I Have Shared Custody, And I've Learned To Enjoy My Time Without My Kids

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The first time I dropped three of my kids off at my ex-husbands house, I drove to the nearest parking lot and had to calm myself down. I certainly wasn’t fit to drive, but I got out of there without my kids seeing me fall apart. I didn’t want their first overnight with their father to be laced with visions of their mother sobbing. That didn’t seem fair — he was so excited to have them and they were really looking forward to sleeping at his new place.

It was snowing and while I sat there, the snow turned into rain. I was craving breakfast and decide to go to McDonald’s and get myself a sausage biscuit that I didn’t end up eating. Instead, I sat cross-legged and stared at random cars for an hour.

I could have gone to back to hang out with them for a bit — my ex and I are still friends.

I could have called my best friend.

I could have gone to see my sister or mom.

I could have gotten a pedicure.

I could have taken up my high school friend on her offer to take me to dinner.

I could have gone to a movie.

But I didn’t do any of those things because I was gutted. I felt lost; I wasn’t fit to socialize. I sat in my car and cried over a damn sausage biscuit, which was exactly what I needed to be doing to mourn our old family dynamic. I knew I could get through the next 24 hours without my babies, but I didn’t know if I could accept that I would be spending about 40% less time with them every week. That thought was the one that broke me, and gave me a kick in the ass at the same time.

Something happened as I was driving home: I realized I had a choice. I could sit and cry into fast food every time I dropped my kids off with their father, and isolate myself by declining any social invitation because the thought of being without my kids hurt so damn much. Or I could make the most of a horrible situation, and enjoy myself by getting to know me again.

I choose the latter, because the way I see it, I didn’t have a choice. This is my life now — our life now — and the last thing I want is to be miserable and feel sorry for myself when my kids aren’t with me. And more importantly, I never want my kids to feel sorry for me when they are with their father, having a great time bonding with him. I don’t want them to be distracted thinking I am feeling sad.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t ever feel sad (I do), or that trying to stay positive has always been easy (it hasn’t).

There are times when crawling down the self-pity rabbit hole has been the only thing I’ve wanted to do. But I can miss them and still have fun when they’re gone. I can wish they were with me, but make the most of my time. It has been the hardest thing I’ve ever endured, and the best thing I’ve done for myself– it’s helped me heal.

I have dinner with friends at least once a week. I’ve seen all the movies I want to see and gotten so many pedicures. But I’ve also spent some much needed time alone. I’ve done what I’ve had to do to make this bearable for all involved which is important since this is the way it’s going to be until my kids move out— they are going to be spending almost half their time with their father.

Did it take me a while and a lot of work to get here? Yes, it did. I didn’t just automatically turn into Pollyanna when my kids weren’t with me, but I was determined to make my time without them the best I could.

Even now, a year later, I still have lots of pangs of sadness. There are evenings I peel myself out of the house to meet up with people I love when I really want to stay under the covers. Sometimes I do stay in, but when I decide go out or have someone over, I’m always happy that I did.

I don’t want my happiness to be dependent on when my kids are here, and they don’t want that either. We can hide a lot of our emotions from our kids, but deep down they know if there parent is struggling.

So, when I pick them up they always ask me what I did, and it makes me happy to tell them I had a wonderful time, but I’m glad they are back — and truly mean it.