Three years ago my kids moved to another state across the country from me with their dad. He and I realized it was time to release one another to build separate lives. With a great deal of respect and love for one another, we carefully constructed a new arrangement for our family. I live in Colorado, they live in Vermont. I travel to Vermont every month to spend time with them, staying in the house where they live with their dad, my ex-husband. They spend summers with me in Colorado. Aside from the obvious heartache of being apart from my children, the hardest thing about this is the constant self-doubt which is inextricably combined with judgement (both real and perceived) of others.
I wish I didn’t give a fuck what you think, but I do. I don’t give enough of a fuck to change the way I live my life to gain your approval. But I do care enough to try to convince you that it’s all good. If I could carry on without hesitation, I would spend zero time or energy worrying about how the world might view my choices. But here I am, desperately searching for the words that will make you understand that I AM a good mother.
Every time someone asks me if I have children, I feel like I am standing naked in front of a firing squad whose bullets are judgments with the power to strip away my validity as a mother. In order to preempt the bullets, I feel the urgent need to simultaneously apologize for and justify myself as I describe my family situation to anyone. I want you to know that I love my kids as fiercely and deeply as any mom out there, and that the way I am defining motherhood is good for my daughters. If I can somehow find the right words for the 30-second elevator spiel about my family, you will see that my beautiful daughters are thriving. You will know that there is a functional and love-filled partnership between their dad and me, and you will be happy for us. If I don’t paint the picture just right, you will shake your head and lament the sadness of the situation. Then I will have to re-convince myself that it doesn’t matter what you think and that I am not a failure.
I am exceedingly grateful to my ex-husband for the grace and care he puts forth to make this work. He is a full-time single parent 75% of the time, and he is spectacular. He lets his ex-wife stay in his house for a week every month, for pete’s sake! He makes it possible for me to have an active role in the daily lives of our children. He solicits my input on things like bedtimes, food choices, and talking to the kids about sex. He makes sure we Skype every day, and he makes it possible for me to attend parent-teacher conferences and doctor appointments by phone. He could easily cut me out of these things. He is doing the heavy lifting, and I am chiming in from 2,000 miles away without any of the the toil or hassle.
The scenario we are living is exhausting, difficult, and expensive. It is also healthy and beneficial to all of us. Ironically, I am a much better parent under these circumstances than I was when we were living as an intact-white-picket-fence family that could have been the poster child for the American dream. Unhappiness, fed by alcohol and denial, plagued our “perfect” life. We successfully carved out a better way of being. I am proud of us for making this work. Someday, I will stand before the firing squad and be impervious to its bullets because I will have found a way to stop giving a fuck.