Nearly half of all children will live with a single mom at some point before their 18th birthday. Does that projected fact startle you? Are you surprised? I wasn’t when I read it, because I am a statistic, and my son is a statistic. Together, we have contributed to the stark reality that nuclear families are no longer the norm (even if we still have rose-colored dreams of them). And even you, yes you, have a 50/50 shot of contributing to this statistic at some point throughout your life, if you haven't already.
But I am not going to talk about single parenting or marriage statistics for millennials (though you can read my thoughts about that topic here: 5 reasons millennial moms are choosing to remain single, for now).
What I really want to talk about is single parenting versus co-parenting, and why I think you should always choose the latter, if given the option.
I’ve heard it over and over again from my single mother friends, “...joint custody totally sucks. I hate not seeing my kids.” I absolutely sympathize with mothers who loathe missing out on 50% of their child’s life. That’s A LOT of time to be away from your trusty little sidekick(s). But I can’t say that I can empathize with you, because I actually have no idea what it feels like to split custody with another parent. However, I do understand what it feels like to be on the other side of the spectrum and to be a full-time single mother… and that’s REALLY hard too.
Are you just not a believer in the whole split-parenting thing? Fair enough. Let’s dive in deeper. If you decide to forgo joint custody and co-parenting, you should realize some important facts first:
Only about 25% of all single mothers receive child support.
With numbers like these, the odds are stacked against you, so be prepared to do things solo, financially and otherwise. And quick newsflash - if he is actually paying child support, he has every right to see his child. You can't have your cake and eat it too (and even if you could, you shouldn't in this case).
Child support court is expensive… like out of this world expensive.
Are you prepared to spend thousands to fight your baby daddy for sole custody? And are you ready for the complete destruction of your relationship once court ends? Lawyer battles, judgments, wage garnishments, etc. don’t do much for creating peace between your ex and yourself. In fact, court often has the uncanny ability to turn things into a nit-picky-I-hate-you-and-everything-you-stand-for situation that can sometimes have irreversible side effects.
And though you cannot fathom it now, someday you may hope for your child and your ex to have an amicable relationship. Use caution when deciding to burn this bridge. If joint 50/50 custody is an agreeable option, strongly consider it (especially if it can be negotiated outside of the courthouse walls).
Everyone has a breaking point.
If you are dead-set on being a full time single parent (by choice), be sure your BS threshold is astronomically high for temper tantrums, late nights without sleep, missed activities with friends, being a constant chauffeur/maid/negotiator/mediator/disciplinarian… you name it.
50 shades of jealousy.
Chances are, you'll reach a point where you will despise the single, carefree life your ex gets to live, while you’re stuck at home every single Friday and Saturday night, drinking wine and watching Netflix solo. Be prepared for these jealous pangs, because it’s hard to feel like you’re not missing out all the time while everyone else's lives continue without you. Even the best mommies need adult-only time to recharge.
Guess who gets to leave work every time something happens at daycare or school? Guess who has to miss late night meetings to get to after school pick-up on time? Guess who gets to stay home with the sick kiddo even though sick time was maxed out three sick-times ago? Maintaining a strong career as a mother is possible, it's just harder when you are the lone on-call nurse 24/7 and you start missing "had-to-be-there" meetings and events. If you think this won’t eventually impact your career, better think again. Unconscious bias is very much present and thriving in the workplace.
As women, we are so accustomed to being the caretakers and running the household, that it only seems natural that we should fight for our children above all else. However, we are forgetting one important thing in this equation, and that’s you. What about YOU?
Fighting for sole custody when there are two willing (and able-bodied) parents hoping to share in the life of your child, fueled either by the desire for child support money or for fear of missing out, does both you and your child a massive disservice.
In terms of child support:
Do parents really fight over child custody in the sheer hope of collecting money? Yes, absolutely! Children all too often become bargaining chips once the relationship goes south. Money does not buy happiness, and this situation is no different. And lest you forget, “…he who holds the purse strings makes the rules”. Relying on someone you are no longer in a relationship with to financially provide for you, makes it really hard to fully move on from that person, and will likely cause you more stress than it is worth.
In terms of FOMO:
(FOMO = fear of missing out). Wouldn’t it be nice to have a partner to tag-team doctors appointments, basketball practices, and after school pick-ups with? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a night off every now and then to hang out with your girlfriends, go on a date, or hit up the mall and do some shopping… solo? You don’t realize how valuable time is until you don’t have any of it. If you are the one who has to constantly be “on” with your child and you never get a break, you will quickly start to H-A-T-E your ex. You will loathe every happy hour picture he posts on Instagram, and every Snapchat video of his weekend adventures, his career promotions, and his Saturday mornings spent sleeping in.
In terms of Fatherly QT:
(QT = quality time). Less than one-quarter of fathers who do not live with their children, see them regularly. Reworded, that means 75% of all dads who live apart from their kids, rarely, if ever, see them on a constant basis. This arrangement hurts your child far more than it hurts you.
All that being said, before the naysayers jump in with the "buts" and "what-ifs", I fully realize that there are many cases in which the father chooses to not be a part of the child’s life, and that is a completely different topic (...one for a whole different discussion). If he chooses to opt-out of being a parent all together, you absolutely have every right to seek financial support, if you need it. Just don’t become reliant on him to support your lifestyle. One of the best articles I’ve read about forgoing child support and forcing equal parenting can be found below. It is worth every second of the 5 minutes it takes to read!
So, what advice would I give to a single friend who has the option of joint custody (co-parenting) vs. sole custody? Choose co-parenting. Every. Single. Time. Work things out with your ex so that you have a decent relationship. Seek mediation or counseling if needed. Find a trusted friend or family member who can help transport the child back and forth if you can’t stand the sight of each other. Learn to compromise and be flexible with your schedules. And above all else, maintain a healthy level of respect for one another as your child's other parent.
Don't just use words, but allow your actions to speak for you. Embody the true meaning of the word “TEAM” and lead by example. Show your child that their feelings matter most, and that as adults, both mom and dad can put aside their differences so that they get to benefit from two involved parents (even if under different roofs). Keep in mind that they didn’t ask for this situation anymore than you did.
And choosing to co-parent doesn't make you any less of a mother than your married friends or full-time single mom friends. It means you made a selfless decision and you are choosing to put your child's needs ahead of your own. It does more than make you a good parent. It makes you a great parent.
And on a closing note:
I have first hand experience watching my son go through life without his daddy present. I have also been fortunate enough to watch the transformation that occurred when his dad reentered his life on a constant and regular basis. I witnessed the changes that occurred within both of them when they were able to spend time together and to grow together. Not only was my son happier, but it made his dad a better person as well. As a mother I felt like I could do it all (I still feel this way sometimes), but I've realized through trial and error that there are just some things that a father can provide that mommies can't.
Bottom line is this: children need their dad as much as they need their mom, and vice versa. Don't selfishly take that option away from them if you are lucky enough to have the choice to choose.
Related article for all the single moms out there who never had the option to co-parent: Dear Single Mom, How Do You Do It?