As a mom who has been divorced for six years, I have good and bad news. The good: Being a divorced mom isn’t all that bad. The early-stage stressors — court hearings, lawyer fees, breaking the news to the kids, and the general breakdown of what was supposed to be your happily-ever-after — stink really badly for a long while, but they do get easier or disappear entirely.
The bad news: Just as that happens, you will be hit with a whole new unique set of issues reserved solely for the divorced, co-parenting population. You know you're a divorced mom when….
1. You practice strategic wardrobing.
When the kids are going back to Dad’s house, you strategically dress them in clothes you a) don’t like, b) didn’t buy, and/or c) don’t fit them. This is called strategic wardrobing. You certainly don’t want the good clothes you purchased to find a home at their father’s house. I will tell you now: This is kind of a lost cause. The clothes invariably disappear, but it’s still worth a shot.
2. You employ strategic snacking.
When the kids are going back to Dad’s for a longer period of time, you refuse to open new bags of food of any kind. No one will be eating Doritos for the next four days, so that bag is staying fresh and sealed until the kids’ next homecoming. My kids go back to Dad’s on Mondays; their Monday lunch boxes are filled with the crumbs left at the bottom of the Pringles container. Take it or leave it; those Doritos are for next week.
3. The take-home folder game is a nightmare.
The teacher wants the folder emptied each night, but you want to leave something in there for Dad to see — or better yet, for Dad to handle. Child gets stressed that he will get in trouble for not emptying his folder, so whatever important paper that was in the folder is placed aside and you promise yourself you will give it to Dad. He needs to knows it’s Pajama Day on Friday; it's his day, after all. You don’t think about that flyer again until you pick up the kids from school on Pajama Day and realize they are the only ones not in pajamas! Important paperwork gets overlooked or misplaced, and you often wonder why can’t the school just send two copies home of everything?
4. You have a Dad Bag that you take very seriously.
This bag is the keeper of all things the kids need to survive at Dad’s house for a few days: cell phones, your teen’s bras, brushes, soccer uniforms, and any necessary school supplies. You prepare for the transition to Dad’s house for days, reminding the kids: You are going to need that at Dad’s, put it in the Dad Bag. Sure, you do this for them, but really, you do this for you because you do not want the 9 p.m. phone call: “Mom, is my math book there? Can you bring it to me? Dad’s busy and can’t come get it.” Yes, dear, I will bring it to you. I will get out of bed and put my clothes back on and warm-up my car, and use my gas to drive to Dad’s house on his night, only to get home past my anticipated bedtime of 9:30 p.m. No problem. I love you. I TOLD YOU TEN TIMES TO PUT IT IN THE DAD BAG! Trust me: Prep the Dad Bag, divorcees, and protect your self-care time.
5. Their first day back with you has a plan.
You have a methodical approach for dealing with those challenging transition day — the days when the kids return to your house after several days with Dad and, well, it takes some time for them to adjust. Different home, different set of rules, and the excitement and love of being with you while (perhaps) simultaneously feeling sad about leaving and missing their Dad. This is part of your new norm. You’ll learn patience and your own unique coping mechanisms for this unavoidable transition day — and, with time, it will actually be enjoyable.
6. You live by a calendar.
You have a custody calendar in your home, on your computer, and at work, and it is easily accessible at all times. Sometimes, you’ll want to take a vacation day on a day you know the kids are with Dad so that you can re-group. Other times, you will receive an invitation for a playdate or birthday party and quickly have to determine which parent gets to call the shots on the weekend in question. If you have younger kids, you may get used to them saying first thing in the morning, “Whose house am I sleeping at tonight?” Calendars are essential for both kids and parents.
7. Your children have mastered this thing called Divorce Manipulation.
They bat their eyelashes as they tell their teacher: “I am sorry I didn’t do my homework, because I left my book at my Dad’s house.” Or, my personal favorite: “I have to bring my phone to school, Mrs. Hamilton, because I am going to my Dad’s today and I couldn’t leave it at my mom’s.” They know how to work it.
8. Your kids have a newfound love and appreciation for holidays.Because, now, guess what? It is double the parties, double the fun, and most importantly, double the presents. Every Christmas and every birthday, my kids cannot contain their excitement: “I love having divorced parents, because we get two parties!”
9. You live in extremes.
You are either completely exhausted and overwhelmed, wondering if you will ever have an uninterrupted thought again — or you finally have that alone time and you are knee-deep in laundry and dishes, missing your kids and wondering how you will survive three days without seeing the little cherubs. It is all or nothing all of the time; there is no in between.
Now for more good news: One day you wake up and say, “Holy Sh$#! I finally got this! I am an accomplished divorcee!”* The new stressors become your new norm. There will be many days when you wake up and think I don’t know how it is all getting done today, but it is getting done. And done it gets.
You know that your children are loved and flourishing in life. They are learning resilience and adaptability from their two-home living arrangement — and they have a kick-ass mom, who is modeling strength, courage, and perseverance.
This article was written by Suzanne Hayes.