” he asked, totally unaffected. Yes. Yes, we can go to Target and get you a prize for trying diced pears today, little dude. Nice work. High five.

See, my son gets it. At least for now, he gets it. He doesn’t question his slightly unorthodox family unit, or the fact that though I bear little to no resemblance to the Virgin Mary, he was apparently borne of immaculate conception. I’ve told him simply and lovingly since he was old enough to inquire, that he just doesn’t have a dad, and he’s ok with that explanation. In fact, he’s better than ok. My son is happy. He’s delightfully happy, funny, smart as a whip, gentle, adorable, sweet, quick to laugh, empathetic. He loves monster trucks and cars of all kinds, video games, kicking a soccer ball, playing with friends. He’s a hugger, a kisser, and an all-around wonderful little person. He’s five years old. And he’s never met his ‘dad.’

The ‘why’ is not important now. It’s part of my history. It’s not something I dwell upon, fret about, wish were different, or feel victimized about. In fact, I am truly happy being a solo parent and genuinely believe that my decision to raise him alone was the best one I could have made for my son and for myself, given the circumstances. I’m not a fan of the term ‘blessed,’ but I consider myself so. Yes, working fulltime and raising children alone is at times exhausting – and yes, sometimes financially stressful – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except that maybe I’d not be turning prematurely gray, but hey. They make great boxed hair color these days. In non-drip foam!

As Father’s Day quickly approaches, I’m gearing up for the time of year when, in my family, we celebrate my dad, my beloved late grandfather (for whom my son is named, in part), my brother-in-law, and myself. Yes, I’m a mom but I’m also Eddie’s ‘dad’ in many ways, though he doesn’t likely look at me that way, and I have no current plans to purchase myself a jockstrap or grow a goatee. In spirit, however, and in an effort to raise a well-rounded kid who lacks a strong male role model in his everyday life, I’m both mother and father. I’m nurturer and I’m teacher. I’m “let’s bake a cake together” mom and “let’s go to the Monster Truck jamboree” dad. I taught my son to use his manners, and I taught him to pee standing up. I take him to the doctor, hold and hug him as he gets his yearly shots… and encourage him to be brave and shake it off when he falls off his bike. Yes, it’s a bit like having a split personality, but much more gratifying (and much less creepy).

That said, every year as we close in on this national holiday, I have ‘the talk’ with Eddie’s teacher, as they change from year to year. There will be class projects, see. The kids will make something special to take home to dad. Dads are invited to join the kids at school for a morning breakfast. I’ll explain to his teacher that I’ll be attending that breakfast, thank-you-very-much, and that perhaps my son can make his craft projects for his grandpa or his uncle or for me. Then, if I’m lucky, I’ll be the proud new recipient of a macramé tie that I’ll display at home on the bookshelf. It’ll go right next to the adorably painted-shut purple wooden jewelry box he made me for Mother’s Day.

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So, this is dedicated to my fellow fabulous single moms. And plenty of not-exactly-solo-but-very-hardworking moms who oftentimes do their fair share of ‘fathering.’ For that matter, there are plenty of solo dads raising kids alone who deserve to be presented with a Mother’s Day jewelry box and half a Costco muffin while sitting in a too-small chair in their kid’s classroom, too. Maybe it’s time to do away with Mother’s and Father’s Days entirely, and just morph them into Parent’s Day, but hold it twice a year so we don’t lose out on a perfectly good eggs benedict brunch.