There are few things that can truly prepare you for becoming a parent. Everything was fun and games until I became pregnant…and then suddenly everyone had a story or bit of advice. It all seemed a bit late—after all, shouldn’t they have warned me about 48-hour labor and threenagers before I got pregnant? You know, around the same time they were asking my newlywed self when we were going to start a family?
At that time, I had very few regrets in my life, and once my daughter was born, I immersed myself in the world of “momming.” I prepared for the guilt to set in when I could not breastfeed for medical reasons. I braced myself for the guilt I would feel because I didn’t enjoy maternity leave and longed for the day I could go back to work. When the guilt didn’t arrive, I waited instead for the day when my daughter would ask why she went to after-school care. I thought that surely the guilt would hit me then. Funny thing is, my work wasn’t an issue for her. She liked talking about how mommy was a “boss” and hated staying home doing “nothing.” (Her words, not mine.) So the guilt didn’t set in.
Guilt finally became my companion the day my ex-husband and I decided we were better friends than spouses. While the burden was heavy, the guilt was somewhat expected. My friends consoled me and said that I had done the right thing. My therapist assured me that kids were resilient and did best in happy households.
Internally I knew that my feelings of failure were normal, as was the guilt I felt. That guilt subsided over time, as I found myself and reclaimed my happiness. When my daughter began spending every other weekend with her father, I found healthy distractions with the assistance of friends. However, once the reality hit that I would feel overwhelmed all but six days a month, I spent a good portion of those days swimming in a bottle of wine and napping. There may have also been crying involved.
Those feelings, too, were normal. Eventually I began identifying things and events that interested me, besides wine and naps, on those off weekends. That is when another type of guilt entered my life, one that nobody told or warned me about: the guilt of having fun on my child-free weekends. Looking forward to them, even.
I did what I wanted again, listened to my heart and didn’t think as much about what I should be doing. I began buying at least two tickets to upcoming plays and shows, knowing I could sell the extra if I couldn’t find a companion to go with me. I spent more time in the gym, relishing the knowledge that nobody was waiting for me to be done. I went barhopping, brunching, lunching, and shopping. I got coffee and my hair done without worrying about how long it would take. I would lose track of time and smile about it. I ate my food while it was hot, and without sharing. I even started napping!
None of this is to say that I don’t enjoy time with my daughter. She is my universe, and I love her more than anything else, ever. There are times when six days without her seem like an eternity, but I appreciate how lucky I am that her father remains a part of her life. And yet, the off-weekends are also a time when I can remember what life was like before becoming a mom and catch a glimpse of the future, after she has left the nest.
In the years following my separation and divorce I’ve found a network of other single moms. When talking about off-weekends there is a taboo on speaking of them excitedly, unless you’re among friends. Often there is also an extra layer of guilt when talking about plans with your married friends. If you’re there, mama, know that you’re not alone. The tribe of motherhood is deep, and we all enjoy having a break, especially when babysitters are not involved.