After one meeting with my ex and our lawyers to negotiate the custody agreement of our divorce, I went home, busted out the calculator, and cried. I freaked out at the idea of being away from my kids for extended hours or days, and I need to know how many hours each week I would spend with my son and daughter under various arrangements. How many hours they would be sleeping, in day care and with their dad? How many minutes each week would they be mine? When we separated, I was pregnant and my daughter was not quite 2. I subscribed to many tenets of attachment parenting. I was used to being with my tiny children the vast majority of the time, running errands with one or the other strapped to my chest, their tiny bodies cozied up to mine in bed, the little one would nurse at least a year like his sister.
Anything less than that seemed devastating. They needed me so, so much, I thought. And I needed them.
Fast-forward three years, and when my ex texts to say he’s skipping a visit for reasons well within his control (a party, volunteer work, a last-minute weekend trip to California), I lose my mind. I get crazy-angry at his cavalier approach to parenting and how that affects the kids. I also resent that I don’t get my scheduled kid-free time. Those hours are a precious commodity I fully utilize to nurture friendships, date, work, exercise and relax. When the kids come home Sunday evening from their weekly overnight, we are all so happy to see each other and I can feel in my whole body how much more energy I have for them.
Never in a bazillion years would I have imagined I’d feel like that.
Recently I’ve heard a number of stories about mothers who fight against extended visitation schedules because, they insist, their tiny children should not be separated from them. In several cases, the mothers argued that their nursing babies should not be apart from them overnight, even though those babies were toddlers — a position my divorce lawyer friend says a judge would laugh at, especially if an enthusiastic father was pushing for more access to his kids. She’s seen judges order babies as young as 3 months stay overnight with their fathers.
When I hear about these cases, I sympathize with the women. After all, I was there myself! But I also see how easy it to get sucked into thinking of ourselves as mothers beyond everything else — women, wives, lovers. My first few years of intense motherhood were some of the sweetest of my life. The 24/7 selflessness required to care for a baby has infinite rewards for all parties involved. But then life changes, and it goes on. For me, being a single mother forced me to develop all the parts of myself: mother, women, professional, friend, lover. I cannot afford to hone in on my children as my everything. Eggs in one basket. One-legged stool. You know the clichés. Playing all these roles can be exhausting, but it makes me more dynamic and stronger person. And it makes me a more dynamic and stronger mother.