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:

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Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

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  • Intense fear or anxiety
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“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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