A blog by Claire Standen Coaching
Unlike some marital breakups, what I’ve always acknowledged is that my kids have an excellent dad. I didn’t enjoy being married to the man, and we fundamentally disagree on some of the basics of life… but he’s a great dad (and who cares what I think anyway!). Moreover, he wants to actively parent, despite having assumed that his role would naturally drop away over the years and months, he wanted active involvement (albeit on his terms). Yet somehow, we fell into a familiar pattern that seems to be the norm in Britain. He became a ‘weekend dad’. You see them in the park, in the queue at McDonalds… counting down the minutes until ‘I’ll be taking you back to your mum’s’. I’m not making this up, either- I’ve heard several dads saying exactly that.
So when did we get so stuck in this loop- where single mums are taking it all on- sometimes to the extent of living in a completely separate location from the other parent? I want to make two side points here. The first is to acknowledge that I’m assuming that one parent is male and one female. As someone who has been in relationships with both men and women, I’d like to just flag that I realise these relationship dynamics may be different (or the same!) depending on particular circumstances. Secondly, there is always the unspoken thing where abuse may have influenced the decision to live further away from a co-parent. People who leave abusive relationships are badass and brave and I salute you, and the choices you make to keep your family safe. Frankly, I salute any mother making any decision for her family that feels right at the time. Not just deciding, which ultimately is the easy part, but acting on it.
Here, though, I want to speak of the situations where once free of the relationship (and I recognised elements of emotional and financial abuse in my marriage which I have since worked to heal), the most empowering thing is to release control of how the other parent handles their time with the kids, and to work towards a more equal parenting balance. I have recently completely changed the time ratio with my kids, and now have 50:50 parenting with my kids’ dad. Even through the week, so that school pick ups and drop offs are shared equally. It wasn’t always that way, though. In fact, he had deemed it impossible due to full time and inflexible work patterns. I maintained that full time and inflexible working were a choice he was afforded which impacted my choices in that regard. Whether that’s true or not, I was ready to explore difference, but it didn’t happen instantly, so lets look at how it unfolded.
In the middle of the pandemic, for reasons known only to my deeper intelligence, and with work almost impossible due to home schooling two children, I told my ex-husband to stop giving me maintenance for the kids. It wasn’t a huge amount of money, anyway, and I was uncomfortable with the energetic ties it created between me and my ex. I’d been feeling that way for a while, but then I read a book that influenced my decision heavily, which was ‘Kickass Single Mom’ by Emma Johnston. In it, and in a couple of podcasts I listened to, she argues that taking maintenance money from their ex partners keeps women from fulfilling their full potential in a variety of different ways. I had to admit, I used the money as a cushion, and it didn’t really fit with my feminist values to accept it (though that could really swing both ways!). Anyway. Rather than saying ‘I don’t want your stinking money, you stingy b******rd’, I said ‘I set you free, and I set me free’. And it was done. Of course, the next month I lost my ability to earn any money temporarily, but that’s another story for another day...