I describe part of my every week as “kid-free.” It first appeared when I started dating again. Browsing the profiles of divorced men with kids, and then writing my own, it was important to specify that one was occasionally, hopefully regularly and consistently kid-free. “Wednesday through Friday I’m always kid-free.” It’s my shortcut for offering my availability to friends for a girls’ night. I tell my employer so they know I won’t be in slightly later or have to leave a tad earlier on those days. I can stay longer for that meeting or that happy hour. It means I have time to call family members or answer personal emails. It is a given, and I can count on it because I have a solidly established shared custody arrangement with my kids’ dad.
But then I think about my former life in a two-parent household. I never used “kid-free” to describe our date nights, or the evenings I went out with a friend while dad stayed home with the kids. I listen to other moms describe their “kid-free” periods, and it usually involves permission, escape or bargaining. I find that a shame, but it’s not unfamiliar. My kid-free periods have become such an integral part of my life that I will never again go without them. I may not always require three or four consecutive days, but I will need solid chunks. During this time I am able to resource myself, pursue my interests in depth and sometimes just stare at the wall. Without a doubt, I am a better mother for it.
I am not condoning that everyone get divorced, mind you. Divorces are like snowflakes, and I count my blessings to have a peaceful, predictable and collaborative one. But it does reaffirm my belief that a partnership, a relationship between two adults, two parents, consists of two whole humans that overlap in the right parts. We overlap in the “right good” and the “right bad.” It is critical that we each give each other, and claim for ourselves the remaining parts of our whole and nurture them carefully. Only then can we offer our whole self to the family—whether we’re a single parent or one of two.
Surprised I haven’t mentioned guilt yet? Don’t be fooled—there are layers of complicated guilt behind the term “kid-free.” Of course I miss my kids. Of course I realize that I irreversibly changed their lives. But guilt doesn’t serve us well now, does it.
“I have my kids that day”
This means that my work day is condensed, I can’t do lunch, I leave on the dot, I stick to the routine, I will only book a babysitter in very rare cases and the world revolves around them. End of story.
This is the day of the week when my kids transition from one household to the other. Luckily, we combine the mid-week one with school drop-off and pick-up: I drop off, dad picks up, and on the same day every week.
My kids are little heroes. They have had to accept the fact that they have two homes—luckily both sufficiently and uniquely styled out to meet their needs—and learn to seamlessly travel between them twice a week. Every week. Until they’re old enough to make their own decision about where they want to be.
I’m a firm believer that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, especially change. My little heroes have learned so much flexibility through this process, but also the value of consistency. They can count on our schedule, and they can count on having two well-maintained homes. And most importantly, despite all the changes they have endured, they can count on being loved, whether they are at house #1 or #2. In this sense, they have a leg up in the change management department. Then again, I think of two-parent households where both parents work, maybe one travels extensively… Families come in all shapes and sizes. We all make arrangements and manage transitions. It’s in how we do it, with our kids’ best interest in mind, that matters above all else.
“Their dad has them that day”
Self-explanatory to me, but can mean different things to different people. In my world, that means that on those days dad makes the decisions, responds to invites, brings them to play dates and attends school events. Of course if it’s a big enough deal, like one of our kids’ birthdays or school performances, we will both attend. But other than that dad’s in charge.
In the past, and among other two-parent household mothers that I’ve overheard, this statement often means that daddy is giving mommy a break.
Typing that last sentence really reminds me of the traditional gender roles that still exist in two-parent households. Think of all the articles about “shared parenting” and shared household chores still being a myth. Daddy still gives mommy a break most of the time. Rarely does the media discuss the reverse scenario, even though it’s happening more and more. Rarely does the media acknowledge how important alone time, or adult time is for parents without lacing the story with guilt.
I’m not a single parent. You’ll notice that I’ve used “single-parent household” or “two-parent household” to specify what I’m talking about. My kids most definitely have two parents, and they are luckier than many in that way. I do not make decisions in a vacuum; the other parent is always considered and consulted. But I do run my household on my own. Their dad and I each run a four-person household. If one of the kids is sick on “my day” then it’s my responsibility and I’m pretty much on my own (although I can luckily always reach out to their dad in serious or urgent situations). If I have to miss work, that’s my paid time off. If I’m facing a schedule change, it’s on me to find a solution. I stock the groceries, I do bath night and bed time and I get them all ready in the morning. So in those moments, yes, I guess I’m a single parent. You get it done and find your flow.
Just because I am divorced doesn’t mean that I’m going to parent my children on my own for the rest of my life and spend my “kid-free” time alone. Once I felt ready I started dating again, and I found an amazing someone with whom I’d like to build a new life, even a blended family. But at 43 years old “boyfriend” just doesn’t strike the right chord. Nor does it convey the depth of my new partnership, nor the tightrope that we have both committed to walking to make a partnership like ours work. We have to be partners first and foremost, and that word contains the lovers, the friends and the fellow parents that we are. Only a true partner is willing to understand and accept the complexities of my life and the decisions that were made before him. He is ready to love my children like his own, extend his hand to their dad with respect, take his time and let me take mine and be both realistic and idealistic in the right moments. There is still so much to look forward to, and my hope is that each thing will only add to my children’s lives, making them richer by the day.