When Billy and I were separating, I thought divorce meant giving up the children for half of the rest of their lives. I understand now that is a touch dramatic (and entirely wrong) but then, the thought paralyzed me. I nearly stayed in a marriage that no longer served us because I didn’t want to lose half of my children’s childhood. I didn’t want to stop being a full-time parent.
One morning, I described this fear to a single father I knew at work. Desperate for information, I wanted to understand how he coped with sharing custody of his teenage son. I asked him how it felt to be a part-time parent. Looking back, I am stunned I got any response other than a dead-eye stare and a full view of his back as he walked away, but people are kind.
Even when faced with judgmental, ignorant questions like “How do you cope with being only a part-time parent?,” people are kind.
He calmly and firmly replied that he was not a part-time parent; he just had his son in his house half of the time. “I am fully involved in my son’s life. Same worries, same dreams, same frustrations. I’m a full-time parent, just like you are.”
I’d like to say that all my prejudices fell away at that moment, and I understood and respected the role of a parent with shared custody. But, unfortunately, I am not that mature or evolved. I still worried that my relationship with the children would suffer tremendously, and that I’d miss half of their firsts. But Ken’s response and his calm security in his role stuck with me.
Years later, after single-motherhood and now fully in the throes of blended family bliss, the idea that divorce made me a part-time parent makes me snort-laugh.
Gabe and I just finished one of the two weekends a month where we do not have any children in the house. These are the weekends that make married first-family parents jealous. “No kids at all? For the full weekend?” they ask. “Must be nice,” they say, exchanging tired glances.
I know what they’re imagining, because I used to think that way too. They’re imagining long-ago pre-kid weekends. The ones where you ran your one load of laundry and stopped by the organic market and counted your errands done. The ones where you spent Sunday morning in bed until early afternoon, and didn’t get dressed until your dinner reservation. They’re imagining Saturday tee times and dinner at that restaurant they read about last year and three hours uninterrupted hours at the spa. There may be parents with shared custody arrangements that life that life. Gabe and me? Not so much.
Don’t get me wrong. Gabe golfs occasionally on the weekends we don’t have children, and we eat at places without kid menus. We plan date nights. A couple of times a year we even pack up and sneak away for the weekend. But on the whole, the days when the kids sleep at their other homes are still filled with parenting responsibilities.
Let me paint you a word picture of our most recent kid-less weekend. Friday, after Billy picked up the children, Gabe and I went to dinner. Not the white tablecloth reservation dinner you’re imagining, but a quick appetizer extravaganza at a local restaurant. Our conversation wasn’t deep or intimate – it mostly focused on logistics for the weekend and what we had to get done to keep this show on the road. Still, it involved cocktails and cloth napkins, so it totally counts as a date.
We finished dinner and went to the theater – the first of three performances we saw this weekend. Big art weekend over here, all high-brow culture, all the time. This one was Simon’s high school production of Julius Caesar. It was very good high school theater, but it was still high school theater. After the show, we negotiated after-play curfews with our star and headed home.
Saturday wasn’t a no-kid loungefest either. We ran three loads of laundry, cleaned out the fridge, signed permission slips and added to the hidden Christmas present stash. Sara had a concert performance, and we celebrated Jack’s birthday at the arcade. We picked up nuggets for the party, and spent the celebration counting little boys and squirting them with hand sanitizer. As parents do. We ran my kiddos back to Billy after the Jack’s party, and rushed downtown for our second performance, a speaker we unexpectedly got tickets to on Friday. We drove through Hardees for dinner, because we’re fancy and health obsessed.
Sunday, Gabe went to church with the kids, and I started meal prep for the week. I baked Jack’s cake for his family celebration on Thursday. We hit Costco, saw a play my sister is in, and ran forgotten Monday must-haves to the kids at their other homes. More laundry. We cleaned out the pantry, and wondered, for the thousandth time, why half-finished lollipops must be covered with plastic bags and stuck in the snack bowl. Why can nothing be thrown away?! We loaded and unloaded the dishwasher. We balanced the checking account and figured out why we’ve been running hot on the household budget (dang teens and cellphones). We binge watched This is Us and stayed up way too late.
That’s it – that’s our “kid-less” weekend. A couple of grown up activities thrown into the usual mix of care and keeping of six children. Jealous?
Honestly, I am grateful for weekends like this one. I agree with what Ken said so many years ago – divorce didn’t make me a part-time parent. I am a full-time mom and now a full-time stepmom, and have the sticky counters and smudgy walls to prove it. The kids just sleep here half the time. I love the balance of these weekends without children: time with Gabe, time with kids, and time to catch up on the care and feeding of this tribe (in the quiet – the rare and every so blissful quiet). This is the rhythm of our life in progress.
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