My children were quite young when my first marriage dissolved. My oldest daughter was about two and my youngest had just turned one. My ex-husband and I went through a very quick dissolution. However, I was truly the “at-fault” party and not willing to fight for fear it would be long and drawn out. I gave in to an agreement where he had residential custody. That means our girls will go to school where he lives. It also means I had them one less day of the week than him. My schedule was Sunday night, Wednesday night and every other weekend. Holidays are dictated by a very strict scheduled, referred to as local rule 21, and initially we followed it with precision.
Our separation, my new life and the many, many changes as a result of shapeshifting into a single mom took quite an emotional toll on me. Matters were made worse as I was still reeling from some emotional breakdown. I lost my mother, had both girls, taught classes part time and worked full time. My marriage had dissolved and the world I knew literally melted before my eyes. I’m not sure if it was a manic episode, post-partum depression or post-traumatic stress. In fact, thousands of dollars in doctors bills still hasn’t provided a clear answer. All I know is my life and the way I felt was one hot mess.
Women I knew would frequently say to me, “Oh, I don’t know how you do it. I wouldn’t know what to do without my babies. You must be miserable.” Well, I was miserable. Honestly, it wasn’t due to a few days absence from my children. I needed those hours, those days to pick up the pieces of my disheveled life. But all I heard over and over and over, was, “I would be lost without my babies.”
It wasn’t just one woman that would say this. It seemed every mom I knew felt it necessary to remind me I should be suffering miserably with the absence of my “babies.” This isn’t how I roll though. I love my children madly, deeply and unconditionally. But I am not one of those moms on the first day back from maternity leave to cry uncontrollably at the doors of my workplace grieving the loss of my one-on-one time with my children. I was “that mom” who felt I might just enjoy some breakfast alone on the happy day I dropped my child at day care and returned to my first day back to work. I don’t even like breakfast. I was just ready to relish the first moment of being back to myself, enjoying silence and enjoying my thoughts, for the first time in 90 days. I wasn’t crying, my soul was celebrating the return of me.
So, the women in my life provided no solace for my new freedom. They shunned me with guilt. For years I felt this sickness, a dirty, guilty feeling that I was a bad mom because I enjoyed my days or weekends to myself. No one I knew ever said to me, “Wow, that must be nice to have the time to get things done. That must be nice to catch up on laundry, sleep in, go shopping or even pee with no one interrupting you.” It was quite the contrary, I was like a leper and I temporarily allowed this cloud of stigma to impact how I felt.
Going back a few years, I will say I felt similar feeling on maternity leave. Those 90 days at home alone were the hardest job I’ve ever worked. I had little help from my husband and it was a full time job 24 hours a day. My first daughter would scream for hours, no rocking, no feeding, no amount of love would console her. I learned little tricks along the way to help. One trick was to run the vacuum in her room. Strangely, she would be silent as that vacuum hummed along. I felt guilt doing that so I would only employ that trick when I felt the largest of meltdowns was approaching.
Both maternity leaves were no vacation. I was taking care of me as I recovered from c-sections, my husband and a new child that did not come with any instructions or handbook. Every mom I talked to said it was the most rewarding and fulfilling time of her life. No mom I knew told me it was hard. No one told me I might cry. Everyone painted it to be a magical, wonderful, experience that was full of joy. There was no mention of any level of difficulty. I thought I was doing something wrong. I felt guilt and shame for looking forward to a rare trip to the grocery store alone. I felt like the worst label in the world, I felt like a horrible, awful, terrible mom.
My girls are eight and nine now. My ex-husband is a tad more laid back and recognizes life is pretty stressful with pre-teen girls. As a result I have unlimited access to them. We have changed our schedule where I have both girls Sunday, every other weekend and then alone time. My oldest daughter is with me Monday and Tuesday and my youngest Wednesday and Thursday. Six years later I actually have more time with them than their father. I never thought that would happen.
Today, I enjoy, relish and take pride in my days and hours of non-child time. I bake, coordinate community events, go to meetings, sleep in, plan parties, shop, cook and do all the things I love to do. I have had the time to get to know myself and recognize my limits. I’ve gained confidence in who Sam really is. I know myself and now I finally love myself. And to those women that said, “I couldn’t live a minute without my babies,” I say to you, LIAR, LIAR PANTS ON FIRE!
There is a social stigma, primarily in the United States, where women are conditioned to think their lives must revolve around their children. If you don’t cherish every moment with your child you are a bad parent. And if you ever express any level of stress or embrace any moment where your child is not with you, then you are a very, very bad mom. We are taught to shun other women who might enjoy their freedom. We shun women finding themselves and women that might not be like us. We don’t tell the truth about our hardships. We smile and lie that everything is like a fairy tale. We tell other women that these moments are truly the dreams we have all had since childhood. We have our house and our babies and we are living the dream. Maternity leave is easy, raising a child is a breeze and life is just a big bowl of peaches and cream.
But for all of us it isn’t that. Some of us we need honesty. We need the support of other women. We need women to share their stories, provide their tips and tell the real hard truth. It is important we allow other women to appreciate their time to allow them get to know themselves. We should offer sympathy and honesty. And if we cannot give that we should refer our friend to a professional or just smile and nod. Sometimes we will all find that we are feeling the same feelings and we can break through the ever so high bar of the perfection of motherhood.
Now I have people tell me they have no idea how I do it. Well, I can do what I do because I have time. I have grown to understand myself and know my limits. I have days and weekends that allow me to time get things done. Honestly, most of my free time is dedicated to planning the next moment with my children, but sometimes it is just about me. I do things because I have time. And, this time that once I felt guilty for having I simply love. I think my absence from my children allows me to appreciate the time I do spend with them and it allows me to be present during that time. And that’s all that really matters.
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