“I would kill to get a night off from my kids.” “At least you’ll have plenty of time for a great trainer to get you started on your revenge body.” “Now you can go on dates and spa days without having to feel guilty!”
These are all bits of friendly encouragement that trickle in when I talk to people about my divorce and the resulting shared custody of my 6-year-old. Now your first response to reading this might be to assume my entire support system consists of Goldie Hawn’s character from First Wives Club, and while that does sounds fun, it’s very far from the truth. My friends, even the ones who had experienced what I was going through first hand, just did not know how to talk about it; because nobody talks about it.
There are hundreds of articles and blog posts dedicated to supporting your friends through a divorce. Top ten lists of the right and wrong things to say and 39,200,000 results on Google when you search “care packages for divorce”. The support for parents going through the complicated, often messy, minefield of shared custody is much scanter. Maybe it’s because, in our time, divorce is an accepted fact of life, something most people will have to live through as either an adult or as a child, but the separation between parent and child? That pain is much more acute and raw. Something people are not quite yet comfortable looking in the face.
Look, even the most optimistic person goes into a marriage understanding there is a possibility it won’t work out, but I doubt anyone goes into parenthood thinking there could be a 50/50 chance of missing half your kids’ days and nights.
The focus in any co-parenting situation is on making sure your kids are supported and taken care of, and it should be that way, but that mindset does not leave much room for the emotional fallout that comes from being separated from your child. In an ideal situation, with two fit and loving parents, shared custody is the best, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
I was prepared for a lot going into my divorce—dividing assets, navigating the singles scenes, pitying looks from my still happily married friends, and the myriad of other issues found in the half-dozen divorce self-help books I culled through every night. Yes, after all my research and conversations I can tell you one thing, I was prepared for my ex to leave me. What I was not prepared for, was that my kid would be leaving me for half the time too.
To be honest, and what is the point in writing this if I am not being totally honest, the first days without my kid were so, so hard. I put on my ex’s old t-shirt, the one I reserved for super Courtney Love, Hole days, and I just gave in to the sadness. I thought I would wallow through those first few absences and then slowly it would start to feel normal. Every time I felt myself sinking, I said it was the last time; that next week during my “days off” I would work out, go on dates with interesting people, start writing the next great American novel, all of the things I had put on the back burner when I was married. But I have been sharing custody for over a year now, and that still hasn’t happened. I have gradually become more accustomed to the days without my kid, I make plans to ensure my mind is at least partially occupied on other things, but the sadness is still there. Maybe it always will be, and maybe that’s okay.
I think parents with shared custody need to know that it’s fine to be sad. We need to be able to talk about how tough it is to be away from our children and not have to pretend we’re super stoked to finally have the time to take up ballroom dancing. Most of all, we need to know it’s okay to take the time to validate our own feelings, just as we would our kids. Because I guess when it comes down to it, we are all just big kids anyway.