It’s a great character test for prospective boyfriends: I tell a date that my ex-husband lives in Montana and then I sit back and watch his reaction.
Often it’s negative. In this day and age when men are expected to parent more than ever, they can be very critical of the fact that my ex lives two time zones away and only sees his children once a month.
That’s not enough for them, they assure me. They would need more time with their kids.
I have learned to be leery of the shirker who doeth protest too much: He usually turns out to parent very little himself — but hey, he’s happy to pass judgment on others. I also watch out for guys who immediately zoom in on how little time I will have for them.
I wouldn’t say there were men who immediately asked for the check when they heard about my life, but there were some who came pretty close.
In all fairness, I hated it myself at first.
My ex and I lived in Montana for seven years. When he got a job at Montana State, we thought the wide open spaces and family-oriented town of Bozeman would be a great place to raise kids. Our second child was born in Montana. Our oldest started school there.
As great a place as it was, I still couldn’t wait to move back east. I like the four seasons, easy access to other cities – and no, Missoula doesn’t count – plus, my career took a wailing nose dive in Big Sky country. There just aren’t nearly as many full time jobs as there are people in that gorgeous ski/hiking country.
So when we got divorced, it was decided that we would move back east. I wanted to move back to Baltimore – my family was there, they had a house where the kids and I could live, and the job prospects were good.
My ex moved back as well, rented a house, and we split parenting 50/50. But after a year, he said he couldn’t do it anymore. His heart was in Montana. He wanted to move back.
I was devastated. I felt more abandoned than I ever had in my life. I was going to have to do most of the parenting of our then 9 and 6-year-old. How was he going to help me from two time zones away?
This is exactly why I divorced you, I told him angrily. Montana and his Western romanticism were always more important than me or the kids. Plus, I figured once he was gone, he would hardly come back and visit the kids.
I was wrong about that last part. It’s been five years since we have been co-parenting across two time zones, and he still comes back every month. He now owns his own business, and every few weeks he flies in, meets with clients here, and then has the kids for several nights.
That said, I still do A LOT of the parenting. This was super evident this past year when our son endured stomach virus after stomach virus with a bonus head cold here and there, and I honestly can’t tell you how much work I missed taking care of him. I am lucky. I work at a private school and report to nuns – they know how to take care of their people. But it sure would have been easier if my parenting partner lived in town.
Overall, I have less freedom and time for myself than a 50/50 co-parenter, but more freedom and sometimes more time than a married parent. When our agreement was 50/50, I felt like I didn’t have enough time with the kids. This is a hard job, but it is one that I want.
I also want the kids to know the importance of being true to yourself. For a long time, I hated my ex for moving back to Montana. Then I think about how bad it would have been for the kids to watch him live miserably here.
As we tried to carve out our post-divorce lives, I’m not sure we sought to teach a lesson in creating your own happiness. But eventually I hope that’s what the kids take away from this.