by Erin Skillen
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: March 2018
I have written previously about the immense difficulty of processing the loss of half of your kids’ childhoods when you split with their other parent. I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, in therapy working that one through. While there will likely always been a sense of guilt for me around that, I will admit there is something to be said for only being a hands-on parent half the time.
My co-parent and I split each week because our kids are still pretty young and a full week feels too long to be apart. This will likely change as they get older and divest interest in us to focus more on friendships. For now, Mommy and Daddy still get top billing, so we alternate every three or four nights. We share family events and activities together even when it’s not “our day” to have the kids. But for three or four nights each week, one of us has a home to ourself. And while some parents might be horrified at that thought, I have to admit there are upsides.
On the days I’m away from my kids I get a lot more done. A lot. More work, more hobbies, more sleep, more time with friends and more “me” time. I generally do what I want when I want. And I clean my house efficiently with absolutely no one running around behind me making new messes.
When I’m not with them, I do my best to be the woman I want them to see as a role model—successful, happy and centred. I nearly always at least talk to them every day, but that’s not the same as being a mom on the front lines 24/7. So on my days apart I am refueled, energized and feeling that, though like I can’t do it all and I still struggle, I’m doing my best most of the time.
And then, after a few days apart, I miss them. Deeply. We’re thrilled to see one another and start our “single mom” days together. And I am ready for them. I am able to focus on them, prioritize them and have the energy it takes to parent them solo. I cherish our time together, make time to snuggle together at the beginning and end of each day, and look forward to taking care of them after days alone. On these days, I do my best to be the mom I want them to have, one who’s loving, patient and engaged (though I’ll admit, patience is still very much a challenge).
Here’s the thing though—you don’t have to go through a separation or divorce to experience some of the upsides of part-time parenting. Providing your partner with a degree of autonomy to do the things they love and see people they care about, without you, can be magical (if reciprocal). Getting a babysitter at least once a month so you can take kid-free time together may take the edge off your regular routine and allow you to reconnect as a couple. Breathing—as an individual and a couple—is necessary and powerful. Without it we lose our connection with our partner and ourselves. We suffocate, perhaps even atrophy, and resentment accumulates on whatever remains.
We met as individuals and then chose to become a couple and have children (maybe not in that order). Most, if not all, of us did not choose to sacrifice ourselves completely and become identifiable only as someone’s mom or dad. We all have interests, passions and needs and part of being a family is supporting one another in the pursuit of happiness and fulfilment. If we can’t breathe, we can’t be the best version of ourselves. We want our children to be healthy, happy and accomplished. We deserve that for ourselves as well and they deserve that in their parents.
So yes, I have a dirty little secret. Sometimes being a part-time parent is incredibly hard. But sometimes it inspires me to a degree that wouldn’t have been possible as a full time mom who couldn’t breathe.
Erin Skillen is the co-founder and COO of FamilySparks.com, an education company that helps parents navigate the toughest job in the world. She’s also a mom and a bucket list slayer.
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