I’m fully aware that there are more stay-at-home dads these days, as well as many hands-on dads, but still . . . moms on the whole appear to be the one manning the ship when it comes to child-rearing. So when my husband and I separated and I had to give up time with my daughter — three overnights a week for now while she’s in preschool — I realized that not only would I miss her, but I also would have to give up control for that time when she’s gone.
I had been a stay-at-home mom and had gone back to work only recently, so giving up control when it came to my child was still a relatively new concept. I had just handed her over to her preschool and grandparents for safekeeping, and now I had to give up three whole days to her father. Of course he deserves that time with her, and I trust him; it’s not that. It was knowing that I, the mom, would be somewhat out of the loop for three whole days while her dad took over the reins. Even though her dad Skypes with me so I can say good morning and good night and we keep in communication with each other, it’s not the same thing as being in the room with her.
So many of my mom friends cringe when they leave their little ones home alone with their husbands for just an hour. Now here I was entrusting a trustworthy dad for a whole 72-hour period each week. As hard as it is to miss out on her life and know that she has a whole other family that doesn’t include me, I’ve learned a lot about parenting from sharing my child that I would not have learned had we stayed together.
Let It Go
Since I can’t control every single thing my daughter does when she’s at her dad’s (although I obviously have a say in the major issues or matters), I learned to accept that sometimes things aren’t going to be exactly how I want them, and that’s OK. I have dealt with anxiety before and am currently trying to manage it with the divorce, and losing control was difficult for me simply because it was a challenge to my anxiety. The more you think you can control the situations around you, the more you falsely believe you’re controlling the anxiety, when really, anxiety is controlling you. Having to accept that there are some things that I cannot control in regards to my daughter’s life at her dad’s is helping me to accept that there are many things I cannot control in my life, period. For those things I can control, I do, and for those I can’t, I’m learning to let it go a bit. It’s not easy, but it’s a necessary life lesson that I must master without a doubt, and the divorce has sped up the learning process, so to speak.
Even though my ex-husband and I obviously were together and know each other and our parenting styles, to some degree we are different parents now that we aren’t together anymore. I think the divorce has cut down the majority of the stress we felt between each other as we struggled to make the marriage work. So now when my daughter tells me about her day, or her dad recounts things they did together or how he handled a temper tantrum or issue, I feel like I have some distance to analyze what he did and decide A) if it’s something that we normally agree to do as positive discipline, B) if it’s not something I like tactic-wise, or C) if it’s something I should try at my home too.
To some extent, my ex also gets the gift of the outside perspective. When my ex heard I was giving our daughter chores at my house, he liked the idea and decided it would be a good idea for him to try some of the same chores at his house. When he shared with me how he managed her temper tantrum at the park the other day, I really liked how cool and collected he was and agreed to try the same strategy. Since we’re not fighting with each other and in the same home, it gives us the opportunity to not let our hurt feelings taint how we view each other and our parenting strategies. Plus, our home environments are entirely different, so we come up against different issues, and it’s a window into another world that I wouldn’t get to see had we stayed married. I see how my daughter handles unique situations to ones that I face with her.
Sometimes I feel bad knowing that her father will be taking her to a classmate’s birthday, dance class, or perhaps a school event and I won’t be. In my “Mom brain,” I am wired (like we all are, I think) to feel as if “I am the mom and I belong with my kid,” so when I am not at one of these events, I feel as if I am not doing my job. It doesn’t matter that I know intellectually that it’s Dad’s day and not mine and that she will be fine in Dad’s hands, but my heart thinks otherwise. Giving Dad the control often means feeling as if I am being a bad mom, unintentionally.
Taste of the Real World
For my daughter, having two homes sort of prepares her for the real world automatically. How so? Well, we’re both two very different people and parents, although we work to try to be on the same page for her sake and upbringing. My kid learns how to navigate and understand two homes with two different energies, rhythms, and rules partially. Whether she likes it or not — and of course she would prefer one home — divorce is forcing her to be more flexible, which helps in the real world. In the real world, one job could expect one thing of you, whereas your next job could have different expectations and social norms from your last place. As an adult, you’re forced to interact with people who won’t share the same mind-set as you or perhaps even people who don’t quite like you. When I hand her over to Dad or he hands her over to me, she learns how to shift gears in order to enjoy her time with both of us and “succeed” in two different atmospheres.
Whether I like it or not (and typically most of us divorced parents don’t!), coparenting has taught me how to negotiate, argue effectively (most of the times!), and be consistent with my communication. Since we split our little one’s time almost in half, it requires us to talk often. Since I believe in a peaceful divorce for everyone, this has helped me learn which battles to drop, which ones to fight, and how to approach him so we both keep our cool, and if he does get upset, I’ve figured out the best way to work with him. When we were married and going head to head, it was too personal and intimate to be critical of both him and myself in a positive and constructive way.
As much as I don’t always like divorce and hate missing my daughter, I am trying to find the silver linings in my new life and learn the lessons I need to learn in order to move on healthily.