Here's a rough rundown of my "co-parenting schedule": Monday through Wednesday morning, I am the primary parent for my son. Wednesday after school through Thursday evening, my son’s dad takes on the role. My son is back in my care from Thursday night into Saturday afternoon. Daddy is back on duty Saturday afternoon into Sunday evening. Sunday evening, the schedule starts over. This merry little dance evolved to cover the needs of our son, our work schedules, after-school pickups, and so on. And since this schedule has been implemented, almost every mom I know has reacted by telling me how lucky I am to be able to have days without my son, when I can relax and have adult time. Moms who do this: get your head out of my Netflix queue and understand that I am not "lucky" to be living according to a shared parenting schedule.
We didn't used to call it co-parenting. You can thank Gwyneth Paltrow's famous "conscious uncoupling" for the softer language — co-parenting sounds kind of enjoyable, doesn't it? It sounds manageable, like what Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are doing, each taking turns accompanying the kids to Cold Stone. Even I kind of fancy that each of them, only being there for half the time, bring their best parenting selves to the show. But that's not what co-parenting is like. If you want to be less generous, my ex and I are two individuals each single-parenting for part of the week.
My ex was adamant he not be referred to as a "weekend dad" and we formulated The Schedule so he could get more time in with my son about a year ago. In the beginning, my son would ask his father to call me, then beg me to come home. On the other end of the line, he’d be weeping his little toddler heart out, asking me why he had to stay at Daddy’s house. Trying to swallow down my own upset, I’d try to explain as simply as I could that it wasn’t a punishment and he should enjoy the time with his dad. Of course, at three and half years old, the wisdom of The Schedule can be hard to understand.
I don’t feel lucky to have to watch my crying child be carted off, unwillingly, with his dad.
One day, the director of his preschool pulled me aside. She told me that my son had been acting out lately, completely unlike himself, and that when she asked him what the problem was, he broke down crying and said that he didn’t want to go to his daddy’s house anymore. In that moment, I could have turned into sand and blown away. She looked at me reassuringly and said that it wasn’t out of the ordinary, but she wanted to let me know.
That conversation didn't cause me to pull the plug on the arrangement — I knew how important my son's relationship with his father was. Rather, we worked hard, together, to get him more comfortable with the shift. Even now, there are some days that I have to peel his hands off of the door frame to send him off with his dad. This is the reality behind my "free" Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. I don’t feel lucky to have to watch my crying child be carted off, unwillingly, with his dad. I don’t feel lucky to have to hope that Christmas lands on my day so I don’t have to negotiate spending time with him. I damn sure don’t feel lucky to have to ask permission to use a bit of my ex’s time so that I can take my son on a trip or to a birthday party.
If it looks to you like I have a couple days off from parenting, let me assure you this: you never stop parenting. The truth is that I have to send my son to spend time with his father a couple of days out of the week and it sucks. I am lucky that my ex is a good dad. I am lucky that he wants to be active in raising our son. But this isn't a trip to Cold Stone among amiable exes. I feel for my son every day of The Schedule, and I want people to know that co-parenting is a full-time job.