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The truth about co-parenting
What kind of mother feels excited to spend weekends away from her children?
We want to hear from more voices and broaden our own perspectives, so we recently asked members of the Diem community to pitch their own stories for this newsletter. Our next guest essay is by Kate Marlene, an author, artist, and founder of Restorya, a narrative therapy center in Berlin. She is also the host of the podcast About Face and the author of the blog Wayward Betty.
Last month, I was on a yoga retreat in Ibiza, a regular trip I make a few weekends a year. Each day after a morning practice, I spent the day lying on the beach, reading, listening to podcasts, and swiping on Tinder. I watched families around me on vacation: a mom, dad, and children playing in the sand or splashing in the shallow sea. While these scenes made me smile, I wasn’t envious.
I have kids, but I’m always grateful for the distance I get from the perpetual responsibility that comes with caretaking. I separated from my kids’ dad four years ago and the thing is—I like our 50/50 co-parenting arrangement way more than the full-time schedule I had when I was married.
Of course, I sometimes feel the whiplash of living two lives. When I have weekends off, I sleep in and stay up late. I write and paint. I never cook and my house is sort of trashed. I go out with friends and have uninterrupted adult conversations. In my car with the car seats, I blast Lil Kim. I have sex with young lovers. Then I go back to my pick-up schedule. The truth is that I feel most like myself when I am not with my kids. I feel more free, sexy, creative, independent, and hopeful in the most basic ways.
The weekends with my kids can be challenging. Meal prep, bedtime routines, constant rotations of repetitive activities (park or zoo?). It is both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. If someone asks me, “Why did you have kids?,” I don’t have a great answer. In hindsight, I never had a rational reason for doing it, which makes me think the desire itself is not born out of logic. Similarly, the experience of raising children brings pleasure for no reason I can plausibly articulate. If you asked what I liked about motherhood, I would stutter, “They give good hugs and make me laugh,” or perhaps, “I like the smell of their heads.”
When my childless friends ask me about motherhood, I bite my tongue. Part of me wants to say, “Fuck it, save yourself—don’t do it!” Then there is this very clichéd voice that kind of sings from a deeper part of me, “But, they are the best thing I have ever done.”
I can’t tell other people what the difference is between having kids and not. I do have children, so they are always part of my identity and existence. However, I can compare the difference between the physical time spent with my children and without them. One very basic observation: my camera roll. On solo weekends, I take a lot of selfies (usually in museums or nature), plus the occasional snap with friends. My weekends with kids are filled with shots of them. With my kids, the focus is never on myself, but on their learning, pleasure, enjoyment, and laughter. And somehow, when I appear, I am also smiling.
Not that the photo look-back is always an accurate reflection of how we experience life. In fact, I can say after my divorce, it certainly was not. There were a lot of happy photos of me and my ex-husband when I was decidedly unhappy. However, I think photos work similarly to our memories—we remember the good times, the meaningful times, and the moments that may be a bit more difficult, but those challenges make the experience worthwhile.
We make meaning of experiences after they happen. I think that’s why having children is an experience that becomes more meaningful over time. I can say that if I did not have children, my camera roll would be more redundant, less complicated, and even more peaceful. What would life be, if only endless days on an Ibiza beach? Sounds great, but would it actually be?
Unlike many mothers, I can imagine life without children because I have a small semblance of it. I know there would be more travel, freedom, and reading on beaches. There would never be the tether that comes with motherhood. That tether can feel like a leash, but it can also feel like purpose and grounding. I realize that the only reason I can truly appreciate being alone is because I also know child chaos. And the reason I can appreciate child chaos is because I also have time alone. Somehow, distancing myself from motherhood helps me bring meaning to the forefront, and it feels like I need a reminder of this contrast. It brings the perspective of the deeper purpose that comes every weekend when they are away.
Want to write an advice column for us? We’re looking for smart, generous, funny writing that engages with the questions asked in Diem. Have an idea? Email our editor Taylor Majewski at email@example.com. We highly recommend you browse the questions asked in Diem before you pitch. Please provide at least two clips of your previous work.
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