5 Co-Parenting Truths Only A Divorced Parent Could Understand

by Michelle Dempsey
Originally Published: 
Blonde mother wearing a white shirt while sitting at the grass with her daughter next to her

I’m part of the 50%. A world of halves. My world is 50% of what it used to be. The 50% is a club I never imagined I’d be a part of, but it is one I try my hardest to adapt to, and try my hardest to pretend I enjoy. I try my hardest to swallow the pain of being stuck in this reality. But since I’m stuck in this world of half-this and half-that, I may as well play along.

Because if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em – or something like that.

This 50% I’m talking about is life as a divorced parent. It’s the life of a mom who splits her time in half with her ex-spouse, even if she dies a little each time her two days are over, when her 3-year-old is off to her dad’s house, and it’ll be two days before you see her sweet smile again

This is co-parenting life. A life of timesharing and calendars and hoping someone will be kind enough to switch days when you need it. The kind you may have tried to avoid by staying in a marriage that no longer served you for more time than you should have. The kind no one prepares you for. The one you try your hardest to excel in but feel totally set back with each exchange of your child.

No one exactly looks forward to a life that means only seeing their child half of the time. The pain of it is a constant dull ache, peppered with a random burst of agonizing pain, and the only pain reliever that masks the feeling is reminding yourself, “This is good for her, she’s lucky to have a dad who loves her.”

Because she is, and lord knows I would have loved to have been this “lucky” through my own parents’ divorce. But I’m on the other side now – the one where I’m the parent, time is fleeting, and going to sleep each night knowing that I get to enjoy only half of my daughter’s life has become my new reality.

Sure, co-parenting has some major pluses, like individualized time with each parent, both of whom are happier post-divorce. I’m not saying that this 50% situation is all bad for the life of my daughter – not at all. But as a mom — a mom to a little girl who only lets you braid her hair, needs specific bedtime stories about specific real-life characters that only you know, and has that bond with her daughter that makes you wish the school day could end faster just so you can hear that giggle – your heartstrings are in a permanent tug.

A tug made stronger and more painful by the comments I receive on a daily basis. If you’re divorced, you know – you have likely heard all the same one’s as me:

But at least you get a break from being a mom. What a relief!” Eff you.

Don’t worry, you’ll see her soon!” What does soon mean to you?

Oh, I’m sure she has no concept of time. Don’t worry about it!” No, you’re right, I’ll just go about my life as if I don’t have a kid I don’t get to see for another few days.

“It could be worse.” Right, but that’s not helpful here.

Some of these may be true, but it still doesn’t take away the fact that I am part of the 50%.

Now before you accuse me of complaining, shame me for leaving an irreparable marriage, or think I’m just playing the victim – you should know that regardless of what I write, or how I feel, whether I’m smiling or not, there are certain co-parenting truths that simply cannot be avoided, no matter what.

1. You pour so much more of yourself into “your days” than you ever thought possible.

Nothing will make you put down the cell phone, cancel the conference call, and avoid all external white noise like knowing that in 48 hours, your daughter is off to her other home. Before my divorce, I used to pick up my daughter from school, leave her with a sitter, and return to running my business. Now, on the days I get to pick her up and have her in my home – the world stops at 3 p.m. when school is over and doesn’t resume until her head hits the pillow. We’re both better for this, and trust me when I tell you, there is no email or text more important than being able to prepare dinner with my little, watch her twirl around in her dress-up clothes, or color with her and look for ladybugs in the backyard.

2. You struggle with keeping consistency and routine in your child’s life.

As soon as I switched my daughter from a crib to a toddler bed, she stopped sleeping through the night. Each time she was at my home, she’d tip-toe into my room in the wee hours of the morning to cuddle up next to me. I loved it, but only briefly, as I realized that if I didn’t get her out of my bed now, I could risk having her in there forever. I worked my ass off to keep her in her own bed, losing hours of sleep in the process. Then she had vacation time with her dad – which meant a week out of her mommy’s house routine. I bet you can guess what happened to all of our hard work, huh? And it’s not that he deliberately tried to sabotage my hard work – it’s just really fucking hard to stay consistent in two places.

3. You constantly wonder how badly you’re messing up your kid.

That’s the 50% way of life. The first thought that always crosses my mind when her dad picks her up, whether she goes willingly, with a little coaxing, or in a full-blown “I want mommy” meltdown, is “How badly is this going to affect her later on?”

Then the guilt sets in, and you have to remind yourself why you’re in this position in the first place. “It’s better this way,” I tell myself constantly. “It’s better than her having to witness fighting and animosity and tension and unhealthy relationship patterns.”

But, oh, those “I want mommy cries” will kill you.

4. The FOMO is real.

Fear of missing out, that is. Of course, there is nothing better than getting the happy pictures and FaceTime calls from my daughter when she’s with her dad. Seeing her happy face means that maybe my theory on the whole “I’m screwing my kid up” thing is fake news. But then she’s at Disney on Ice, where her hero, Elsa, is likely having that kind of wide-eyed wondrous effect on your child – the one that makes parenting all worthwhile – and you’re not there to see it, and… fuck. Better distract myself today.

5. Nothing sucks harder than to have to turn down invitations because you don’t have your child that weekend.

Sorry, we can’t make it, Bella is with her dad that weekend,” is something that will never be easy to say. It will never feel okay to know that your child is missing out on a get-together with friends or worse, a holiday event with family because the stars didn’t align and your time-sharing calendar didn’t allow for it. Never. No matter how hard you to try to plan in advance, there are always the last minute play dates or visit from cousins that always seem to fall on the weekends that you’re 50%’ing it sans kids, and it’s a damning, isolating feeling.

But hey, this is the life I have now, right? May as well make the best of it. Make the most of every minute I get to spend with her, because time seems to pass faster each day. So, if you’re wondering why my child is my life, 100% of the time, and even more during my 50%, hopefully you understand a bit more about my adventures in co-parenting. But the truth is, I hope you never have to understand – I hope you never make it into the 50% club.

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