“Part-Time” Parent Not a Dirty Word

emotional support children divorce

Recently in Slate, law professor Lara Bazelon wrote an excellent piece entitled, “Confessions of a Part-Time Mom.” We encourage all to take a moment and read it. In this post, we distill the points she makes.

First, Bazelon addresses what haunts every parent at the time of divorce: have I failed as a parent? Will my children be worse off not seeing me every day? And if they thrive in that arrangement, did I overestimate my value as a parent in the first place?

Answering these questions brings up many emotions for parents, mostly focused on guilt and regret. But Bazelon describes in her experience that she found the reality liberating. She relates a binary choice—she and her husband could have stayed in a bad marriage, pretending to the children when the children knew otherwise, or they could divorce and live honestly about their relationship and focus positively on the children. Many couples remain married because of the mistaken belief that children need an intact household, ignoring the thousands of intact households with toxic environments because the parents cannot stand one another and project their anger throughout the household. If a relationship gets to a point where staying together hurts the parents and the children, ending the relationship has to be a healthier choice for everyone involved.

On the issue of “failing” as a parent, it is important to distinguish between failing a “marriage” and failing parenthood, as the two are mutually exclusive. A great parent can be a bad spouse, and a great spouse can be a bad parent. When two spouses realize they cannot work as a marital unit anymore, they should not internalize that fact as an indictment on their parenting. And the end of a marriage need not be labeled a failure; two people went into a partnership with the best of intentions and life got in the way. It happens. But punishing each other, or the children, for the end of a journey makes little sense.

Second, Bazelon attacks the idea that part-time parent equals bad parent. Think of it this way:  a couple where both parents work and use childcare while married do not spend full time with the children, but they do not consider themselves “part-time” or a failure. If that same couple now lives in two separate households, actually spending more quality one-on-one time with the children, have they not improved their level of parenting? Bazelon appropriately looks for needed perspective on this issue.

Third, part-time parenting often gives parents needed space to recharge their batteries and give the best of themselves to their children. We see and hear from clients that their home life with children functions better after divorce because they focus more during their times of custody and prioritize children and non-children time better. Many marriages leave the bulk of child rearing to one parent, and this can put undue stress on the marriage.

Fourth, Bazelon notes that there is no one-size-fits-all model of parenting. Every family finds their own way and we should refrain from making snap judgments. Children benefit when they have stability and love, when a parent they need is there for them. In those key moments, parents show their mettle, and as long as the children get that benefit, the form of the household, intact or divorced, really does not matter.

Finally, rather than turn feelings of sadness or missing one’s children into guilt or recrimination, accept these feelings as natural flowing from a change in one mode of living to another, and that overall it works best for you and the children. Can transitions be difficult? Yes. But parenting and relationships are difficult. We do ourselves no favors taking small moments of discomfort as the basis for rejecting a decision that put the family and children first by making that family that lives in two happy but separate households rather than one miserable household.

If you have questions about the emotional aspects of divorce, contact us – we can help.