I call it the look: the slight tilt of the head confused look that people give me when they find out that I'm the “weekend” parent.
The look that tells me they’re thinking, “What's wrong with her that her son doesn't live with her?”
You see, I am a mother, but I am also the non-residential parent of my 7-year-old son. And that situation just does not compute for most people. I am the “fun” parent. I'm the parent who spends time with her child on the weekends, holidays, and vacations, and my ex-husband has the role that is usually reserved for the mother.
That said, I'm still a parent 100% of my time — there's no vacation from parenthood. I speak to my son daily, attend his doctor’s appointments, and I am involved in every significant decision regarding school and his upbringing. But in my family, the weekends are mommy time.
I can understand why I get that look.
In American culture, either by choice or by cultural pressure, a mother's role is to be the primary caregiver, and the father's role is to be the primary provider. Mothers take care of the children and fathers go to work — even when the mothers work as well. Even in my upbringing, although my parents were divorced and my father was very much involved in my life, my mother did the day-to-day raising. And that's how it is with every other person I know who was raised in a single parent home.
So when I was going through my divorce, that's what most people assumed would happen in regards to the custody of my son. My family, friends, and even the court system leaned towards me becoming the residential parent.
But my ex-husband and I decided to go a different way. No, our marriage didn't work out, and yes, there were some lingering negative emotions between us. But we were still parents who, no matter what, had to raise a child together, and we refused to use our child as a battle pawn. Instead of deciding based on what others thought what was best for us, we thought about what was best for our family and our son.
I still notice how we are treated differently as parents.
We go to doctor’s appointments, and the doctor will direct the conversation towards me even though my ex-husband speaks more, he knows more of the day to day happenings of our son. Or when we go to court to update anything on our parenting agreement, the clerks will speak as though I'm the residential parent, even though the paperwork that they're reading says differently.
But what's funny (or ironic, and even sad) is that the biggest obstacle to our lifestyle was my struggle to overcome my feelings of failure as a woman. When my ex-husband and I were deciding our plans for our son, I remember asking in (in tears), “What will people say? I'm his mother. I'm the one that he should be living with." Although my ex-husband, at that time, was more financially secure and had stronger family support, I still felt the pressure to perform my motherly duties in the way that was culturally ingrained in me. I was losing my title as a wife, and I felt like I was losing my title as a mother as well.
Five years later, I admit that the phrase “he lives with his father” still gives me pause.
Five years post-divorce, people still tend to think that it's temporary. People believe that my son is living with his father while I “get my life together.” That as soon as I recover from the effects of divorce, my son will come home to his rightful place — with his mother. Well, today my life is more "together" than ever, and this weekend I will pick my son up from his father's on Friday and drop him off on Sunday. Like I do almost every weekend, and like I will continue to do.
I sometimes feel guilty that I have so much more time to nurture my adult interests outside of my son. Mommy guilt never goes away. I sometimes feel such loneliness when my son is not with me, that it brings me to tears. After a weekend with him, my apartment sounds deadly quiet. I sometimes wonder what he is doing, and I wonder if he thinks I have abandoned him. I wonder if I have scarred him for life, and if we will lack the strong bond that mothers have with their children.
Then I remember that, as a mother, it's my job and responsibility to make the best possible decisions for my son.
It's my job show up every day, whether he is with me or not, to continue to provide for him, and to continue to love him and support him whether I am near or far. My family situation isn't ideal, but it is what's best for my family, and that is all that matters. As a parent, I have to put my child ahead of my ego and ahead of what I have been told it means to be a mother.
I tell my son that I love him all the time. I let him know that I'm thinking about him even when I'm not with him. I tell him that he can call me whenever he wants and he knows that, without fail, at 6:30 p.m. he will be getting a phone call from me to see how his day was.
Sometimes, out of nowhere, my son will kiss me and say “I love you, Mommy.” And I know that, “weekend parent” or not, I'm still his mother. Forever.
This article by LeoLin Bowen originally appeared on Ravishly and has been republished with permission. More from Ravishly: