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The Unconventional Thing That Saved Me as a Mom

Photograph by Twenty20

Being a young mom is hard. Being a young single mom with lingering postpartum depression was much harder than I expected. When my daughter was first born, I had plans for how my future was going to go, even though I had no idea what it was to be a mother.

I had no idea of the pitfalls that lay before me and how they would change my life. When my then-boyfriend and I decided to split up shortly after celebrating our daughter's first birthday, I moved back home and put forth a tremendous effort to prove I knew what I was doing. Surprise: I did not.

For the first three years, I tried to mother my kid in the best way I knew how. I read all the books, she hit all the milestones and things were OK, but not great. I was drowning in my own fears, worries and debt.

I was not being a great mom in any kind of way; I fussed more than we played and I was stressed out ALL THE TIME, but I couldn't see that. I was so caught up in appearances, I didn't know how to ask for the help I needed, and I was much too proud to reach out to anyone anyway. And then something crazy happened.

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My daughter's father suggested that we switch things up and she come live with him during the week and come to me on the weekends—just for a while to help me get back on my feet. I staunchly refused. Until that point she had always been with me. She had to be with me. I was her mother! It was only right.

After we split up and I moved back to my hometown, it just made sense that my daughter would live with me full time and then go see her dad and his family on the weekend. This was just the way these things worked, I thought. All kids of divorce know this, so it never seemed odd, nor did we ever question ourselves. But then suddenly the tables were turning. He was offering to help me. To save me, really. And still I refused.

Then after a particularly stressful week, I caved. I couldn't take the pace at which we were living. I was not being a good mom. I yelled more than I was comfortable admitting. We spent zero time having fun, and all the time fussing about eating dinner and going to bed. So, after her usual week ad her dad's during the holidays, she just stayed with him.

People in my life were NOT pleased with my decision to let my toddler daughter live with her dad. My new boyfriend asked me, "Why would you do that? You're her mom." Forget that I was struggling and up crying most nights. He was mostly thinking about how this would cut into our already limited time together.

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This was just the way these things worked, I thought. All kids of divorce know this, so it never seemed odd, nor did we ever question ourselves. But then suddenly the tables were turning. He was offering to help me. To save me, really.

Strangers in my office felt qualified to share how odd they thought it was—and I learned to quickly walk away, lest I let my face write checks my body couldn't cash.

It astounded me that so many people, who had no vested interested had such strong opinions about how I was raising my daughter. There were a lot of curious looks and many questions. How could I let her go live with him? (Umm, he's her father, not a stranger ... come on.) Didn't I feel like I was abandoning her? (Not really, but thank you for putting that thought in my mind.) What would I do when she would eventually ask about why we decided to have her live with her dad? It was already a difficult decision for me to make, but a very necessary one. And possibly the one that saved me.

In a strange twist, it was my future sister-in-law who first said to me, "I'm proud of you." Having been a single mother herself, she reminded me that it took more strength to admit that I needed help and accept it than it did to stay stuck in my need to prove a point and continue on the path I was on. One that contained a high probability of doing harm to my child's psyche and my own.

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The first week was definitely hard. I felt like I was missing a limb, but at the same time I also felt, dare I say ... free? I didn't have to fret about what to feed her, or rush to get her from daycare after work. There was no fussing to get out the door in the mornings. Come Friday, I was ready for my girl to come home and hang out.

We started to have fun again, we watched movies and did beach days, and just enjoyed our mommy-daughter time. Sure, I got a little lonely during the week, but I talked to her daily. Her father was great about keeping me in the loop with what she was up to without me. It actually made us better parents in the long run as it strengthened our communication. About a year later, we decided to get back together. We moved back in together and got married a few years after that, and have since grown our family.

Looking back, I know what we did for our daughter was really the best decision for everyone. I can't believe I fought it for so long for the simple fact that I thought being a mom meant I had to handle it all and do it by myself, drowning or not. But reaching out for that lifesaver my now-husband threw me ultimately saved my life. And hers.

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