Believe It Or Not, There Are Benefits To Shared Custody

by Michelle Dempsey
Originally Published: 
Katherine DeFalco Skolnick of Defalco Design

Here’s what happens when you only have your kid half the time.

I separated from my soon-to-be ex-husband a little over a year ago. My daughter had just turned two, and we had just moved out of the big, beautiful home we all shared together. It still feels as if I just woke up one day with the idea that I could take it upon myself to handle single mom life, separation, and all the seriously serious shit that comes along with divorcing without any kind of hiccup or hardship. And then I followed through on all this divorce stuff.

But that’s another story all together. I handled the split much better than I expected. I learned very quickly that there’d be little time for self-pity and tears – I had a little girl to raise, after all. I took each day in stride, tackling the hard parts as they happened and relishing in my strength. I woke up each morning a little more empowered than the previous day, and I would go to sleep at night feeling like if I could handle this, I could handle anything.

And then we started timesharing.

This was the part I hadn’t thought through. I mean, push past that foggy post-separation haze, and you’d find all of the single-mom reality I had been avoiding: Time-sharing being reality number one, with legal fees taking a close second.

Having no relationship at all whatsoever with my own father, I knew for sure that I wanted my daughter and her dad to always have a loving bond. I never once thought about what it would feel like though – for my daughter to start shuffling between two homes, having two different bedtime routines, two different ways to bribe her into brushing her teeth, two different sets of clothes. Two different everything.

Not long after our separation, it was time for my daughter’s first overnight with her dad. We didn’t have a divorce agreement figured out yet, and since my home was significantly closer to her school, we were going to test out a weekend overnight to start.

Okay, I can handle just one night per week,” I thought to myself, wondering if the silence of my home would drive me to drink. I packed her overnight bag feeling as numb as I did the day her dad and I split, tears soaking the tiny socks I folded into her Minnie Mouse backpack.

Will he hear her cries in the middle of night? Will he remember that she likes two bedtime stories before she brushes her teeth and two more after?

I panicked about each and every detail – and off she went. I clutched my phone that first night, pacing the floors of my home like a madwoman, missing her voice, her smile, and the even the sound of her fork hitting the floor at dinner, as it almost always does.

And guess what happened next? Nothing. Nada. Everything was fine. She had a great night with her dad.

It wasn’t long after this that our time-sharing split went from one night per week, to two, and then into full blown 50/50 time-sharing schedules. Two nights here, one night there, and vice versa, became my new normal, our new normal – her new little life.

I took solace in the fact that her life before separation was something she’d never remember, and her “new” normal wasn’t new at all – it was all she’d ever know.

And I realized that just because it hurts me to kiss her goodbye when it’s time to go to daddy’s house, doesn’t mean it’s not the best for her. I began to take solace in the fact that her life before separation was something she’d never remember, and her “new” normal wasn’t new at all – it was all she’d ever know.

And as I’ve found out, having your child only 50% of time teaches you some other important lessons as well.

In fact, once you realize that every decision you make in a co-parenting relationship is solely for the benefit of your child – your perspective will change. It better. So, if you’re thinking of divorcing, or you’ve recently separated, or you’re just trying to find some strength in your new life of time-sharing and single-momhood, hear this – there are some amazing things that happen when you only have your child or children half the time, as scary as that sounds.

1. Time-sharing puts the quality in quality time.

Less time with your child puts an emphasis on quality time – like, to the max. It becomes about so much more than just trying to get through a day with your toddler. It’s about making each and every freakin’ second count – from the moment you say good morning to that last kiss goodnight. Hell, when it’s my weekend with her, I soak in each and every moment like crops after a drought – not wanting to waste a drop. Whether it’s a day packed with playdates, birthday parties, and trips for ice cream – or time at home working on crafts and having impromptu dance battles – all 50% of my time with my daughter feels richer, tastes better, and has more meaning than I could ever put into words.

2. You learn who your real friends are.

When my daughter first started having overnights at her dad’s house and I was still single, my real friends stepped up to the plate – big time. Whether if it was to meet up for a walk around Target, sit on my couch with a bottle of wine, or head out for a girl’s night – my support system made themselves known loud and clear, and I had never been more grateful for my friends at that point in time.

And then, of course, there were the friends you never heard from again. The ones who were clearly so uncomfortable by your split that they couldn’t bother to call or check in. The ones who made insensitive comments like, “Oh, just try to enjoy the free time, you’ll be fine.” Yea, these were the ones who made you want to throw punches, but more importantly, made you appreciate the village you found in your hard times.

3. You stop sweating the small stuff.

On my daughter’s first overnight away from me, I literally woke up twice thinking I heard her crying in the other room. Then I stayed up all night, driving myself bonkers with thoughts about whether or not her teeth got brushed, what she had eaten, whether she was going to be cold in the middle of the night – you know, the thoughts of a super anxious mom. Over time, however, I stopped sweating this shit. My concern shifted from micromanaging her time with her dad to trusting in the notion that she was being cared for and doing things that made her happy. It’s amazing how much less of a control freak I’ve become actually – even I can hardly believe it.

Look, of course there are parts about timesharing that will still suck: the playdates with your mom friends that you can’t make because you don’t have your child, the bedtime snuggles that will one day no longer exist as she makes her way into the “leave me alone, mom” years, and the fact that, yes, you only have time with the child you created for half of her adolescent life.

But at the end of the day, if you shift your perspective and learn from the experience, you’ll be that much better of a parent. If I can do it, I promise that you can too.

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