My ex-husband and I separated when our daughters were 2- and 3-years-old respectively. The girls don’t remember a time when we all lived together. As far as they know, their lives have always consisted of two homes, mid-week commutes, and two very different parenting styles. They’ve always split their time equally between our houses, growing from two overnights at a time when they were very young to entire weeks at a time now that they are teenagers. They are easy-going, amenable to last-minute schedule changes because of school, marching band, or sports functions, and completely unaware of how much my introvert soul needs my time away from them to be fully and completely present for them when they are here.
It took me several years after my ex-husband and I split to not only realize I enjoyed (and needed) time alone without my girls but to also get over my guilt about it. What kind of mother expresses happiness that her toddler and preschooler aren’t constantly within her line of sight? Who in their right mind espouses joint custody as a way of saving one’s own sanity and ensuring their children’s best upbringing? Shouldn’t have I been moping and dragging through the days when I wasn’t able to kiss my babies good-night?
Once I embraced the fact that I am an introvert and need quiet solitary time to recharge and be the best parent I am capable of being, it all made sense. I am a perfectionist in everything I do, and parenting is no exception. I work really hard, at top speed and with full intensity, to parent with every bone in my body. When the girls are here, my introverted nature and need for solitude take a back seat to their needs. Homework, chores, shopping, conversations, silliness, crying, watching nature documentaries, cleaning…they all get done with at least one, and usually both, of my daughters at my side as often as possible. It takes a lot of work to maintain this level of attention and interaction, and I can only imagine the sense of failure and exhaustion I would face were I to try it full time.
Fortunately for everyone, I have the opportunity to soak up as much quiet and store up as much energy as possible while they are at their father’s house. I get to work quietly at my desk for endless hours while he sees to their frenetic schedules and never-ending need for food. I get to curl up on my couch with my blanket and my introverted dog in the evenings while he oversees their ever-more complex homework. And perhaps most importantly, I get to regain my sense of self and my center—both of which are vital to my girls’ optimal development—while they are safe and sound in another home where they are truly loved.
As a former early childhood education teacher and current developmental psychology graduate student, I fully recognize the value of consistency and support in children’s lives. Being a part-time parent allows me to provide the highest possible levels of both instead of what I am certain would have ended up being adequate attempts at one or the other…were I not given the incredible freedom of a joint custody schedule.