As a single mom who shares physical custody with my girls’ father, there is one comment that I hear quite often that makes me cringe: “Well at least you get some time for yourself!”. This comment comes after someone hears some of the basics of my story and finds out that dad is back in the picture and has visitation on a regular basis. My general sense is that people feel sorry for my situation, and feel relieved to know that my life is not quite as bad/crazy as they initially imagined. And while I sincerely believe that these people mean well (I have gotten this comment from several people that I consider close friends and even family), the reality is that I do not feel that way about my time away from my children at all.
Let me start by saying again that I know that the people who make this comment mean well. My hope is that by sharing my story, I can help some people to better understand what it is like to be in a joint custody situation when the relationship between co-parents is far from friendly.
There are two main factors that make my children’s time with their dad different from, for example, a regular babysitter who watches the kids while the adult runs errands or has some “me time”: 1) I don’t trust or like the person they are with, and 2) I didn’t choose to get someone to watch my children- I was required to do so by court order. There are a lot of people, myself included, who end up sharing physical custody of their children with someone they do not trust for legitimate reasons. While I doubt there are many who would say they like their ex-spouse, many who share custody would still say they trust their ex as a parent. In my case, I know that the time my children spend with their dad is emotionally damaging, but I don’t have the kind of proof that a court would need to keep them from spending time with him. And so I send them, week after week, to a person that I do not believe is keeping them safe and healthy. Not to do so would mean risking the time that I do have with them, so I do my best to give them the emotional and psychological tools they need to become healthy, strong young women, in spite of it all, while they are with me.
Because of these factors, I don’t consider the time my children spend with their dad to be “me time”- that time is not rejuvenating. While I have learned to accept the situation and feel confident that I am giving my girls the best situation I possibly can, I still feel better when I am with the girls than when they are with their dad. When they are with him, I try to spend as much time as I can working, running errands, or helping someone else so that I can keep my mind off of everything and be more available to the girls when they get back. I do make time for myself, but it is when the girls are safe and sound in their beds with me, not when they are visiting their other parent.
So the next time you find yourself talking to someone who shares custody of their children, take a moment to put yourself in their situation and consider if the time they have away from their children is actually helpful or not. In some cases the answer will be yes, but sometimes that may not be the case. I hope my story will help more people understand each other better, and make us better equipped to help and support each other as parents in all walks of life.
From August 31 to September 4, 2015, How Do You Do It? is running a series on “me time” for mothers: why we need it, how we make it, what we do with it. Find the full list of posts on the theme week page.
Have you blogged about mommy time on your own blog before? Are you inspired to do so now? Link your posts at our theme week link up! We’ll do our best to share them on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter with the hashtag #metime.