I switch off 'mom mode' when my kids are at their dad's — no cleaning or tidying, only things I'm into

Woman watching TV in bed
Getty Images/Frederic Cirou
  • I co-parent my two kids, who are 4 and 7.

  • I thought I'd use the time the kids are at their dad's to tackle the house.

  • Now I take advantage of my time alone to do things that make me happy.

I've never tried to be a supermom. It's just not in my DNA. My beat is fun, affectionate, and spontaneous. When the kids were little, I considered the day a success if everyone got into bed with food in their bellies and homework mostly done. Baths and outfits that didn't clash were pure gravy.

But it seemed as if a little more organization and a little less chaos would make life a lot less stressful.

So when my husband and I split and the kids started spending half their week with him, I told myself I'd take advantage of my free time. I'd get the house tidied and shining. By the time the kids arrived back at my door, the groceries would be put away, the dinners prepped, and the beds changed.

Naturally, none of this happened. I'd mostly spend evenings on the couch eating chips and reading celebrity gossip. Instead of feeling motivated and energized, I just felt lonely. And without the kids there to keep me moving, I let exhaustion take hold.

It turned out I needed the pressure of constant demand to keep all the balls in the air. The kids left, the house got quiet, and I let those balls fall to the floor, roll under the couch, and remain there until they came home and we started the mad rush all over again.

I make the most of the time by myself now

Mom pressure is no joke. There's precious little time for today's mothers to take a breath, let alone ditch the guilt over doing something for themselves every once in a while. We're supposed to put everyone else's needs first, and that's easy to do when you've got little ones urgently voicing those needs.

Sharing custody with someone you're no longer intimate with is hard. But there are a few specks of silver to be found in the cloud of single parenting. For me, one of those is having time to myself and spending it any way I please.

Would it make life easier to clean the house from top to bottom while the kids were away? Maybe. I do like a tidy home, and if I'm inspired, I'll make that a priority. But catching up on adult culture is satisfying too, and you can't watch "Game of Thrones" when the kids are around.

Some evenings I'd go to my local second-run movie theater. Pizza and beer and a box-office hit all by myself? Yes, please. I'd attend happy hours with colleagues, go running on the weekend, and catch up on my reading.

In short, I returned to myself. I remembered what gives me joy, what makes life sweet. I got to indulge in those small pleasures that are impossible to make time for in a busy parenting schedule.

It was hard for all of us to transition from one thing to another — me from being alone to managing children, them from being at their dad's house to being at mine. And while consistently getting all the errands done and the house reset would have meant less work while the kids were with me, that wasn't really what I needed.

I wanted to feel refreshed when I jumped back into full-time parenting, which meant taking an actual break — to goof off, pursue adult interests, or just be alone, with no one clamoring for my attention.

When the kids got home, I was ready, with no resentment and a lot less exhaustion. And honestly, my 4-year-old and 7-year-old didn't notice if the car was out of gas and there was nothing in the fridge. They just wanted me, and I was all in.

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