My life is a mess, but then it's not.
I'm squishy in the middle and my house is well, hygiene-challenged. I write down a list of goals every week which range from the notably unambitious (buy toilet paper) to the unachievably hopeful (figure out way to pay off credit card debt this year!). My 12-year-old daughter thinks the best morning school commute music is hardcore punk loud enough to share with other drivers at red lights. My 17-year-old has chosen the perfect university to attend, and tuition is a mere $40,000 annually.
However, I live one block from my ex-husband. We have shared custody of our girls for a decade, and it has worked beautifully. I have danced to more live music in the last few years than any other parent I know, and rarely paid for babysitting or worried about coming in late. My daughters and I have never (fingers still crossed) experienced an extended breakdown in communication. At week's end, when the tension sometimes peaks, I simply kiss them goodbye and send them to dad's. It's his turn to deal with them for the next seven days.
Many of my girlfriends have expressed longing for such freedom. 'If only I could have an hour/weekend/month to myself!' they sometimes say over coffee. 'It's not fair, you have a whole life outside of the kids.' Other single moms complain that the father is not involved enough or even competent to deal with their children alone. In fact, many married mothers say such things about their own husbands.
Still, I realize that lots of parents don't quite respect me as a less-than-fulltime mom. Although my children are with me week-on, week-off and often call with goings-on and homework advice during their dad's week, I just don't have full credibility as a 'real' mother. The teachers don't always know me well, since I am out of town working during many school functions while the kid's dad rarely misses a meeting (he does not have to work). The church moms, who are a majority here in the Bible Belt, furrow their brows at a non-religious mama like me who never takes the girls to church and is seen sipping a gin and tonic occasionally at the local Applebee's. What's worse, I have a boyfriend who sometimes sleeps in my bed. Being known as a sexual single mom here in our veritable Mayberry is everything you can imagine. I also sell tobacco accessories at my store (read:pipes) and that is a sure sign of woman going to hell and dragging her babies into the flames along with her.
The proof is in the pudding though, and my daughters are a couple of sweeties. Good grades, smart, affectionate, and adored by their friends and family. We have the occasional argument, but fights tend to be mercifully brief and quickly forgotten. We have bonded over their choice of concerts and I refrained from musical criticism as we shook our booties in unison to everything from O-town to Outkast to Incubus to Nerf Herder. These days my 12 year old is a fishnets-and-eyeliner punk stylist straight out of a 1979-era Clash concert (she sometimes buys from Hot Topic, but considers it a wannabe mall store while she strives for authenticity and meaning - and she really does talk to me about these things). We marched for peace in Washington D.C. in January until her Doc Martens rubbed her heels raw. She really thinks that anarchy is a good idea; it's not just a sticker on her notebook. She's still a kid, though, and spends more time just hanging out with girlfriends and playing games on the computer. Her older sister considers her a real slacker, and stays busy playing power couple with her equally overachieving boyfriend. She makes me tired just hearing about every extracurricular activity she involves herself in, from drama club to basketball statistician to endless volunteer projects. However, she is a people magnet and a delight to be around. I feel like the luckiest mom in the world to have such a pair of funny, interesting, smart kids.
Despite our close proximity, their father and I only speak about once a year. When we split up, he quit even making eye contact with me in public places. He sends me an invoice detailing childcare expenses twice a year and I send him a check for my half. I have had warmer relationships with telephone solicitors. This used to bother me, but now I try to just stay amused. He gives the girls a lot of attention and provides a much tidier home for them than I ever will. Although you won't catch him shoving his way through a mosh pit to make sure his daughter has not been kicked too hard in the head by a crowd surfer (like some of us have been known to do), he is a good father and I can relax knowing that the kids are being cared for in my absence.
Don't hate me because I have a good joint custody arrangement. We can just wonder together why good co-parenting doesn't happen more often. Nothing's perfect, but if folks could just think beyond traditional norms and find the best balance between parents and their children, the kids will likely be just fine (and moms might find more time to have fun too!).
The Joys of Joint Custody by Debra McCorkle
My life is a mess, but then it's not.