Before getting divorced, I had a long list of concerns. With hindsight, I laugh when I remember the little worries: who would get the Ebay account? (his profile; my feedback ratings) and the designer draining rack?
One thing I hadn’t given much thought to was what the time without the children would be like. It’s been five years now and our life as a family with two homes is normal for all of us. However, this was not always the case and I was not prepared for the times the children were with their Dad. Although I knew they were happy, I hadn’t anticipated how hard this adjustment would be for me. I soon discovered that co-parenting means rethinking your diary and your identity.
I know I’m not the only parent who physically hurt on the days I woke up without the children at home. I remember 5am trips to Tesco and dawn walks – just to have something to do, as sleep was elusive. At the time, I didn’t particularly enjoy time with other mums when their children were present, as it exaggerated my feeling of loss. My heart really hurt. Bizarrely, I never prepared for this emotional earthquake.
The truth is, I hadn’t had much of a life beyond being a mum. Maybe you’re the same. That’s hardly a surprise: for seven years my life had been planned entirely around the children and I’d had very little time away from them. On those first child-free weekends, I thought I’d enjoy a lie-in or day out but instead I was overwhelmed by a sense of loss and missing. Plus, my divorce was extremely stressful and my head was whirring non-stop. I didn’t know many separated parents to tell me this was normal, and that it would ease.
Fast forward to last year. I was talking to a friend – a single parent to now-adult-children. I said, ‘You know what it’s like when you don’t have your children?’ I was expecting a misty-eyed, sentimental response, but she turned to me and with zeal and gusto and proclaimed, ‘Yes, f****** brilliant!’. And, to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with her.
So, what had changed?
Two years earlier when still knee-deep in divorce, I had drummed up the courage to go to the Hay Festival (a world-class literary festival in Wales) over a bank holiday weekend when my children were with their Dad. This felt like such a brave move, and I remember feeling tentative as I booked the tickets. I had a great weekend, not least because while I was there I didn’t have time to miss the children. In fact, it was better without them. For me, book festivals are a perfect place to go alone because you spend the days listening to talks, and there are friendly folk all around. I have since discovered that there are loads of different festivals year-round and nationwide – many of them need volunteers.
After that trip, I had a renewed sense of confidence. I started seeking opportunities to try new things. In turn, I made new friends and life opened up in unexpected ways. I found a new balance: work; children; time at home and time trying new things. As my life took on a new dimension, so did my confidence grow.
Having always had wanderlust, I see child-free weekends as an opportunity to travel. If you’re on a shoestring budget, citybreaks are a possibility if you’re prepared to forgo luxury and don’t mind early morning flights. I’ve also enjoyed yoga retreats (yoga was entirely new to me), charity events and all sorts of conferences and courses.
I no longer feel pained at the prospect of time without my children. I have a wide circle of friends, some of whom are also divorced and many of whom have children. These days, I’m more comfortable with my own children being away and I find it much, much easier to be with other families than I did to start with. Of course, I still miss my children but I have learnt to ‘be me’ without them. And, I’m always excited to see them again.
If you’re new to divorced parenting and want to enjoy your time away from your children, here are my tips:
Firstly, recognise that an adjustment phase is normal.
There are no shortcuts to healing. If you’re finding it painful to be away from your children, be reassured that it does get much, much easier. You are always Mum or Dad, even when the children aren’t with you. Equally, if you are grateful for the time alone that’s fine too. How you feel really matters, so don’t sweep your feelings away but instead take action to help yourself to feel better. This will be different for each of us, and it will change.
Secondly, remember that your time belongs to you.
There are no rules. You can use child-free time to work; to kick back and relax; or to do practical things for your children. Single parenting can be tiring and a break is often welcome. Maybe there’s a sports match or performance or school event in the calendar: both parents can go to these even if it’s not your children’s weekend with you.
Thirdly, give yourself permission to reconnect with yourself.
Reclaiming your identity post-marriage is an important part of divorce recovery. Proactively seek opportunities for this. Reconnecting with yourself is about what you want to do, not what you feel you should do. Maybe you have always wanted to try a particular sport or gain a qualification or travel? Or you’ve been longing to get back into an old hobby or pastime. You almost certainly have other friends who would benefit from a bracing walk or evening in with a glass of wine and box set. Organisations like Divorce Club are great for meeting people who understand what you’re going through. Websites like Udemy, Skillshare and Masterclass – not forgetting YouTube – make it easy to learn new skills, all from the comfort of your own PJs. Set aside both time and money to invest in you. It will make you a happier parent: if your needs are met you’ll be better able to meet the needs of your children
And finally, there is always something you can do to lift your spirits.
If you’re suffering ‘mood-droop’ in your children’s absence, acknowledge it and spend time considering ways you can help the time to pass. We are social by nature and need to feel connected. Single parenting can be tiring; divorce can be stressful: how you spend your time alone matters just as much as how you spend your time with your children. Organisations like Divorce Club are ideal ways to ease loneliness, and have some fun.
PS He got the ebay profile, and I got the draining rack.
Lucy Williamson is a divorce coach. She helps mums who are getting divorced to navigate the process, minimising conflict, complexity and costs. She separated five years ago and has first-hand experience of the Family Court.
Dr Isabelle Hung is a co-founder of divorceclub.com and clinical psychologist. Having got through her own divorce just three years ago, she is now remarried and happy to report that divorce really is an opportunity for growth and positive change.