I never wanted to be one of the statistics. Roughly 50% of marriages fail, resulting in dual households, complicated parenting plans, or sometimes single parenting. Any person who has been through a divorce or a failed committed relationship knows firsthand the feelings of heartbreak and failure that go with it. Add kids to the equation, and you understand the true meaning of “mommy guilt.”
My significant other and I called it quits after 16 years. At that time, we had two young boys and a long history together. For four years I navigated the waters of single motherhood. My ex and I shared custody, the boys spending two nights a week at his house, and we did our best to craft a reasonable parenting plan. The first couple of years were definitely the hardest. Going through the emotional healing while trying to get the swing of all the logistics and negotiating required by co-parenting proved to be utterly draining.
For the most part, we’ve all adjusted to our new living situation. As co-parents we have established a new type of relationship between us and the boys have settled into their schedules. Both of us are now in committed relationships, so new parental figures and extended families have been added to the mix. While we don’t aim to all vacation together or live next door to each other, we can truthfully attest to life and happiness as amicable dual households. Even still, we hit rough patches. It’s hard not to blame every temper tantrum on the transitioning between places or question if your kids are somewhat permanently scarred.
While you can’t change the past, you have complete control over how you view the present. When we shed the guilt and stigma of dual households, there are some actual benefits to raising your children separately, but still very much together.
Shuffling kids and their arsenal of stuff between two residences is no minor feat. Not only did we need an effective system as the parents, but we also needed to rely on our kids to share the responsibility. For the most part, there are no obvious triggers when to delegate things to your child — things like packing their own lunches or remembering their overdue library books. It’s easy to keep doing things for them and we forget to let them to try, even if it means making mistakes. My kids have become more responsible in part because we’ve insisted on it, but also because their circumstances require it. Considering that the ultimate goal as a parent is to raise high-functioning accountable human beings, requiring more of them in the organization department is a good thing.
It takes some practice to learn how to effectively communicate with someone you no longer want to be around. It also takes a tremendous effort to stay on the same parenting page when you’re not even in the same house. My ex and I have to maintain open and respectful communication to ensure we are doing our jobs as parents. I know my skills at conflict resolution, negotiation, and compromise are stronger since the split. And I believe they carry over into my new marriage — ultimately making me a better partner.
Built-in Date Nights
Research shows that the arrival of kids definitely takes a toll on a marriage. We all understand carving out one-on-one time with our spouse needs to be a priority, but the demands of child rearing make it a tough reality. Our schedule now allows for a built-in date night every week. When the boys go to their dad’s house, my husband and I are able to enjoy time alone. Most weeks that simply means accomplishing a project around the house or some much needed adult conversation while cuddling on the couch. The real benefit comes not from the extravagance of the event, but from the consistency of it. No matter how hectic the week gets, we know we can always count on our day to reconnect with each other, and the whole family is better off because of it.
Rich and varied traditions
There is some autonomy you gain as an independent parent that allows you to establish and practice traditions in a way that is uniquely yours. Our boys really cherish the special things they do with mom and the special things they do with dad. Our traditions have become even richer as our families have expanded. It’s been really positive for my boys to adopt new customs brought to the table by the new members of their family.
More people to love them
A friend of mine once asked how I handled my ex’s partner playing such a big role in my children’s lives. To me, it was simple. Why wouldn’t I want my kids to have more people to love them? The bonds my kids have with their step-parents are real. As they go through life, the more people they have in their corner, the better.
By focusing on the benefits, I decided that my home is far from broken. In a sense, we’re following the old adage “it takes a village” in a more modern way. With the dedication of two loving families, I know my children are receiving all they need to grow up to be healthy, happy adults.