Co-Parenting: Confessions of a Part-Time Mom

Jackson and Angela picking out pumpkins fall of 2013

by Angela Noel

August 31, 2017

It happens every time. Jackson waves good-bye to me and walks with his dad into the car or into his dad’s house. I drive away or close the door and get on with my day. Then, about an hour or two later, I feel it. A physical pang, like hunger mixed with loss, strikes me. The twinge lasts only a few seconds, but I’ve come to know it well: I miss him.

Being a part-time mom can be delicious.Β Β When I began dating again after the split with my ex five years ago, having a few days a week when I could have adult time meant I stayed social. I met new people, did new things, and explored what it meant to be in my late-thirties and single. I also had yet to finish the first draft of my novel and the story still burned within me. Having Sundays to myself meant I had time to write.

On top of all this, the split happened the week before I began a new job. So, along with figuring myself out, caring for the emotional and physical needs of a little person, and trying to finish a novel, I had a new job to learn. Β A few days off a week was a godsend. Though I missed my little son then, I was preoccupied with what a new life after twelve years with my ex would mean for me socially and creatively.

Except for a six-month period when I had Jackson full time, my ex and I have split parenting time roughly equally. We’ve had a few ups and downs, but for the most part we enjoy a better-than-average co-parenting relationship.

Jackson in a float plane
Jackson in a float plane exploring the Tongass National Forest on my family’s trip to Alaska this past June.

But that’s the practical side of things. None of what’s good about being a part-time mom assuages that feeling of loss. This vague sense permeates my days. I live with a hole in my body that I cannot touch or see, a corporeal thing that has no name, but exists all the same.

Sucked into this hole are the smiles I won’t see. The giggles I miss. The farts I won’t smell (okay, those his dad can keep). The bedtime kisses and early morning cuddles I won’t get. The homework I won’t review. The new discoveries I won’t see. The lost teeth. The skinned knees. Sniffles. Monkey-bar crossings and zip-line races. Birthday parties and vacations. These all live in the hole in my body, the blackhole place where he lives a life outside of the life he shares with me.

Every parent has a child move away. That’s what they do. We raise them to be independent, to make their own way, to be productive members of society. But part-time moms and dads have a preview of this event. We watch our child or children leave us over and over. It doesn’t get easier. I celebrate that he has a life outside of my world. I want him to be with his dad, to gain all the benefits of his father’s love and the experiences he can have with him that he’d never get with me. But I want that with my head.

Camping trip photo
Jackson and I on a recent camping trip. He’s changed so much in five years. But apparently, I really like that green hat.

My heart wants to cuddle his little body close to me every day. It wants to know he’s safe in his bed and if I say his name out loud he’ll answer. I want to feel his soft cheek against mine every night at bedtime, and to hear his slightly-lisping voice read yet another Star Wars book before we shut off the light. I’d even put up with the farts if I could have his blond head bobbing next to me every day when we take the dog for a walk. But I put all those thoughts in the blackhole, too.

Life isn’t perfect for full-time moms or dads either. And most of the time, I relish the moments, like right now, when I have a quiet house with only the sounds of my dog licking the side of the refrigerator to disturb me. But, the hole opens up and swallows me sometimes. And I feel the absence of my little boy like a spectral something waiting to devour me.

The hole, though, is as essential to me as anti-matter is to matter. It reminds me to relish the sweetness of life. The moments like when Jackson’s running across a grassy field with a plastic sword slaying clumps of mowed grass. A nothing moment. An everything moment. The hole reminds me to take notice.

Gratitude for the life I have today, with all the peaks and valleys, gives me peace. That, and the sure knowledge that no one way is THE right way to raise a child. Start with love. End with love.

Loving him is why I feel his absence as I do. The presence of pain isn’t always a sign that something is wrong. Sometimes, it’s a sign that something is right. Love asks us to do not the simple, the easy, or the selfish thing, but the right, the beautiful, and the courageous thing. Watching the receding back of my little boy as he walks away breaks my heart, but it also helps it grow.

Your turn: Are you a part-time parent or know someone who is? Have you experienced having your child leave home?

Author: Angela Noel

Seeker and promoter of awesome people and ideas.

55 thoughts on “Co-Parenting: Confessions of a Part-Time Mom”

  1. Oh darling this a wonderful & candid post. I can only imagine what you go through every time he goes to his Dad’s. You describe it so well. I was bereft enough when mine went to her grandparent’s for the week (whilst equally enjoying the peace & quiet). I have so much respect for you Angela. It sounds like you’re doing a fantastic job of co-parenting with your ex. As you so perfectly put it, there’s no right way to raise a child. Love is the most important thing & no doubt Jackson feels that in abundance x

    1. Thank you! It means so much to me that you think so. I don’t know that I’m doing it “right” but I’m trying to do it with purpose and care. I think that’s all any of us can do, right?

  2. All so very well put and put so very well on target. I shared equally in my daughter’s life after the split. She was 12 then so some of her milestones we both experienced. But as she entered teen-dom, well, the time might have been equal but those next milestones were more often shared with her mother. I sometimes became more of the confirmation that all was well rather than a participant. But it worked better than I had imagined. Now that she is 28 and has been on her own for almost 10 years I still see her coming to me for “confirmation” and still is a big part of her life.
    You never get over missing them but children have a way if knowing when to show up just when the missing seems to peak. I know yours will be among those who do too.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. The fact that your daughter trusts you with something like the final sign-off is a powerful testament to your relationship.
      I foresee my son may gravitate towards his father for various reasons–one being he gets to play video games more often at his house–but your story gives me hope that, not matter what, the love and relationship endures.

  3. This brought tears to my eyes because… I can’t imagine. But when I try, I can see that I would feel exactly as you do. I’m so happy you have a healthy relationship with J’s father. This will mean the world to J, and I’m sure it’s already impacting him in so many positive ways. You’re a great mother and your little boy is lucky to have you (and his father).

    1. I had tears in my eyes as I wrote it. πŸ™‚ No one enters a marriage and says, “Gosh, I hope we get divorced one day.” But if it happens, there are ways to thrive.
      Whatever the adversity, divorce, illness, financial issues– we’ll have to decide if we choose the path of least resistance or the path of greatest love. I KNOW you’d pick the love path. I read it in your posts all the time. πŸ™‚

  4. This is… a world it seems I am going to enter soon. I know it’s hard and painful and lonely, and even though you crave alone time when your kids are there, when they’re gone, you really miss them. I know that. My kids are older, and they’ve reached that independent age where they just want peace for themselves. I think that they’ll be fine, but I worry that they won’t. Each of them has a gift, and an issue. All of them have had lives full of… animosity is the kindest word I can use.
    So, lots of things to, well, ‘look forward to’ is not a good phrase here, but that. I have tried everything, and it’s time to stop.

    I felt all the pain in your post. The longing, and the remorse that things couldn’t have been different for him, let alone for you. I wish that for you too. I think your son sees his mother happy, and sees her giving him love and attention and care from the depths of her heart. Thank you for writing such a vulnerable post, and know that I appreciate you so much for sharing this. Because I also felt all the love in your post. πŸ™‚

    1. Thank you for reading the post and taking the time to add your thoughts.
      Perhaps because your kids have had adversity to deal with they’ll be even better equipped than others to deal with independence and all that comes with that. I think you show such awareness and sensitivity to what your children are feeling now. You recognize they seek peace, but don’t take it personally. It’s not necessarily, “I want to get away FROM YOU.” But rather, “I just want to be away.” But maybe I’m reading too far into your words. . . you tell me. The movie, Out of Africa, speaks a bit to the same theme. It’s not that Redford’s character wants to be away from Streep’s, it’s just that he wants to be away.
      I hope (and do think) your right on my son’s experience. He does see a happy mom. And a happy dad, too. Some people, when I’d tell them I was divorcing would say, “I’m sorry.” And I would say, “Don’t be. It’s a good thing.” Though that time was filled with pain, I also knew I was making the right decision for us all. I see the end of my marriage not as the end of a relationship, but as the beginning of a new one. It’s not as “easy” for lots of divorced couples for many, many reasons. I’m grateful that wasn’t my experience. But you’re absolutely right, there was an inevitable longing for what couldn’t be.
      Thank you again for your very insightful comment. I truly appreciate it.

      1. I hope that I’ve given my kids the tools to be independent regardless of my relationship. They are independent, yes, because they don’t want to hang out with Dad, but i know they secretly love it. I read something that said a very sad day is the day that you no longer pick up your kids (because they’re too heavy). Just this past June, when school ended, I stopped reading my sons bedtime stories. They turned 14 shortly thereafter – yes, a bit old for reading stories, maybe, but one son has autism, so i did it for him.. but I sort of never picked it up again. That was the same as literally picking them up. Bittersweet.
        I try to do more with them, because I know what’s coming, but they’re at the age they want to do less with me.
        In my case, however happy I may be, I don’t think they’ll ever see a happy mother. I can’t keep trying. I’ve tried everything.

        I’m very happy your situation worked out so well, ultimately. That makes me smile. You are very wise and have such love and clarity in your life. You give me hope.

        1. Thank you! Shall I call you Ward? I’m thinking that isn’t your real name.
          I do think it’s hard when you can’t help the other half of the parenting equation. And I don’t know that there’s a way to make up for it. Sometimes I get down on the fact that my child won’t have a “perfect’ childhood–but who am I to say? I like to think he “chose” me and this life with all the hard things he has to negotiate. That means my job is to help him deal with them, not prevent them from happening, necessarily. (Of course, I don’t mean letting him run off a roof or anything)
          For what it’s worth, I agree with you. You can’t keep trying. That’s not your job. Your job, and it sounds like you’re doing it well, is to help them see the reality of what they’re experiencing with their mom and choose joy anyway. (Just my opinion–take the thought or leave it :))
          Thank you also for thinking I’m wise. I’m just happy I’m less asleep than I used to be.

          1. It’s not my real name. I’m Brian. πŸ™‚

            I made a decision right when my sons were born to stay, not really getting behind the ‘leaving an abusive relationship but the kids can stay’ idea. I still don’t know if it was the right one. Maybe they would have grown up just thinking separate Mom and (happy) Dad was absolutely normal. I don’t know what would have happened, though. Instead, they’ve grown up in stress and fighting, and who knows how THAT has shaped their lives.
            The thing is, there are some good moments. Maybe not enough. Maybe these moments are just toxic, manipulative, etc. I don’t know.

            It’s hard to navigate and hard to get over. The kids are the last ‘obstacle’. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t care what other people think, like family, and her friends. I just want to be happy, and make everyone around me happy. Whoever I can. However I can.

            I’ve been Rip Van Winkle, practically. I’m waking up.

          2. Good for you, Brian. πŸ™‚ We can only make the best decisions we can with the information we’ve got.
            There really is no “one right way.”
            A friend recommended I listen to a series of You Tube videos recorded during a two-day retreat given in the 80s. For whatever reason, I found a lot of value in the message. I’m not religious, but the talks are given by psychologist and Jesuit priest, Father Anthony DeMello He references all kinds of philosophers, spiritual traditions and just plain common sense. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Y3Q7H2urto&list=PL9285D44ED7F7B18B
            This is the link to the series. It’s LONG. But he talks specifically–pt.19a–about happiness. And your comment reminded me of something he said. I listened to the whole talk over a series of multiple days while I worked out in the gym. πŸ™‚ Later, I bought the CDs of the talk.
            Anyway–if you happen to listen to it, and it’s of value to you, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  5. In a perfect world we’d get it right first time, It isn’t perfect and though i didn’t think I ever would want to … I found my perfect forever at 50, so never give up hope.

    1. Oh, I’m so glad you found your perfect forever! That makes me happy. In reading your recent post from your adventures and your husbands light-hearted support, I can tell there’s so much love!
      While I had those days without Jackson early on, I was able to have more time to get to know my co-worker, then friend, then boyfriend and now husband. He’s both a wonderful man, and a fantastic stepdad to Jackson. Love finds us, I think, if we give it directions.

    1. Well, you’re still cool! I think Ward Clever alluded to this idea, too. It’s not that hanging out with you isn’t cool. Maybe it’s just that there are so many more options than mom when they’re older. But, you remind me–Jack JUST asked me to play with him and I told him to hold on. . . maybe I’d better go play! πŸ™‚

  6. This is a beautifully written post. Thanks for your candor on the realities good and bad, as well as your raw honesty on the turbulent emotions that go along with the reality of your existence. It DOES sound like you are doing a fabulous job, despite the challenges – you go, Mama!

    1. Thank you! I think all of us parents crave those words: “you are doing a fabulous job.” Just feeling the warm fuzzy I get when I read your words just now reminds me I need to say those things more often to other mothers. Thank you for reading and adding your insight!

  7. Here’s something else to be grateful for: sounds like you don’t have to worry about J’s safety when he goes to his dad’s. I’m step-mother to a couple of teenagers who live with us full time, and my husband and I fear for them every time they go to their mother’s house (which thankfully isn’t very often anymore). But aside from the fear, I’m just SO SAD for them. Everyone should get a decent mother. When they’re away from her, she should miss them like we do. They should be important to her, and it breaks my heart that they aren’t (and never have been).

        1. It’s funny: my mom always makes a point of saying that my name means “Christmas angel,” AND YET I WAS BORN IN MARCH. Maybe she just thought I was a gift. =)

    1. You’re absolutely right. I am so grateful for that. I’ve heard other stories from friends of mine who have stepchildren where the bio parent really is sort of terrible. Thank you for being the loving parent they need! It must be very hard to watch people you love so much suffer.
      I’m so glad you stopped by. And glad you shared your experience, too.

  8. I can feel your pain….the most rewarding thing in the world is to be a mom. Your post reminded me of the first (and only) time I dropped both kids off at a week-long camp. My hubby was on a business trip for a week, as well, so when I left camp, I drove to my parents’ house in NC. The minute I drove out off the campground, I started crying. I felt completely alone! I made it to my parents’ and was able to distract myself, but it was a terrible feeling! I’m nearing the empty nest now, and it still makes me a bit sad to lose that constant connection. Although, now, I’m able to appreciate more of that alone time – time to write, read, and simply be.

    1. Thank you for reading and adding your comment, Allison. (Though I really want to call you Dr. Brown for some reason. :))
      I do believe the greatest tool in the world for dealing with tough loss is eventually getting to the place of appreciating what we have, rather than what is missing.
      It’s much easier when our relationships are changing, not ending. Like I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to tell someone who just lost a loved one to, “think of all the spare time you’ll have.” or “at least you have the memories. . .” gross. I hope I never do that, ever. But death being the exception, when relationships shift and change, there are good things to be gained, I believe, just as you point out. But, it takes work to look for those positives sometimes. I’m glad you’re looking at the shift in your own relationships with your kids with an eye to what you’ll gain and a curiosity about how your relationships will evolve as they enter a new chapter.
      Thank you again for your insight! I was hoping you’d pop over and add your thoughts. πŸ™‚

  9. I was a full-time parent, but this post still spoke to me. You’re right, pain doesn’t always mean something is wrong. And love makes us so very vulnerable, but at the same time it is what keeps our hearts growing…..

  10. It must be very hard but it sounds like you are making the best of it. As a child of an ugly divorce, I was scared to even have kids but eventually did. Thankfully, I have been able to be a full time parent. One is in his junior year of college and one just started high school this morning.

    1. I’m so glad you made the leap to parenthood. Divorce can be really ugly and I wish it wasn’t. So many variables can change the dynamic between parents. I’m sorry your childhood experience was not so good, but you are an excellent example of overcoming the adversity of the past. WOW! First day of high school and another in college. That’s awesome and must be so exciting!

  11. Wonderfully written. I was raised with divorced parents at the age of one, although they both remarried few years later. It was never easy on my either one of my parents when growing up, having to send me off and say their goodbyes especially when both sets live states away from one another. But the times I’d spend with each of mine would cherish the time they had with me and soak up every second knowing that I’d be on my way again. So in a sense, I think one of the pros to being a part-time parent it that they value the little time they have, making every second count.

    1. I so agree. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m glad you valued what some would call an “unconventional” childhood. You’ve reinforced my confidence that an untraditional family still creates wonderful humans. Thank you!

      1. I’m Glad I was able to be of help. I feel that a child has a broader, more open perspective when growing up in this type of dynamic, teaching them to learn how to deal with things others normaly wouldn’t be faced with. So, in a sense there is an upside when raising a child in an “untraditional” lifestyle. It’s all about making positive impact on them.

  12. This is such a well-written piece. I do believe that so many parents can relate to these feelings. I love how you ended it with the purest definition of a parent loving their child.

    I live with a dark hole within me because I choose a different path with my oldest child, but it was the right one for her at the time. It was/is the hardest decision I ever made in my life.

    It warms my heart to hear that you and your ex are choosing to do what is best for your son. I hope that you can continue with this style parenting until he does move out on his own.

    1. Thank you for reading the post. It means a lot to me that you were touched by it. Parenting is full of trade-offs. None are harder than those decisions we know are right, but hurt like hell. I hope for you, what I hope for myself: that our children know we did our very best to put love first. Thank you so much for sharing some of your experience with me.

  13. Beautiful piece, Angela. I can’t relate since I’m not a parent, but I feel the emotions tugging at my heart as I think about the people I don’t get to physically see every day. I live in a different state than most of my family, and your piece spoke to that hole I feel every time we part ways. I actually just saw my brother this past week and I find myself quite down since he left a couple days ago. It does make the heart grow fonder I think!

    1. I’m so glad the piece spoke to you. You’re right, anyone we love, child, brother, mother, friend, etc–when we really feel that connection they leave a person-sized hole behind. But, like you say it helps us appreciate the moments we do have. Thank you so much for reading, and adding your thoughts.

  14. Susie sent me! I don’t have children. I’m happy about that. Love reading your story. I have a neice that I love more than frosting! I really love frosting. I had to adjust to the loss of all her early childhood stages. Realizing once the stage was gone…it was gone forever. But now that she is 17, the essence from babyhood is still intact. She may drive now with her crawling days are long behind her but the focus to learn and grow and experience what awaits is still there. As is the moments of fear and frustration before she makes the breakthrough. How she lives has never changed. Thanks for sharing your experience. Might I suggest you write a post about how it feels when he returns from his dads. What is it like to see his face headed toward you instead of the drop off experience and seeing the back of his head. I wonder what beauty is there…
    I would love to guest blog if that makes sense for you. Here is my blog – http://unbreakablejoyintuitiontales.com/

    1. Hi, Julia! Your frosting analogy is wonderful! Watching anyone we love grow up and out brings up all kinds of emotions. Thank you for sharing your love of your niece. If you’re interested in guest posting check out the section on my page–I look for three different types of posts, love letters, story skeletons (short narratives), or posts about a life lesson. If any of those ideas feel good to you, I’d love to hear more! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  15. Susie sent me! What a candid post on a feeling that lots of parents likely share. I’m bonus mom to three, and it’s the same feeling when they leave our house.

    1. I love that–“bonus mom.” My ex is dating a lovely woman who thinks to send me pictures of my son when she thinks I’d appreciate one. Love has so many different manifestations. I’m so glad your kids have the benefit of your love. Thank you for taking the time to read the post and add your comment. Susie’s blog hops always introduce me to some truly great people.

  16. A beautiful piece of writing that sums up the hurt that comes with being a parent. Love for a child is such a difficult thing and to open our hearts to someone else brings with it the certainty of pain. It must be especially difficult for a part-time parent. I only know that is doesn’t get easier. My daughter has just gone off to university this week, aged twenty, and that black hole is eating away at me.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and for sharing what you’re experiencing with your daughter off to university. You must be close to feel her absence so keenly. What a gift to have such a beautiful relationship with her! I only hope my son and I remain as close when he’s twenty. I know the pain when he leaves home for the last time will be tremendous, but I’ll take the pain for all the dividends of joy we parents get. I agree though, it’s never going to be easy. I bet your daughter is a wonderful woman. I look forward to reading more of your writing. Even your comment has a writer’s soul.

  17. It doesn’t get any easier! I’m flying out to see my son today! It’s hard when your family is apart. As my children get older, the time we have together diminishes. But my son plans to move back some day. *fingers crossed*

    Thanks for bringing this to the party, Angela!

    1. I’ve been “away” from home for fifteen years now–about 3,000 miles distant from my mom and dad. Only now, as a mother, do I really “get” how hard it must have been for my parents to hear that I was moving so far. Your son, I believe, is in my home state. But, it must be hard to be away from those gorgeous Colorado mountains. Thank you for reading–I love your blog parties.

  18. Such a beautiful post! I always admire your bravery in sharing your feelings in such a real way. I am not a mother so I have no idea what it is like to love someone so very much it hurts. But it makes me look forward to having that connection in the future. There is no other bond like a mother and child.

    1. Thank you for reading! I never expected the kind of love I felt when Jack was born. For me, seeing his little face that first moment felt like instantaneous, ever-expanding love. Never felt anything like it before. If I hadn’t already been lying down, I might have fallen right over in surprise at the force of it. You have much to look forward to!

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