Co-Parenting? Here Are 4 Reasons to Appreciate That Time Without Your Kids
I bet you didn't think while first holding your baby in your arms, taking in her sweet scent, and vowing to yourself to never let anything happen to her, that one day she'd be out of your care for a large percentage of her childhood. I bet you didn't imagine that you wouldn't be able to kiss every boo-boo, dry every tear, or celebrate every win of your child's life right alongside her.
Well, that's the harsh reality of being a co-parent. Co-parenting is a beast unlike any other in the world; I once deemed it the punishment of divorce. Yet somehow, I've made it three years as a co-parent without losing my mind. I've come close, don't get me wrong. I've cried more tears after starting my co-parenting journey than I likely had in my entire lifetime. My daughter was 2 years old, still toddling around in diapers and speaking in a language only Mommy could understand, when her dad and I split. That was when my time to parent her split in half too, right along with my heart.
I'll be honest, the first year was hell—something I felt I couldn't handle. Yet somehow I did because I realized I was left with only two options: sink or swim. And frankly, I had made it 33 years in life by swimming through it all, so I made it a priority to focus on the positive and that made all the difference.
So, how do you do it? How do you manage to stay sane and not spiral completely out of control when not with your child or children—especially during difficult times like the pandemic? Here's how I make the most of my situation and what I focus on through the harder, darker days of co-parenting.
Remind yourself you are lucky.
There's a lot in my life that brings me down and I could sit around complaining about, but despite it all, I feel lucky. Obviously not lucky to be without my child sometimes, but lucky for the circumstances as to why I'm now a divorced co-parent. I remind myself that I'm lucky to have chosen to leave a situation that didn't benefit me, that didn't provide my daughter with a healthy example of what a loving relationship is supposed to look like, or provide me with the peace of mind and happiness I needed to thrive as a mother. I remind myself that it's better for my daughter's sake to come from a "broken home" than live in one.
Becoming a single mom also forced me to level up in the motherhood world. I knew that ultimately how I felt, lived, and reacted during the early stages of separation would impact my daughter the most, therefore I truly learned the meaning of counting my blessings—and I encourage you to do the same. You may not have your kids with you as much as you want, but you have the ability to live a life that makes you happy now that you're no longer in your marriage. And a happy mother is far more beneficial to her children than a married one.
Think quality vs. quantity.
Science shows the quality of time a parent spends with his or her child makes a greater impact than the quantity of time. Having my daughter only 50 percent of the time has really encouraged me to make our moments together count for something. Sometimes it's scheduling activities I know my daughter loves; sometimes it's a trip to the museum together, learning and laughing, and sometimes it's nothing more than cuddles on the couch while watching a favorite movie or reading books. Whatever it is that we're doing though, even though it is only for 50 percent of her childhood, it has 100 percent of my attention and heartfelt effort.
Now, during the pandemic where we've spent more than 10 weeks staying at home, my time with my daughter has significantly ramped up, so you can bet I'm making the most of it. Though our 50/50 schedule is still in place, she's no longer in school which means I'm getting an extra eight or so hours per day with her—but who's counting?! We spend the day outdoors riding bikes and playing with chalk. Indoors we are baking, painting, and working on her reading (next stop, kindergarten!). I have not spent this much time with my daughter in more than three years, and while it's hard to be your child's sole source of entertainment, nourishment, and academics during a crisis, I know this is time I'll never get back.
Make time for yourself.
Whether you're still a single parent, or you're remarried and blending a family like me, it's critical that you step away from it all from time to time for your mental well-being. There is no harder job than single parenthood, and frankly, blending a family can be a full-time job in itself as well, so I have to revert to the old, overused cliché here and shout from the top of my lungs: "Take care of yourself, because no one else will." Cheesy or not, it's very, very true.
If you're going to be at 100 percent for your kids when you do have them, that tank of yours better be full and revved up with energy. I tend to gravitate toward activities during my time without my daughter that spike my serotonin levels and perk up my endorphins, such as exercise, dates with my husband, and girls' nights with friends. And if I'm being honest, I've spent many a day in the quiet of my bedroom, binge-watching whatever it is I feel like binge-watching with a few snacks within reach. (I've been doing the latter a lot more during stay-at-home orders.)
Self-care doesn't have to be about the spa or spending money, but it does have to make you feel good, and if you've been through a divorce or a breakup of some kind, you know just how important taking care of yourself is.
Remember, this isn't only about you.
I'd like to thank my therapist, my husband, and even my ex-husband for pointing out, during certain times of despair, that this whole co-parenting thing isn't just about me. This whole thing is for the kids. Sure, consistency is ideal in any home, but losing time with a parent is much more detrimental to a child's long-term emotional well-being than some inconsistencies in routine.
Co-parenting is about your children. It's about my child getting to spend half of her life with her other parent—whether it hurts me or not. And when it does hurt me, I remind myself that if she's happy, healthy, and safe with her father, then that's more than I can ask for, right?
So, as you kiss your kids goodbye for their weekend with their other parent, or lay there missing them as the silence in your home becomes too deafening for you to bear, remind yourself you'll make it through this weekend, and the next one, too. Long as you choose to focus on the positive, you'll not only make it through, you'll grow stronger each and every time—and what's better for a child than to have a strong, confident, capable parent?
Michelle Dempsey-Multack is a mother, writer, speaker, marketing expert, and fierce girl-gang enthusiast. A native New Yorker, Michelle now resides in Miami with her 4-year-old daughter, Bella, her husband Spencer, a beautiful step-daughter, and a very needy cat. She's currently also helping with the Masks for Heroes initiative, which accepts requests on its website for PPE from any person, group, or faculty in need, whether it be hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, or community outreach programs.