Today's guest post is brought to you courtesy of my sister, Jennifer. She's a single mom just entering the big kid years (her kiddos are 13 and 11). As my younger sister I love to boss her around and tell her just how to do things. The thing about Jennifer is that she is very disobedient to my bossing, always insisting on her own unique way and perspective. Typically, her "unique way" is hang-loose and hilarious. So I keep bossing, she keeps ignoring, and we both keep laughing. In the spirit of honoring all different kinds of big kid parenting, I find her single mom experience a particular gem. Enjoy.
This week, Spring Break, with my kids off to their Dad’s house, I jumped into the car with my sister Sarah and two of her four children for an epic road trip from Texas to Utah. There have been so many moments during the trip when I see my sister in the act of everyday parenting that remind me of my children and the moments I am missing, but there are equally as many moments of hilarious laughter and fun memories.
Deciding to end a marriage is understandably one of the most difficult decisions of your life, and I put it off for years for fear of the sort of frayed existence we would all have once that thread had been severed.
And just as I had imagined, once it inevitably happened, a whole new world of shuffling began. I am a full-time parent Monday through Thursday morning and then a single girl every Thursday night and every other weekend.
School holidays alternate between parents, creating a weird spectrum of either being completely in charge with no help from a partner or being everyone’s favorite childless aunt. It’s an all or nothing existence, and switching gears between these roles is often challenging and sometimes just plain annoying.
Obviously I would prefer to have my children with me all of the time, but after those first few desperate weekends without them, slowly, as with all things, I began to get used to it.
The shuffling has had some worthy benefits. It gives me time to catch up on work, date, and stay connected to friends and family. I have a closer relationship with my siblings and their children than would otherwise be possible. In the constancy of full-time parenting, there is very little time to build deep bonds with a niece or a nephew, but in the shuffling world such things are possible.
In its best iteration the shuffling creates a wider circle of life and understanding for all of us. The children enjoy having friends and traditions at both houses, and because of our frequent absences from each other we openly value our relationships with each other. Because we are made to miss each other, we are also made to understand how much we really mean to one another.
In its worst, it’s a discombobulated mess of reestablishing authority and patterns of living over and over again. We are constantly restarting with each other and relearning how to work together.
Obviously, my goal is to live the shuffling in its best iteration as much as possible, and over time I have learned to enjoy my kid-free time. I have learned to stop mourning my losses and just enjoy the chance to be the favorite aunt or girl about town. I have learned to just let go and give myself over to jumping in a car and heading across America with my sister, or Face Timing with my daughter from the top of a mountain because it was the only chance that day to talk, or speculating for hours in different sessions with both nephew and son on what we really want in our bunker during the Zombie Apocalypse.