I never wanted to be a single parent.  I certainly would never have chosen to have a baby on my own – I know what raising a child on your own is like because I was one of three kids my single mom raised.  It has always been very important to me that my child have two parents that contributed equally to raising him.  I didn’t plan for divorce and was convinced it wouldn’t be part of Jack’s life.  Somehow, things didn’t quite turn out the way I thought they would.  Surprising, huh?

To be honest, I’ve felt mostly like a single parent since Jack was born.  At first I thought it was an inherent thing that went along with breastfeeding.  Jack nursed so often and seemed so attached to me – how was it even possible to distribute his care evenly between parents?  Then I was the one washing all the bottles and diapers, cooking dinner, paying bills, putting Jack to bed every night, doing daycare duty, and waking up to comfort him in the middle of the night because I had a shorter commute to work and Joe needed to be rested for school…and I was first in line to take days off when he was sick since I got paid vacation days.  Then there were football Sundays and “I need to get out and hike while there is sun!” days.  I began spending my Sundays with those friends of mine who loved to distract Jack long enough for me to drink a cup of coffee.

When Joe and I went our separate ways, I was actually surprised at how little things changed.  It did free up 3 out of 7 nights of bedtime duty for me.  Other than that, I was still doing all the diaper laundry (until I said I would no longer wash the ones sent with him to his dad’s), responsible for daycare drop off and pick up, and I paid the daycare provider every month, in full, whether the 20% child support check came or not.  I’m still first in line to take a day off when Jack is sick or his daycare is closed; I don’t have the option to say “I can’t.”  So, even though Jack’s dad is very much in his life, I feel like a single parent the majority of the time.

I am sure I contribute to this dynamic in my life.  I always had trouble being assertive in my marriage and I still struggle with this.  I try to avoid conflict, and when it can’t be avoided all of the frustration comes out at one time and isn’t quite productive.  I have thus far avoided getting the state involved in any of the custody and child support issues because I know that Jack’s dad is a good person who is trying to do his best to care for his son.  I know he wishes he could do more and I don’t think it’s fair to cripple him with a wage garnishment order, for instance, when I’m able to make ends meet.

Still, I get tired and have days or weeks where I am at the end of my rope.  I get frustrated that, although I have the lion’s share of responsibilities toward Jack, the times I get to spend with him at home are at the whim of his father’s schedule.  I get upset at myself for ending up in this situation and I wonder if I made the right decisions along the way (did I do the best with the information I had at the time or was I delusional?).  I worry about whether it’s right to lean on David for help and how much responsibility for Jack’s care belongs to him since we live together in a committed relationship.

I know it’s common for parents to go through an adjustment period to figure out division of labor and responsibilities when a child comes into their lives.  Some couples figure out how to balance things and some couples do not.  It gets trickier when there is a divorce and additional parental figures involved; i.e., if I need to work late, who do I call for Jack’s care – the partner I live with or the father who sees Jack only two days a week?  I still don’t know the right answer but it seems to be up to me to figure it out…

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The ending

It’s been over a year since Joe and I split up.  I was chatting with him recently and we agreed that it seems like a lifetime ago that we were married.  So much has happened in the past year that our previous life together seems unreal.  I can’t speak for his experience in all this, but I thought I would write a bit about my perspective.

The hardest part about a divorce, especially after 9 years of marriage, is figuring out the relationship with in-laws.  Being married at 18 means that I grew up with these people.  I spent every Christmas of the last decade with them.  I’m godmother to my niece Emily.  Joe’s mom was there for Jack’s birth and I work with Joe’s brother (which was a little awkward at first but is totally fine now).  I have struggled a lot with the question of whether divorce means that I lose these connections, if I give up the right to know what they are doing.  I am still hopeful that that is not the case.  How does one divorce a person without making their whole family feel divorced?  I still have no answer.

Another difficult aspect of a divorce, at least one with a child involved, is the part where you still have to deal with many of the issues that were there in the marriage.  A procrastinator spouse may be (endearingly) annoying, but when that person becomes your ex and you are suddenly dealing with waiting to hear back about a custody schedule change or something, it becomes a giant bone of contention.  After divorcing someone you end up dealing with the bad stuff without enough of the good stuff to balance it out.  That came as a bit of a surprise to me.  I did not realize that separation and divorce are not all that separate.

All in all I think our split has turned out better than anyone could have expected.  Jack is still the well-adjusted funny little kid he was before but now he gets dedicated time with each parent.  Both Joe and I have met wonderful people who make us fantastically happy.  Jack has four parents now to teach him and care for him, and we all bring different strengths to the equation.  When Joe and his girlfriend moved last month, David helped them.  It was surreal for me, having my boyfriend help out my ex-husband, but it is how I hoped things would be.  I feel very lucky be surrounded with people who want everything to go as smoothly as possible and recognize the importance of one another’s roles.  I feel lucky that everyone is moving on and finding happiness instead of continuing to struggle with a marriage that just wasn’t working.

Our divorce paperwork is in the final stages.  The papers are all filled out and in proper order but the courts are not making it easy on us.  The papers have been rejected twice and the second time was completely unexplained.  This last technicality lingers before I can have a final resolution to that story in my life.  I’m very much looking forward to the future.

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