There's a silver lining to only having your kid half the time when going through a divorce.
When discussions around how we'd split our son's time between us arose shortly after the crumbling of my marriage, my ex suggested one week on, one week off. I was devastated. After everything I'd been through, how could I possibly function without the only joy in my life for an entire week at a time?
Arguing about it was in vain, and deep down I knew that for our son, having some stability in being with one parent for an entire week rather than a few days had to be at the core of the decision.
The first week he was with his dad, I didn't know what to do with myself. I likely drank too much beer and cried to Florence + The Machine. But over time, I've come to see that being a part-time mother with 50/50 custody has some pretty sweet benefits.
1. You don't have to hide your ugly cry.
In the months following the split, I cried. A lot. Understandably. But I strove to never let my son see me fall apart. With him out of the house half the time, I suddenly had space to grieve the way I needed to: ugly, loud, and often accompanied by Tori Amos.
My friends — and self-help books — continually told me how I needed to take time to grieve and heal. Not having to put on a happy face at least half the time if I didn't want to made it a lot easier to do just that. There was no one to be concerned if I stayed in bed until 10 AM and only changed out of pajamas every three days.
2. No one will judge you if you start drinking at 2 PM.
In the early days of my separation, I gave myself permission to have unhealthy behaviors that I normally wouldn't have. I bought a pack of clove cigarettes, a throwback to my high school and college days. Sure, I know how incredibly stupid smoking is, but I, like Rhett Butler, didn't give a damn.
And while normally I would only imbibe on the weekend (beer goes straight to my belly... as in, on the outside of it), I gave myself permission to drink whenever I damn well wanted to. Now, I didn't turn into an alcoholic, by any means, but I did use it to soothe the incredible pain I was going through.
And while my kid knows I love me a good coffee stout, I preferred to do my day drinking without him seeing me. (I'm back on track to mostly weekend beers, I am happy to report.)
3. You get to remember what being single and sexy feels like.
I've only recently ventured into the world of online dating, but I love having time when my son isn't here to swipe right on cute guys on Bumble, engage in a little chat back and forth, or even — gasp! — go out on a date. If I knew my son was at home while I was out sucking face, I would feel like the worst mother ever. Instead, I can compartmentalize my Mom v.s Sexy Cougar time accordingly.
As a side note with the whole online dating thing: a new pastime I have is taking screen shots of the truly horrible photos some men take and sharing them with my single friend. We've laughed to the point of tears over them.
4. You don't have to cook a wholesome meal if you don't want to.
More often than not, when my son isn't home, I am thrilled to be able to cook something he'd hate like butternut squash, pasta, or cheese-based anything. But some nights, beer and popcorn is where it's at. I would never eat that if I had to set an example about eating veggies and protein with him around, but when it's just me, I do what I feel.
5. You can go out and get crazy with the girls.
My son is old enough to stay home alone, and he doesn't mind doing so, but I much prefer to go out drinking and carousing with my girlfriends when I don't have to come home and try to look him in the eye without my eyes crossing.
My girls' nights out give me the feel, if only briefly, of those college years where we were all carefree. Up until one of them says, "My husband is watching the kids. I've got to get home."
6. You can be an irresponsible kid!
When my son is home, I feel like 80 percent of the time I'm scolding him to do his chores, make his bed, and put his clothes away. But when he's gone, suddenly there's no reason to be a responsible adult.
I go entire weekends doing nothing more than reading a stack of books. Of course, I never admit that I'm shirking my adult duties to him.
7. You can figure out who you are now.
Given that I was with my ex for 17 years — from the age of 22 onward — I've been questioning who I am now. I'm not that same inexperienced 20-something, so what does that make me these days?
Having time to explore the answer to that question has helped me heal leaps and bounds. And it's exciting to redefine myself, to discover who I am when not being a mother. I am and always will be a kick-ass mom, but as this divorce has taught me, there's a lot of other stuff out there that I want to try. And now I can, every other week.