The more time I have with my kids the more time I want with my kids (the single parent paradox)

Goofing around

This is a repost from a couple years ago. I’ve been thinking about how tough it can be for kids of divorce to shuffle between homes, and the debate over which is easier — sole custody, or shared. What is your experience? Share in the comments…

Many late Saturday afternoons with my kids can be a drag. We’ve likely had a great morning on our “adventure day” — hitting the farmer’s market, or a music festival, visiting friends. But between 3 p.m. when Lucas wakes up grumpy from his nap, and 5 p.m. when their dad picks them up, I can find myself counting the minutes. It’s like the last day of a long vacation — sad for the time to end, but eager to get on with it already. As a single parent with shared visitation, it can be tough to tell what is work and what is vacation — I miss Helena and Lucas when they are gone and always look forward to their smiling hugs upon return. But I also can look very forward to booting their grumpy, needy tushes out the door and going out on a Saturday night like an adult.

So when my ex informed me a few weeks ago that he’d be going on vacation and miss two weeks’ worth of visits, I lost my mind. Couldn’t he have told me sooner? Couldn’t he arrange it so it missed fewer visits? Does he realize how much I depend on those weeknights with him to work?

But over the past few years I’ve gone many stretches without relief from my ex, and I always come to the same conclusion: it is fantastic. That I feel that way always surprises me. After all, it flies in the face of the assumption that single moms are stressed out, overburdened broads in dire need of a break. But what I find time and again is that without the whiplash of a visitation schedule, it is easier for the kids and I to fall into a more relaxed routine of just us. It’s summer and we’re doing all kinds of fun stuff like hitting the beach, zoo, pool and picnics. We camped on a farm upstate New York, and met up with bunches of friends. We eat watermelon nearly every night.

But more than all the special activities, there is a positive psychological shift that comes with thinking of myself of being a mom all the time, with less distraction from the other parts of my life. Dating distracts me less, since my weekends are not as free for dudes. Work takes a refreshing backseat in my mental space because hanging with the kids becomes so fun. I accept that I will not get a workout on the weekends, and I haven’t gained 20 lbs.

As I find myself melting into being a mommy all the time, I am a better mommy. I’m not as quick to bark, or get frusterated. I say “yes” more often: Yes, we can watch Cars and eat a dinner of popcorn, popcorn cheese and apples (a third-generation Johnson tradition, started with my mom’s family who ate the meal while watching Lassie on Sunday nights).  Yes, you can play with my iPad again. Yes, you can skip your nap. Yes, feel free to keep dumping even more raisins in your Cheerios. Because, honestly, was I really so stressed out that I felt the need to stop a child from putting fruit on his cereal?

I guess I was. And I see now how much better behaved my kids are now that they have that better, more chilled-out mom. More polite language. Better listening and chore-doing. Fewer meltdowns — and quicker apologies in the event of a spaz-out.

This goes back to what I often say about divorce, single parenthood and, well, life: You can do more than you think you can. You are where you put your energy. Often my energy can be focused on the break I get when my kids spend time with their dad, and the fun adult things I do when they are not home. But all that energy spent on getting rid of them shifts my energy away from enjoying them. Which is human, but it is also counter-productive.

In a  couple weeks we will be back to our old routine, and I will return to my regularly scheduled programming that has many components aside from mothering. But I vow to myself to keep being a fun mom. The relaxed one who enjoys her kids in the moment — even if that moment ends at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Future post: What if we stopped considering parenting “work”?



6 thoughts on “The more time I have with my kids the more time I want with my kids (the single parent paradox)

  1. I’ve just started reading your blog and I really relate to this post. My ex has just gone away for a month cruising around Europe. We usually have shared care – 50/50 – so I was a bit freaked out (to say the least) about how I was going to cope without my regular “breaks”. I must say… has been so wonderful, my mind has been blown! My daughter said to me at the end of the first week it was “the best week ever”. I found myself feeling happier, more relaxed and happily focussed on the kids, rather than counting down to the change over time. We have all adapted so well I am considering suggesting the routine is changed when their dad returns. I think our schedule usually consists of too much to-ing and fro-ing, and it’s unsettling. Their dad going overseas for a month has been a gift and a real eye-opener!!

  2. I now feel better knowing I am not the only one who felt bad when at times I found myself looking forward to sending my daughter off with her dad. I don’t have much help and pretty much do it on my own. With the economy being so bad I had to take on the first job offer when we separated..a 2 hour work commute- one way…yup…one way. As I continue to job search for a closer job to home, I find myself stressed at times to be the “perfect” mom. I feel so guilty being away from my daughter all day and there are moments when I get home and I am just bone tired. It’s good to know I am normal.

  3. This post struck a chord with me as I also use my breaks from my kids to very often work late or heaven forbid factually go our for myself or perhaps a date.

    What hit me here was last night I was supposed to based on our sharing schedule have both my kids. But the 12 year old who commutes to and from school here in NYC decided on his own to go his mom’s place and not mine.

    I wanted time with him this weekend and I miss him. 50% of the time my kids are with me. So when that time is decreased it hurts. But as teenage years approach I expect this will happen more with both kids as at their moms they have their own rooms, a luxury I cannot yet afford on my own after child support etc.

    So any time without my kids is a big deal now.

    1. Eric, thanks for sharing. That is an interesting perspective re: teens opting to spend more time with the parent with the nicer home. I hadn’t considered that challenge, mainly because a) I am the primary custodian, and b) my kid are so little still. I’m now chewing on a post: “Do divorced dads get a bum deal?”

What do you think? Please comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *