The Dichotomy of a Life of Shared Custody

Ten years ago my first baby was born and I began what would be a nine year adventure as a stay at home mom. When he was six I started a part time job but I worked mostly nights and weekends so my then-husband, Kyle, could take care of the kids, to spare us childcare expenses (which, by then, needed to cover four children).

In 2011 Kyle and I separated for the first time but I still spent the majority of the week with my kids because I had a more flexible schedule while their dad worked full time. But every other weekend I found myself completely alone. After being a stay at home mom to four for so long, never having a moment to myself, this change was, to put it mildly, jarring.

I admit, the first two weekends I felt guilty when I realized I liked the calm and the quiet. I got so much work done, I slept for more than six hours a night, I could go out with a friend without asking Kyle for permission. By the third weekend, however, I missed my kids so much it hurt. There were days I needed to get something from the house but Kyle wouldn’t let me, saying it would be confusing for the kids. He didn’t want me to call them on the phone. My life for 8 years had been constant chaos, noise and mess and I had a difficult time adjusting to the silence of being in a home that held only me. Before getting married I’d live alone for about six months but saw Kyle everyday then so it barely counts – otherwise it was years of growing up with a large family, living in a huge dorm in college, a sorority house, sharing apartments with roommates. Alone was not even really in my personal dictionary.

Now that Kyle and I are divorced, a full half of my life I live without my children and I don’t have a boyfriend or even the prospect of a single date on the horizon. So 15 days a month I have that wonderful (ok, maybe romanticizing it a bit – it’s also sometimes stressful and crazy) experience of having my kids in my presence – their hugs and their fights over who gets to play with the clip that holds shut bags of generic cereal. My house is loud and sometimes sticky but it’s what I know and I love it all. Then the other 15 days they are with Kyle and I just float around in here by my lonesome.

It’s weird to live in such extremes, to flip from a five-person household to a one-person household every 2-5 days. I am still unsure how to buy groceries for this cycle. When I don’t have the kids I eat a lot of cereal and eggs instead of cooking meals. I hang laundry to dry on the boys’ bunk bed when they’re with their dad. I let the dishes pile up on the counter because I don’t use enough of them to run the dishwasher until the kids get back, anyway.

I’ve always been a social person, but I’ve found that after so many years of constant motion as a parent, I’ve become an activity junkie. It’s like I can’t even figure out how to sit still. So on the days I don’t have my kids I try to get out of the house as much as possible. I have two jobs which take up the bulk of my time, but I try to plan to be busy as much as possible – out with friends (which can either mean something tame like meeting for coffee or something a tad wild like dancing until 2am in clubs where we’re subjected to metal detectors before entering), run 5Ks, exercise, do things with my sister, go window shopping, and work some more.

Grocery shopping by myself when I was married was a rare treat. I’d go up and down every aisle to stretch out the experience, turning a 30-minute jaunt into an hour-long ordeal so I could have some relative peace and quiet before returning home and being bombarded by the kids’ love and needs. Now, on the days I go buy food without my little people causing a scene beside me, I feel too normal but also like I’m missing some key appendages. Turns out I miss other shoppers smiling at my beautiful babies or commenting on how I have my hands full or how lucky I am. There’s no sense of accomplishment from going into SuperTarget alone and getting the milk and bread without incident after years of successfully navigating the shelves with four kids in tow.

So now I save my grocery shopping for the days I have the kids. We pick out food together and they beg me to buy cookies and toys and when I say no my third will pout and my youngest will tell me I’m the meanest mom in the world but it all feels normal and right.

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Thanks to Jeni from highlyirritable for linking to my post Am I a Single Mom?

I’ve followed her blog for a while, and follow her on Twitter, too – love her dry sense of humor – so I was flattered she shared my essay!

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