Going from being a two parent family and seeing your children all of the time to suddenly having to share them with someone else and going for long periods without them can be hard. We asked two co-parents about how transitions make them feel and how they manage them to make time away from their children as easy as possible.
‘The first couple of times my kids went to their dad’s I cried,’ admits single mum Leah. ‘I felt really lost, not really knowing what to do with myself and the time I had. A lot of emotions at the start did take me by surprise. I knew I would feel upset being without the children as I use them had my security blanket, especially in the early days, but I used to feel guilty and worry about them a lot when they were not in my company, even struggling to sleep. 18 months down the line I still feel lost but I don’t cry anymore, sometimes I even find myself looking forward to just being able have a long soak in the bath and not feel rushed or guilty for doing so.’
Mum Katie was similarly nervous about the prospect of spending chunks of times away from her children.
‘During the talks early on in our separation,’ explains Katie, ‘I was adamant that I wanted the boys five nights a week. The idea of my boys being away from me for more than that broke my heart. I’d been the primary carer for them all and had never even had a night away from them. So once the house had sold, the agreement was me having them for 5 nights and their Dad having them for 2 nights. Whilst it was great that I had my boys for 5 nights of the week, it was tough!’
Katie quickly found though that there are positives to having time to yourself when you’re a single parent.
‘I soon realised that them going to their Dad’s was brilliant, it gave me a break, gave me time for some self-care, time to discover who I was again and of course quality time with their Dad! At the same time their Dad has upped his parenting game, he has become a much better Dad since the separation, something which he also admits. I’m super proud of him. They now go three nights a week and my down time is, to be quite honest, fantastic! I recharge, reset and relax and when the boys come back, I’m the best mum I can be.’
But how do you switch off when the kids leave to be able to relax and recharge? It’s not always easy for sure.
‘It’s a huge juggling act,’ says Leah, ‘and I find it very difficult to switch out of ‘mum mode’. The children are with me the majority of the time and only see their dad every other weekend so when it comes to my turn to have some time off it’s like I can’t easily rest or relax. In fact I would go as far as saying I find it impossible to do so. I always feel like there are jobs I need to be doing while I don’t have the children things that are just easier to do if they are not with me.’
Letting go of parenting guilt and the distress around a separation is key to properly being able to enjoy that valuable time away from your children. It also helps to plan activities or events as a distraction so that you don’t just find yourself wandering around the house not knowing what to do.
‘Managing my feelings has been a huge part of my journey,’ says Leah. ‘I journal a lot to get thoughts out of my head and I’ve done a lot of reading around different subjects that relate to me and my separation, as well as a lot of mindfulness. In order to help ease weekends without the children I plan ahead. Covid has made this very difficult and has been incredibly lonely and isolating at times, but I’ve made sure I’ve had things to keep me busy as well as nice things to look forward to.’
‘The biggest distraction technique I had was to get out hiking,’ says Katie. ‘I moved to the Peak District when the family home was sold and I had all these beautiful walks on my doorstep. I fully embraced it and when I had time off I’d get out into the hills with the dog, tunes on and the headspace to think and breath! It’s become my biggest hobby; I go out at least eight hours a week… It’s massively improved my mental health and fitness, win win!’
‘I feel that I’ve reached the place now where I want to be,’ says Katie. ‘It has taken time, and it’s definitely been a journey, but I now realise the full benefit of getting a break from the kids. It’s important so that when I do have the kids, I can be the best version of myself .’
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