When a post-divorce custody arrangement means every other week off from parenting, is it wrong to look forward to the break?
A friend recently asked how my ex-husband Darren and I had determined custody of our eight-year-old daughter Imani. I told her we were doing something rare: joint physical custody. This means that Imani spends equal time with each parent—one week with me and then one week with her dad. My friend was confused.
“You’re only going to see your daughter every other week? Why would you agree to that?”
From the moment Darren and I made the painful decision to divorce, there were certain things we knew we would agree on. One of those things was custody of our youngest daughter. (We also have an 18 year old in her first year of college).
I knew Darren would never settle for being a weekend dad. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Sharing joint physical custody isn’t easy. Luckily, throughout this difficult process, Darren and I have remained amicable and we communicate well enough to make it realistic.
As I’ve discussed this with my friends, they often ask how I’ll deal with only seeing my daughter two weeks out of every month. Inside my head, I’m like, are you kidding me? I can’t wait to have a whole week off from parenting.
Am I a horrible mother because I’m looking forward to having a full week off from the daily grind of motherhood? As I write this, I’m having an early morning cup of coffee with my favorite Stevie Wonder playlist blaring. Since my little one is with her dad this week, I don’t have to make her breakfast or lunch. I don’t have to fight traffic to get her to school on time or to pick her up. I don’t have to figure out what to cook her for dinner, oversee homework and then coax a feisty kid to get to bed.
That’s all Darren’s responsibility this week. On Sunday, I’ll pick up my daughter and it will be my turn. I notice that when it’s my on-week, I’m actually more present for my daughter. Knowing that I’ll have a full week to myself means that I’m more hands-on when she is with me. Because I know I won’t see her the following week, I spend more time tucking her in at night. I get off Facebook and interact with her at dinnertime. We talk more in the car on the way to school.
I still feel guilty about loving this arrangement. In our culture, a mother should want to be with their children every second possible. And I don’t know any divorced couples who spend equal amounts of time with their children. Mostly, it’s the dads who do every other weekend and the occasional holiday. I want my daughter to be as well adjusted as possible while becoming a child of divorce. And part of that includes spending as much time with a strong father figure in her life.
And yes, it also means that every other week I get to take my time getting up, linger over coffee before starting my workday and go into Manhattan to have lunch or dinner with a friend without needing to hire a sitter.
The beginning phase of this divorce hasn't been easy. But I do feel like we’re getting this part right. No matter what happens between me and Darren, we’ll always be in agreement on what’s best for Imani.
And if it also means I get to relax every other week—I’ll take that too.