I’d been separated from my ex-husband a little over a year, and knew he was taking our kids away on vacation during the week of July 4th — we’d discussed it and I had months to prepare myself. All my friends and family told me to relax, enjoy my time alone, and take advantage of the quiet. The truth was, I was dreading it.
Instead of making a solid plan to have the best week I could, I fumbled through it. I was surprised when I woke up some mornings feeling okay, then I’d feel guilty about that, wondering how I could be fine. One afternoon, I was driving to meet a friend for lunch at my favorite restaurant and the sight of a family crossing the street took my breath away. I cried so hard. It was a holiday week and I wanted nothing more than to be with my family.
That was five years ago and my kids have gone away with their father several times since. I’ve learned about the bittersweet feelings that come with your kids traveling with your ex, and how to deal with them:
You are missing time with them, and it’s hard.
When you share custody of your kids, every second is precious. You want to be with them during special times like holidays, and it can make you feel even guiltier than you already do.
Something I remind myself of all the time: We could have stayed married and had more time with our kids and not gotten along. Regardless of time spent with them or how many family vacations we could have taken together, nothing is better for our kids than having two happy parents.
They need quality time with their father and making great memories without me. They deserve that and I will never hold my kids back from having a special time with their dad just because it’s hard for me.
It gives you a chance to catch your breath.
You may not think you need time to catch your breath but trust me, you do. You are a single parent and I guarantee you aren’t putting yourself anywhere near the top of your priority list. When your kids are gone, this is your time to slow down, only worry about yourself, and catch up on anything you’ve been neglecting or wanting to do.
When my kids are gone, I now have the energy and time to do things like clean out a closet, spend extra time with friends, and read an entire book. It’s glorious.
We as mothers are always so focused on our kids. Having them gone makes it easier to shift the focus to ourselves which is critical to our mental health. It’s important to remember your mental well-being is just as important.
Making plans is the best thing you can do.
I always schedule a massage or a hair appointment and go to my favorite restaurants when my kids are gone. I download a good book and make sure I save some shows to watch for when I’m alone at night.
Have someone on standby if you need to talk.
You may have some hard moments when you want to talk to someone. Ask a friend or family member to be your person, especially the first few times your kids are away. You may not even need to reach out but there’s so much power in knowing someone is there if you need them.
Schedule Facetime calls with your kids.
We are so lucky we have this technology, so we actually see our kids when we are apart. I know this is easier said than done with some couples, but it’s such a great way to connect with them and will leave you feeling so much better.
One of the best things you can do is prepare yourself for all the mixed feelings you’re going to have. You’ll be fine one minute (and you might feel guilty about that), then you will miss your kids like crazy five minutes later. The first time my ex-husband took my kids for the week of the 4th of July, I wasn’t prepared to be okay one minute, then be an emotional wreck the next. After talking to some of my divorced friends, it was such a relief to know they went through the same rollercoaster. Had I known I was going to have moments of enjoying myself, then feel like I was going to vomit because I was missing a week of their lives, I would have dealt with the rollercoaster of emotions a lot better.
You may not be able to prepare yourself 100% but, knowing it’s going to be a mixed bag of feelings really does help ease the blow.
When our kids leave for a family vacation without us, it can feel unnatural. It may take you a few times to get into a good rhythm. But if you take the time they are away to work on yourself, do something nice just for you, and realize your kids are going to be having a great life experience, it can make it a lot easier.
Katie Bingham-Smith is a full-time freelance writer living in Maine with her three teens and two ducks. When she’s not writing she’s probably spending too much money online and drinking Coke Zero.