Motherly Collective

Divorce and custody are two different ball games. They’re lumped together because they are part of the same family of disbanding and dissolution. But in my experience, you can come to terms with one well before you come to terms with the other.

Several months after I separated, I felt a significant amount of societal pressure to just move on with it, whatever that might mean. I should embrace my new identity as a single person and revel in the extra time I have when my son is with his dad. For many of us that have divorced and re-established two homes, we’ve heard some form of this.

Much of it is well-intended but unsolicited. Divorce is a personal trauma, and the last thing those of us going through it should be feeling is pressure to fully embrace aspects of our new reality—and identity—when we’re not ready. The biggest struggle I faced with custody was custody itself. I didn’t want to miss out on any special moments.

As parents, we only have a finite amount of time with our kids, and I felt like I was missing a chunk of his childhood. When our kids are younger, we know everything about them. Their favorite stuffy, when they try new foods and when their tummy hurts. The thought of not knowing those intimate daily details was difficult for me to accept. Childhood is so fleeting. Things are constant until they disappear. Would I be the parent in the house to witness it? Per my settlement agreement, I had a 50% chance. I resented my ex and blamed myself. 

Looking back, I did all the wrong things, but it was a journey that ultimately got me to a more well-balanced place. When my son was with his dad, I kept myself occupied by planning what we would do together next. This is not healthy or recommended, and it put a lot of pressure on the times we were together. Life is not a movie and it can’t always be exciting—there’s downtime and mundane aspects of life that we’ll one day look back on and wish we had more of. It’s the togetherness that we all cherish, whatever that togetherness is for you and your family. 

“The most difficult aspect of custody for divorcing parents is transitioning to two households,” says Julia Swain, a family law attorney and Partner at Fox Rothschild LLP. “It is an emotionally challenging transition to go from seeing your child every day to a schedule where a parent may not see their child for three, four or five days in a row. This change also requires parents to reset their parenting roles and accept the other person’s parenting style which is often different and may be considered less effective.”

Swain counsels her clients that children need happy parents, not married parents. “While parenting styles may be different, all children benefit from knowing that they have two parents who love them very much,” she states.

I soon learned our communication needed to be stronger. Our son is neurodiverse, and he required different therapies to meet his behavioral, social and academic needs. An additional layer of complication to everything we were dealing with was overseeing and ensuring his therapies and programming remained seamless and there wasn’t a breakdown in communication. This turned out to be the catalyst for resetting our parenting roles and learning to respect and trust the other’s parenting style. I needed to let go of old parenting patterns for my son to thrive and be happy. 

With therapy and time, I learned to accept my son would live in two homes. I met a wonderful partner and we have been happily coupled for several years. But I still struggle with not seeing my son daily. If he’s away on vacation with his dad, I find myself daydreaming about what we’ll do when he returns, and I have to stop myself from planning a “Yes” day when he returns. 

Well-intended people will say things like, “I would die for that time alone” or “Why don’t you take a bath, join a book club?” I don’t want to take a damn bath and I read enough. What I want to do with my free time are things that are meaningful to me, but it’s a process getting there. Take your time as everyone’s timeline is different. People should respect that process. When my son is with his dad, what has become meaningful to me is writing, playing tennis and spending time with loved ones. I also enjoy puttering around the house, which I never got to do much before.

My ex and I separated in 2016.  We’ve come a long way because we understand we share the most important thing, our son. We’re good co-parents because we respect what’s important to one another to thrive as a parent. My ex knows I struggle with missing moments and often sends videos and texts. I know he values his time in Vermont, where he grew up, so I’ve learned to be happy for them when they head to the Northeast Kingdom for a while. Ironically, we didn’t support each other in that way when we were married. I’m happy we can do that now. I’ve accepted that our son has adjusted well to two homes, but I haven’t yet embraced it. And it’s OK that I may not ever do so.  

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.