Since the pandemic began I’ve only read one article by a mother parenting her kids on her own and sharing custody with her ex-husband. I only have custody of my two boys half of the time, and I miss them terribly when they are gone. When I have them, I don’t have any help or breaks, but I am reassured through the act of caring for them. This piece is about how I’ve found one way to alleviate my grief about being away from them during this pandemic. I’ve also written about the connection I feel to them during individualized time, as well as my changed relationship with their father.
“We need to choose one house,” said my toddler son. “Like the Berenstain Bears. Like a family.”
But I’m in one house, where he stays half-time, and dad is in another. It typically is a fixed schedule. Then last week we gave them individual 1:1 time. Play time and afternoon quiet time for my youngest, schoolwork then big kid activities like Xbox for my older son. For me it created a sense of relief and brought much-needed joy. I remember so well when my older son was 1, 2, 3, and 4 years old, and how he and I played, read, and adventured. I believe strongly that his little brother deserves that too. Being able to offer focused attention to each child gives me the opportunity to tap into my capabilities as a parent. Before Coronavirus, they each went their separate ways in the mornings, and spent five days apart each week. Now they are on top of each other every day competing for attention, searching for sources of interest and stimulation. I’m juggling, improvising, cleaning, half-working, trying to breathe.
Divorce is so hard on kids and their parents. Awful, painful, and sad. I can’t move into a treehouse like the bears, and I won’t again ever live a life where I wake to my kids every morning and kiss them in bed every night. When previous crises arose in my life over the past two decades, I had a partner and best friend I lived with. Now, this crisis swept me into panic and brought a desperation to see my sons and hold them close, to hunker down and find comfort and build stability. But the four of us isn’t four, it is the three of them and the three of us. So, I asked to see them on a day that wasn’t my day. I proposed the 1:1 idea in a carefully typed email with sound rationale. On Easter, we were all together for baskets and an egg hunt. Then I said goodbye to my 9-year-old and his dad and spent several hours with my 3-year-old. We read as many books as he wanted and mixed ingredients for a play cake.
In the several years prior to this crisis, I had times of extreme stress and worry. Worry for my well-being, my moods, and my future, worry for my boys, their well-being, and their resiliency. Then this spike in danger, and resultant chaos, and my anxiety ballooned. I know the strategies and I’m aware of the tools I should reach for from my arsenal. For anxiety and isolation, I’m supposed to ground myself, to feel my feet on the ground, put my forehead firmly on the mat in child’s pose, touch my fingertips to the floor. Get social support but feed my own needs. Yet my children tether me to my mom self, and right now that identity seems so important. Seeing them, even just in the texted photos their dad sends me, knowing they are safe, and most of all holding them, brings me warmth and peace.
We all see each other so much more frequently now that transitions are at each home. My older one will station us in the front yard with the football or the basketball to await Dad—he switches easily from trading the ball with me to throwing or shooting with him. When goodbye is looming, my heart falls a few floors every time. I look obsessively at the clock. My expression must turn serious, because my little one has twice now said “Don’t be sad, mommy. You stay at home and drink tea.” I don’t want him to be concerned about me. I love his love, though. I get a stuffie before he leaves. Yesterday when I proposed outdoor activities, he told me, “Those things aren’t as good as snuggles.”
The stress and tension have changed as I’ve found a bit of rhythm with my co-parent during this crisis. Compassion for his days without them because I know that emptiness and loss. Care for his well-being, health, and mood. I’ve been breathing the responsibility I share with him—to be patient, understanding, responsive, and appreciative. Like one of the titles to the Bear family books says—Kindness counts.