Are you a mom who wishes you were the non-custodial parent?


“I hate to admit it, but motherhood has been very difficult for me. I love my daughter beyond all reason, but as a ‘thinking’ woman, it has taken away a part of my spirit ..I can’t help but feel a deep resentment that I gave up so much of my life and very identity. My ex and I have 50/50 custody of our 8-year-old and I’m starting to consider asking him to shoulder more of the parenting burden.”

That is what one mom wrote on one of the groups, recently. It took my breath away — not because of what she confessed, but because of the courage to be so very honest.

Immediately other moms chimed in, sharing their own feelings about depression, overwhelm and secret wishes they had more help — including from their kids’ dads. I shared how my own feelings have shifted over the years — from being devastated to be away from my babies for a moment, to encouraging my ex take them way more our custody agreement stipulated.

This kind of sharing is so cathartic — when you’re a single mom there are so many things that can contribute to feeling of shame — the end of a marriage, pregnancy outside of marriage, not enough money, feeling like you’re not doing enough for your kids, or that you’re totally alone in a world of married people. But one thing I’ve learned by sharing my own story on my blog is that if I experience it or feel it, other people do too. I’m not so special that my feelings are unique. And that gives me comfort.

What are you thinking and feeling? What are your feelings of shame as they relate to being a single mom? Share them on the forums, or share in the comments.


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14 thoughts on “Are you a mom who wishes you were the non-custodial parent?

  1. A reader unsubscribed to my newsletter after reading this. She wrote:

    “Our feelings about single motherhood vary too greatly. I learned early on to surrender to motherhood and although it has been and continues to be challenging at times, the fact that I feel incredibly blessed to share every day I can with my girls, now 14 and 17, makes it all worth while. When I counsel single mothers, I help them find solutions to ensure they can take time for themselves and be able to spend quality time with their kids. This creates positive results that empower them to celebrate their successes as single parents and overcome the challenges. I hope that you will one day be able to feel the joy and strength that comes with raising children without regrets.”

    What do you think?

    1. I think that as a single mom by choice with no dad, while not being the non-custodial parent is not an option, I can relate to the original poster. Over the years, and especially recently, I find myself often envious of those who have daddy weekends where they can get some me time. And I felt guilty for even thinking that – I mean, I knew what I was getting into when I adopted, I have a great kid, many of those mothers are fighting through issues with their ex – it seemed indulgent thinking . Everywhere I looked in mainstream media, reinforced that – a rose colored view of parenting that just left me feeling like my thoughts made me a bad mom.

      And so, for the better part of 8 years, I basically made my daughter the center of my life. Yes, I had friends, but they were friends I made through her school or activities. I didn’t hire a babysitter – I worked 40 hours a week, so the weekends were our time. I can count on 2 hands, the # of times I went out on date or just hung out with other adults. That works for awhile, but then I noticed a few things: I was burned out, I had lost all sense of myself outside of being a mom, and my daughter was incredibly attached to me to the point of not being healthy. She would say that I was going to college with her, going with her when she got married, would worry about what would happen if I died. I kinda laughed these off at the sentiments of 7 year old, but when they continued, I looked deeper and realized, that while my intent was the best, I’d done both of us a disservice. So my 2015 goal has been to build a bigger, fuller life for both of us. Getting me out of the house with other adults, dating again, and getting her to exercise her independence. I call a sitter now without guilt, although it took some time. I’m planning a vacation that will have both together and separate time. I’ve made a great friend though the forum. Even if I don’t have a date, I try and get out with adults at least once every weekend.

      As for the sentiments of the person who unsubscribed, to need me time, to express our reservations or negative thoughts doesn’t mean we have regret. I have noticed a tangible difference in our home as I’ve made some changes: my daughter is less afraid to leave my side and there is more joy in our house. I have no regrets about that.

      Sorry this was long – this just hit a chord.

      1. Love this – thanks for sharing, Carla. I appreciate how you owned your shit, saw that you were going down an unhealthy path and turned it around. Brava

  2. I have a few different comments/thoughts relating to both the initial post and the comment from the reader who unsubscribed.

    As parents, we need to do what is best for our kids. In some situations, that may be having the father as the custodial parent and the mother as the non-custodial parents. No one should feel shame or guilt if that is that case.

    As a mother with a “50/50” arrangement, it often does not feel that way for me. Yes, my children split their time equally between my house and their father’s house, but I feel like I shoulder 95% of the responsibility when it comes to my children. I am the one who keeps track and makes doctors’ and dentist appointments. I take them to about 75% of these appointments. I also am the one who takes them for haircuts and buys all of their clothes, etc. I could ramble on for a while, but you get the point. So while it is a 50/50 arrangement, it does not always feel that way to me. I also harbor some frustration because I work in a FT demanding career. I have to spend time with my kids and my free time taking care of all of this. My ex seems to have a lot more free time with both our kids and when he is alone. Of course this is something that I need to deal with and find a way to alleviate the situation, but I get the frustration.

    There also are just times that we need a bigger break. Maybe we don’t need to switch custody entirely, but maybe we need something more than just a weekend off. We may need the other parent to take the children for an extra day for a couple of weeks. Or maybe we need the other parent to take on another responsibility, i.e. make and take the kids for their doctors’ appointments. I think creativity and flexibility are essential when co-parenting and single parenting.

    With regards to the reader comment, I cringed at the phrase “surrender to motherhood.” It sounds a bit dramatic to me. At the end of the day, of course our children come first. But, we can have a life outside of our children. It’s very important to me to have a fulfilling career. My friendships are also a priority and I make time to text, talk to, and see my friends. There is no need to surrender.

    1. >>There also are just times that we need a bigger break. Maybe we don’t need to switch custody entirely, but maybe we need something more than just a weekend off. We may need the other parent to take the children for an extra day for a couple of weeks. Or maybe we need the other parent to take on another responsibility, i.e. make and take the kids for their doctors’ appointments. I think creativity and flexibility are essential when co-parenting and single parenting.

      Oh man, you hit it on the head. So well said, thanks

    2. I know too well your frustration of having to deal with the “everyday” stuff. My ex gets the kids just every other weekend. Not even the full weekend. By his choice. When they have soccer games or any extra curriculars while it is his day, I have to make sure they get to where they need to go, because the other 2 doesn’t want to spend that time at a soccer game. “His time” is nothing but fun stuff. No time schedule. Nothing. And he wonders why I can’t get them to listen, or do anything for me. Further, he wants them full time now so he can get the income tax. Father of the year right here. So I get needing time to myself. I am slowly getting there. You will too. Like was mentioned time for self is needed for the parent as well as the children. No reason to feel guilty about that.

    3. I know this post is older …. However, it’s relevant! I cannot over emphasize the point that,as a mom, heck as a PARENT our duty is to protect, provide and educate our kids – to help them LEARN how to function ON THEIR OWN! Hell, the Momma eagle kicks her eaglets out of the nest, otherwise , they never learn to fly. I think our species is more kind than the said Accipitridae variety, however, the goal is the same. I struggled with this for a loong time, until my company downsized, literally forcing me to dream those big, harry scary dreams! I stepped into being a consultant in my profession, and I’ve not looked back since. The bite is that my ex and his wife (yep, he got himself a helper) have the boys during the week so that I can travel for my project if need be. I have my boys every weekend. Sometimes I still need time ALONE – not working, or doing anything, other than just being ME. I too have noticed increased peace, health, and less yelling, chaos, and stress when I take responsibility for self-care.
      I understand where people say “surrender to motherhood” – that is from an extremely conservative and patriarchal view. I left a cult-ish church that held those views, because I dared to believe that I was meant to be everything AND a mother. I was myself before I had my kids, and I’d like to be able to live with myself peacefully when my boys leave my nest. Great post Emma!

  3. I am going to share something that I haven’t shared with anyone on my own blog. I don’t even want to share my name since I still feel as if the stigma associated with a mom that doesn’t have primary custody is a real barrier that most people will have a ton of judgment about. I don’t have primary custody of my oldest daughter. There I said it and what a relief. Will I be judged? Probably. Does my identity as a mother change because I am not shouldering the primary responsibilities? No. I have three kids. My youngest two live with me full time with little to no help from their dads (Oooh yes I have children from multiple dads). I contributed to my own burdens and depression by putting too much on myself and not asking for help when I needed it. I was overwhelmed and I ended up suffering from anxiety, depression and a host of other things that took me off track of being the best mom I could be. Losing primary custody was forced upon me, I didn’t go quietly into the night on that one. However in hindsight as I continue to put the pieces back together on my parent-child relationship and coparenting relationship I could not have asked for better insight or a better opportunity to turn my ship around. My daughter’s dad now has first hand knowledge and experience of what I went through as the primary parent and that has made us better co-parents. We still don’t communicate as best friends but we communicate. I relish the time I have with my daughter and I don’t feel like I am having to split my time into pieces to make sure each child has my attention. During the week I can focus on my two littles and their day to day needs. Then the weekends come and my older daughter and the littles can enjoy our outings and fun activities. My daughter and I can truly talk because we know our time is limited and she has much more appreciation of her dad. I still go to therapy and it has helped me a lot with how I parent, coparent and relate to my children. I don’t have a resentment about this situation. Being able to manage this situation has helped me succeed in other areas of my life such as career and spirituality with a true work life balance that seems to elude so many single mothers. I continue to work hard and have no qualms about child support as I truly view that as my contribution to the life she has with dad since I am not there. I have also met other women who also don’t have primary custody and many expressed the same fears of judgment about our roles as mothers and primary caregivers. I still identify with the struggles of single motherhood as I have two children full-time with little to no help from dad but I am thankful for the gift of having my daughter’s dad bear the primary custody for my oldest child – it has brought my daughter and I closer.

  4. Wow. I’m sitting here in the basement watching tv. My youngest child is calling me. Again. Wants water. Is scared, etc, etc. I’m runing on empty. Their dad will be sharing custody in a few months once he gets a house a few blocks from here. While he and I are on very good terms, I totally get what you are saying. I sometimes secretly wish I didn’t always have to get up in the middle of the night for them, referee their fights and exlain why we had to move and why things changed. I’ve been doing it alone for 2 years and I feel like most times I’m not keeping my head above water. To admit that to someone else feels horrible. Feels like I don;t love them enough. Like I’m not enough. Like I’m failing at marriage, parenting and living in general.

    I’m in a new relationship and things there are good. But even then, I feel sometmes that I resent my kids. Why? Because they fight. Because they need me. Because I have nothing left to give and its leaving me salty and tired and not pleasant to be with. I often try and picture it from my new fella’s eyes – he doesn’t have kids but thinks the world of mine. But I think about how I yell at them, how I get mad, how could he ever want to be part of this? How could anyone?

    I didn’t sign up for single parenting (single except for every other weekend and wednesdays at dinner) but its where I am and it is harder than I could have ever imagained. I love my girls with all my heart but it sucks.

    1. Wow. Our stories are quite similar. I have mine full time except every other weekend. I too, am not a pleasant person to be around when I just get tired of the kids needing so much, whining, fighting. I have no privacy when they are around. In my bubble. I too feel guilty when I feel this way. I am slowly making “me” a priority. And trying not to feel guilty about that. It is necessary.

  5. Wow, I cant believe I came across this post. I know its late but I couldn’t help but want to comment. Being the non-custodial parent has been a really tough challenge to overcome. I felt so much shame for so long and afraid to tell others that my children did not live with me full time. I had my children at a young age (18 & 21) and did everything myself without much help from their father. I later found myself working tirelessly to afford to pay rent and daycare (including weekends), while never being able to spend much time with the kids, let alone allow them to be able to participate in sports, go to weekend birthday parties etc. Their father lived with his parents and provided a solution to let the children live with them (free daycare with family) and since he worked part time that would allow the children the freedom to play sports and have social lives and live outside my work schedule. However, the father also lived an hour away…. I was making $2200 a month at my job, rent was $1000 and daycare was a little less than that… I knew I was struggling and I couldn’t provide the children what i knew I wanted to- that being said, here we are 3 years later and the children still live with their father…. Now that I have a higher paying job, working only M-F, i have the finances and time to have the children back – BUT religion has caused this to be next to impossible. The father began raising them Mormon and I am not …. I want what is best for the children and in the big picture makes them happy which is why the decision to have them stay with their father was made in the first place… but being more interested in science and cognitive thinking, this causes not being able to get them back because their core beliefs and mine differ. I use this as an opportunity to teach them perspective and how everyone is different and it differs from each person what their beliefs may be. This is a hot topic in our world today as well, so its helpful to have so many examples, but not being Mormon, their father has remarried and they have been “sealed” to their step mom, i feel like as their biological mother, its simply not enough time to be able to teach them everything they could find useful in the short time spent together. Not to mention, the big one of the lack of bonding together. Daily time together creates so much opportunity for those carefree and casual conversations that cause wonder and curiosity that I feel is fizzled by their adopted limited beliefs. I Just dropped them off last night and the sadness takes a while to suppress, and today has been harder than others, but all I can do is my best. I feel the need to apologize for any LDS members that may come across this, but I feel strongly about how much limited beliefs can hinder a persons ability to thrive and live fearlessly in this world. I want to spend more time with my children and because I am not Mormon that causes a hardship to make that happen.

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