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The thought of being a single mom scared me. Something about the way our culture seems to feel sorry for “those poor women” with so much to do and no help from a man to get it done. Everything falls on their shoulders. Single mothers are tired, overworked and underappreciated and, well, single. No one wants them because no man wants to inherit another man’s responsibilities.
I shuddered at the idea of being a single mother, and once my son was born I would have done nearly anything to stay married. When my son’s father and I split I thought the world would end. I was angry, resentful and scared that I would not be able to take care of myself and my son. I hated my ex husband for what felt like him abandoning me. In my mind he got to go live his life while I was left to put back the pieces of my life. I was 30 pounds overweight, sexless, unemployed and a single mother. In my mind this was a valley so deep that I might never find my way out.
For an entire year after our separation my ex husband came to visit our son and prepare him for bed. And each Friday night he’d pick our son up to spend the weekend at his new home. I detested the time our son had with his father. I worried I was missing out on great life events. I felt I was being excluded and had been rejected. Until the day a visit with one of my dearest girlfriends who was also divorced shined the light on the glories of shared custody. She urged me to get back into my life. “Use the time your son is with his father to find yourself and your womanhood," she admonished me. “When was the last time you had sex or did anything fun? Stop feeling sorry for yourself!" she said, standing in her kitchen wearing stilettos. She was right, and that moment I started using my time alone to build a new life for me and my son.
Before my son was born I had always been athletic. So I pulled out my running shoes, joined a yoga studio and dropped 35 pounds within six months. I had my 18-year-old body again and with curves I hadn’t seen since several months after we had conceived our son. With a new attitude and a new lease on life, I set out to discover what womanhood really meant. Now that I wasn’t looking to get married or have children, I could fully indulge and discover what gave me pleasure and ignited my spirit like I never had before.
Shared custody turned out to be the gift that just keeps giving. I discovered gardening, bike riding, blogging, farmers markets, cooking and my sensuality. I think the thought of my son returning home in a couple of days pushed me to get it all in. I use those 48 hours to do what matters to me most. After several years of feeling miserable, undesirable and pitiful, I decided to unashamedly put my needs first. Unafraid of being considered a slut, I dropped the rules for dating for the first time in my life. The only rule was my satisfaction and pleasure.
Shared custody has offered me free time to do all the things having a child in the home prevents. Discovering myself and my pleasure when I'm in my 40s is just one of the gifts of having time alone (although I'm not alone that much, if you know what I mean).