I have come to accept that my parenting and/or co-parenting is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have to do what is best for my son and our family. Parenthood is hard enough without worrying about everyone else’s opinion.
Seven years ago when I was going through my divorce, I typed into Google “non-custodial mother” to get assistance with the decision I had to make. My soon-to-be ex-husband had asked for physical custody of our son and I was considering granting it without a fight. As I skimmed the search results, I couldn’t find any articles that discussed real thoughts and feelings regarding the experiences of non-custodial mothers and I was wishing I had something to tell me: (1) that I was not alone, (2) that it will be OK, and (3) that my feelings of guilt, loss, and disappointment were all valid.
Since then, I have learned a lot about being a mom, and there are a few things I’ve had to accept in order to be a good co-parent. (Side note: I understand that these things could apply to any parent, but I am writing them from my experience as a mother.)
1. Paying child support
Every month I pay 20% (this percentage can vary based on state law and other factors) of my income for the care for my son, as well as his health insurance, and half of other expenses like medical co-pays and extracurricular activities. Although I trust my son’s father to care for him and manage this money properly, there is still a twinge when I send him that monthly payment. Money is a touchy subject in general, but to have to give financial control over to someone I am not in a relationship with is something I had to accept.
This is also something other people had to accept. Seven years post-divorce and people, usually family members, still make comments suggesting that I shouldn’t have to pay child support because I am a woman. Sometimes I take the time to check them on their double standard of parenthood, and sometimes I just smile and ignore them.
2. My son calling another woman “Mom”
He calls me “mommy” and his bonus mom “mamita.” If this was right after my ex-husband had remarried I would have been bothered by this. I didn’t really know his step-mom that well and “I’m the one who was in labor for hours and breastfed him for two years. Not her!” What I have come to accept is that his “mamita” loves my son very much and she cares and protects him like she does her own daughter. Although my son has been living with her for years, she has never made me feel as though she knows my son more than me (although, to be honest, in a lot of ways she does) or has in any way tried to hinder my relationship with my child. I’ve also gotten to know her over the last few years and I actually really like her. My son’s younger sister has even started calling me “Mommy LeoLin.” Although I never envisioned my son having two moms, I’m glad that it’s her.
3. There are some things I won’t get to experience with my son
There are things a parent gets to experience firsthand as a result of being with their child everyday. When I was a long-distance parent, I missed things like school recitals, parent/teacher conferences, and first days of school. I even missed birthday parties and some holidays. Now that I live closer I am able to be a bigger part of his daily life, which I am thankful for, but there are still some things that I just won’t be the first to know or experience. I imagine that this is hard for all parents especially as our children get older, but it’s something we have to learn to accept if we want our children to become healthy adults.
4. People’s opinions of motherhood
If you have children then you already know that parenting is hard, and what makes it extra hard are all the opinions on how you should be parenting. From close family members to random people on the street, everyone wants to tell you how you should raise your child. I feel though that moms have it extra tough. Not only are we still largely responsible for raising the children, but we also have to deal with society’s general view of what it means to be a woman.
Women become mothers, and we’re suddenly not allowed to have a life outside of our children? Society tells us that we’re not supposed to like sex, or even wear sexy clothes. We can’t love our jobs, or enjoy our alone time either. We’re not supposed to have goals outside of our children, and, God forbid, we have an actual identity other than being “Mom.” We’re damned no matter what we do, it seems.
I don’t buy that. I have come to accept that my parenting and/or co-parenting is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have to do what is best for my son and our family. Parenthood is hard enough without worrying about everyone else’s opinion.
5. I don’t have to feel guilty over my freedom
Although I put this on the list, it’s something I haven’t completely accepted yet, but I’m working on it. I get to work as much as I want, I can sleep in most days, I can travel solo, I don’t need a babysitter if I want to catch a movie or go on a date mid-week, and I can buy the food I like and know that most days it will still be in the fridge when I get home. Because I am the non-custodial parent I have much more free time than my ex-husband. Although I do appreciate this freedom, I also occasionally feel extreme guilt. I often have to flip the script in my mind from, “How dare I enjoy this bubble bath on a Tuesday,” to “Let me enjoy this bubble bath on a weekday so when I am with my son I can be fully present with him.”
As my son is about to experience another birthday, I continue to explore what being a mother means to me. It’s a never-ending learning process. Being a non-custodial mother adds another layer to this journey, but I hope that by accepting the things on this list and continuing to be open to the evolution of my relationship to my child and my role as a co-parent, I am able to be the best mother I can be.
LeoLin is a writer, public speaker and a mother of an 8-year-old son. She currently resides in Texas by way of Chicago and you can usually find her with her face in a book or on the sidelines of her son’s soccer game. She likes to write about personal finance, family, and relationships and you can see all of her work at www.leolinbowen.com.
This piece is co-published with Family Story, a think tank founded to recognize, validate, and protect the many ways individuals form and re-form families.