Why Sharing Custody With My Ex Makes Me a Better Mom

I’m going to admit something to you, xoJane readers: I am much happier as a part-time parent. My ex-husband and I share custody, and even though I love my child with every bit of my soul, there are times I really look forward to having every other week “off” from parenting.

Of course, I never truly stop being Oliver’s parent — it’s not like being off work in the nine-to-five job sense. But having a week where I don’t have to put anyone to bed, or be the disciplinarian, or wait until after 9:00 p.m. to watch my recorded HBO shows  is THE BEST. I feel like I can reclaim a bit of my old self, decompress, socialize with my childless friends, and most importantly, have some time alone.

This is a tough one for me to acknowledge. After all, as parents, aren’t we supposed to love spending all waking hours with our precious bundles of joy? Isn’t little junior supposed to be our number one focus in all things? And aren’t we supposed to shed our old identities and just become So-and-so’s Mom? (Note: I totally will answer if you call me “Oliver’s Mom.”)

Aren’t we supposed to sacrifice everything for our children?

All I know is that I am so much happier and less stressed now that I’m a divorced mom and I’ve learned to focus on myself first, and everyone else second (yes, including my child). As with everything I’ve written for xoJane, I firmly believe that I cannot speak for everyone, only myself. I share my experience with you and I hope you will share your experience with me. But it seems like science maybe proves I’m onto something here.

A study by the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that mothers who make their children the main focus of their lives tend to be more stressed than other mothers.

This: “Moms who take an “intensive” approach, marked by the belief that mothers are the most important people in baby’s life and that parents should always put their child’s needs first, are less likely to be satisfied with their lives and more likely to be stressed than more laid-back moms.”

Now, I don’t think science is advocating for all mothers to become part-time parents, like I did, in order to achieve happiness. I just thought this was an interesting bit of information.

I’ve been thinking lately about my part-time parent status and how it relates to my identity — as a mom, a daughter, a friend, a girlfriend, and you know, a human being — and how I don’t have to be all of one or the other. I can be everything at once, no matter how messy and imperfect. All these identities lie within me, like so many crayons melting on a hot sidewalk.* I can just be Me, and a fraction of that Me is Oliver’s Mom.

I know, I know, you’re thinking, “Somer, stop it with these mind-blowing revelations about modern femininity and motherhood. I have never heard these things before in women’s media. Now please tell me about work-life balance.”

Seriously, though, I’d like to take this opportunity to refer to a philosophy shared by both Jane and the TSA: put on your own oxygen mask first, even before your child’s.

When I divorced Seth, this is essentially what I did. We stayed together longer than we should have because we thought it was better for Oliver to grow up in a two-parent home and have the stability that neither Seth nor I ever had.

But I realized that continuing to do the thing that was making me so unhappy (remaining in my marriage) was also eventually going to make Oliver miserable. This is a concept known colloquially as, “If mama ain’t happy, nobody is.”

I felt like a terrible parent: impatient, resentful, angry, stressed. And all of these negative feelings grew out of the core of my unhappiness within my marriage. Clearly, putting my son first (in the form of giving him the two-parent household I thought he deserved) wasn’t doing either of us any good.

It was only when I decided to put myself first that I felt any sense of relief. Honestly, it was really difficult to do this when I was with my kid every day. My identity was wrapped up in being Mom, to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

And now that I have the amount of non-parenting time that I need, I feel like I’m a better parent. I lose my temper less often. My patience has increased tenfold. Most importantly, I’m more present with my kid, even though I see him less often.

Any other part-time parents out there? Is it a good situation for you, or a bad situation? If your kids live with you full-time, are you able to get some time to yourself now and then? How do you cope with the stresses of parenthood? And what do you think of the results of this study?

*Yes, that is a bad analogy right there, and I’ve been waiting to use it FOREVER.