For me, joint custody means half the time.
My ex-husband and I share approximately 50/50 custody of our son. The mediator described our joint custody as a rotating two-two-three. On either Monday or Wednesday mornings, I drop my son off at daycare and kiss him goodbye, knowing I won’t see him again for over 48 hours.
To say being without my son is HARD is putting it mildly. When it gets to be around 5:15 p.m., I start to get anxious, waiting to hear from my ex about how my son’s day went. I grip my phone from 8:30 p.m. on, until I get the text telling me he’s ready to Facetime goodnight. My stomach is in knots waiting to see his face for just a few minutes so I can tell him I love him, even if I’m not with him to say it in person.
Yet, there are perks to being alone.
On nights my son is with his father, I don’t have to worry about making dinner or packing lunch (for a 4-year-old whose tastes can change hourly). I only have to figure out what I am going to wear instead of what to dress him in, too. I can wake up, get ready, and be out the door in under 30 minutes when I’m by myself in the mornings. The day-to-day responsibilities go more quickly without a preschooler present.
Being child-free a few nights a week has also given (or forced) me the opportunity to spend more time with my friends — catching up with old, strengthening the bond with current, and even developing some new. I’m fortunate to have a small circle of women who have been incredibly supportive through my recent ups and downs. They comfort me while I ugly cry when I miss my son so much I physically hurt. Two minutes later, they make me cry from laughing so hard at stupid jokes on our nights out.
I recently stepped WAY out of my comfort zone and signed up for dating apps. (Tinder and Bumble and Match, oh my!) This is an experience words fail to describe. I started dating my ex-husband when I was 19, so my dating history was minimal. I’m not happy divorce has forced me into the online dating pool. But I am grateful for some of the things I’ve learned about myself (and others) in the process. Fortunately, the online dating game (and trust me, it’s a game… maybe even a sport) did lead me to find a guy who, so far (a couple months in), seems great. My child-free nights allow me to get to know him without logistical concerns or the cost of a babysitter.
But it’s still far from easy.
Even though I enjoy the activities I do when I don’t have my son, being a mom never shuts off. Joint custody means I miss my son ALL THE TIME. I think about him before I go to sleep and right when I wake up. And countless times in between. I miss snuggling with him on the couch watching terrible children’s TV and hearing his little voice tell me how much he loves me. And the guilt is still VERY REAL.
I may not technically be choosing to be apart from him in this joint custody setup, but it sometimes feels like just a technicality, and there can be a sense that I shouldn’t enjoy my time without my son. Then I feel guilty that my head is somewhere else and not with whoever I am spending time with. It can be exhausting. While it’s nice to have time to get things done without a preschooler around, there’s a sense of urgency to make sure everything I can get done is done so when I do have him, he is my sole focus.
What’s most reassuring is that despite divorce, I know he’s still lucky.
My son is safe and happy and very well cared for with his father. And for that, I am so grateful — I know there are countless single parents who cannot say the same. My son has so many people in his life who love and care for him — both his parents, his father’s girlfriend and her family, his grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, teachers, friends. Though his parents are not together, there is no lack of love and care for him in his little world.
I am still learning how to manage my feelings about physically being with my son only part time while trying to step back from mentally being there full time. I’m sure that is going to continue to be a giant joint custody learning curve. For now, though, I need to soak up the snuggles and I love yous every chance I get and let those feelings carry me through to my next chance to get them again.
Because that first hug at daycare pickup on transition days is one of the best.