Opinion: Commentary: I Became a Better Mother When I Stopped Trying To Do It All Myself

Across the board, children have better outcomes when their parents have a shared parenting schedule, even in high-conflict cases.

Nearly five years ago, when my ex-husband and I separated, I felt the same way I suspect a lot of mothers do. I thought our children should live with me full-time, not only because I gave birth to them, but also because I had been their primary caretaker for most of their lives.

After staying home with them for over 12 years, it felt like an insult for my ex to then ask for them half of the time — after all, I felt I had made sacrifices to stay home so they wouldn’t be in the care of strangers. I came up with all of the usual excuses: Who will do their hair? He’s working full-time, how will he get them to and from school on time? My youngest is only four, she shouldn’t be away from her mother for so long!

Still, in an effort to avoid the adversarial and expensive court route, I sat down and looked at his proposed schedule on paper, followed by reading every article or study I could get my hands on regarding shared parenting. The evidence was overwhelming.

Across the board, children have better outcomes when their parents have a shared parenting schedule, even in high-conflict cases.

My “come to Jesus” moment happened when I admitted to myself that all of my objections to shared parenting were based on my own fears. It wasn’t that they didn’t love their dad or that he wasn’t a good father — he was. It was more that I had been a stay at home mother for twelve years, and it had almost become my identity.

I was afraid of the loss of control, particularly in the middle of a divorce, when you feel as though nothing is controllable. I was afraid of who I would become if my children were gone half the time — it felt like a lot of responsibility to suddenly be forced to figure out what to do with my time when they weren’t there. I was afraid of other peoples’ expectations of me.

I was afraid to go back to school and re-enter the workforce. And even though my plan was always to go back to school once my youngest was in kindergarten, I now felt immense pressure to provide.

Despite knowing that there was all this scientific evidence that pointed to shared parenting being best for children, agreeing to it still didn’t feel easy. It was a choice to release all of my fears and expectations and take the first step without seeing the whole staircase. I was not confident, but it was what I had to do, and little did I know, that one choice would set the tone for all of my other life choices moving forward.

As an added bonus, the very thing that was proven to be best for my kids also ended up being personally liberating for me.

I went back to school. I started volunteering. I had a social life. I found a job I enjoyed. I became a better mother, because I wasn’t trying to do it all myself. The time I spent with my kids became even more precious; I was less stressed, less tired, more attentive, and more in tune with their needs.

Although my divorce was contentious, it was a first step toward re-building trust, toward working together as a team, and toward giving our children all the benefits of living with both parents. It was a quicker path to less animosity, less discord, and less resentment; not just because of the circumstances surrounding the divorce, but because we were now both sharing the responsibility of raising our children.

Nearly five years later, my children are thriving. They got through our divorce relatively unscathed, which is something I know we’re both really proud of. And guess what? My ex-husband learned how to do their hair.

Megan Mancillas is a Court Appointed Special Advocate and a member of the Executive Committee of the Virginia Affiliate of the National Parents Organization. She is from Centreville.

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