Last week my kids left for two and a half weeks in Greece with their dad. I have mixed feelings about the trip and now, five days in, finally started to miss them. We chatted on the phone yesterday — I told them about how our cat caught and killed a mouse, and they told me about their airplane trip, meeting their four cousins and shopping for flipflops. My ex got on the line and recounted how all the kids lined up on the couch and Helena read The Adventures of Taxi Dog, which my kids brought their cousins. “Helena read it in English and (her older cousin) Maria translated it to the other kids in Greek,” he said. So cute. The stuff of lifelong memories and family history.
And I wasn’t there. Because that’s what happens in divorced families.
I don’t have much room to complain. I have my kids the majority of the time and usually welcome the break when it’s time for them to go to their dad’s house. Plus, our visitation schedule has been in place for the majority of my family’s existence. It’s what I’m used to, and it’s what they’re used to.
But I look to the in tact families I know. Controlling for each family’s idiosyncrasies and challenges, being with your kids all the time has its benefits. As I wrote in this post, The more time I have with my kids, the more time I want with my kids, it is easier to fall into a groove when all parties are not constantly anticipating a jarring handoff. It is also more likely you are emotionally closer to your kids because you are simply around them more — in tune with their habits and moods and needs — as tedious and grinding as those routines can be.
On one hand, a stressed-out mom without a break can easily shut down and tune out her offspring (you should have seen me at the tail end of my 15-day roadtrip with my own kids last week), whereas a parent with regular breaks can recharge and be more engaged with her family. But life is not about scheduled refreshers. Life is largely about soldiering through tedium and exhaustion and living for special moments that cannot be scheduled every-other-weekend and alternating Wednesdays — and being a stronger person for it.
Realizing that a co-custody life robs you of that experience can feel like a devastating loss.
But consider the course of humanity. Until recent history — and still today, in most of the world — childrearing was not the sole domain of mothers. Instead moms got regular breaks thanks to a network of extended family and neighbors who unquestionably helped care for young kids. Even more so, not so long ago children had tons of freedom and time to roam around the farm and village and create their own special memories that their parents never witnessed because they weren’t in the constant care of adults, alternatively being shuttled to Mandarin and fencing lessons or cooped up in the house playing Wii. There was far less pressure on parents to constantly nurture young minds and capture precious moments in digitally curated photo albums and Facebook posts. Consider the oft-cited stat that since 1965 — the middle of an era often upheld as the bastion of family life — the percentage of women who work outside the home has risen from 45 percent to 78 percent while the number of hours we spend with our kids has jumped to 14 hours weekly from 10 hours (single moms today spend an average of 11.8 hours per week with our kids, compared with 12.9 hours for married moms).
At first glance, this seems like a win. But all these hours with our children are contributing to the over-parenting, helicoptering trend of the past decade that is receiving serious criticism for its production of a generation of young adults who live at home for far too long, incite employer rage at their sense of entitlement and consider meaningful dating obsolete.
In some sense, visitation schedules have baked in the much-needed break that moms need to recharge their parenting batteries and put some healthy space between family members — benefits that are rarely acknowledged in our culture but are inherent to the perpetuation of the species. Of course this only speaks to divorced families where both parents are involved, and does not dismiss the inherent stresses and pain of divorce.
And it doesn’t make me miss my kids any less.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.