I have one divorced friend who thoroughly enjoys her free time when her kids are at her exe’s. And about two dozen others who experience sadness, depression, anxiousness and even anger when dealing with the loss of their kids for partial or half the time, post divorce. And I’m definitely part of that bunch.
Because it’s just not natural living away from our kids, for any given period of time, even under the best of circumstances when you have them ‘most’ of the time. Birthdays can happen away from you. Teeth can fall out, and nightmares can occur when you’re not there to comfort them. We’ve quite literally grown these kids inside our bodies for the better part of a year, poured our souls into every second of their lives, many times putting our jobs and personal dreams on hold… only to miss out on portions of their lives after army-crawling through divorce. It’s just plain awful. And it feels liberating to say it. It’s been seven years since my divorce and I’m still not used to passing by empty bedrooms, having breakfast alone and saying goodnight over Facetime.
Anyways, this blog is meant to encourage, not depress, so I thought I’d share some thoughts and tips to both ease the pain and healthily distract, when the kids are gone. None of this will replace the feeling of our kids being home, but a few will especially help with the pain.
#1 Stay Busy
Seems obvious. But if we stay intentionally busy (so like, not just drinking the Noir through Hulu binges and cruising online tag sales) when the kids are away, it can make a big difference in our loneliness levels. Get all your shopping done when they’re gone. Pick out school outfits and clean their rooms (helps you feel more connected). Get ahead on work stuff so you can have more free time when they’re home. Get involved in a ministry or volunteer activity you never imagined having time for when you had kids full time. Schedule a bi-monthly girls night or sign up for the Yoga class you’ve been lusting after since birthing babies. Do all the laundry, wash the car, bang out yardwork, etc. so you can be more present with the kids when they’re back. This isn’t exactly a sexy solution, but if we get things accomplished with our kids in mind, we’ll feel more connected to them, in a way. Like you’re prepping for their return, sowing the seeds for better quality time when they do come home.
And if you’re in a relationship, or re-married, all the better. This is the time to enjoy day trips and dates you couldn’t possibly have pulled off with the kids home all the time. I used to feel guilty planning trips to the beach, vineyards and concerts on my “off weekends,” as if pining away for my babies after they left home would make anything any better. Then I realized this extra time alone was a very real silver lining. Everyone knows second marriages with mixed families experience “special” challenges and strains. Use this time to pour into your marriage, instead of seeing it as time to kill before the kids come home. The idea of “romance” without worrying if the kids will wake up….just sayin.’
#2 Make The Most Of The Time You Have
“When it comes to time with kids, quality counts more than quantity.” It’s a common placard divorced moms comfort each other with, but it’s true. We all know being under the same roof together doesn’t mean we’re bonding. If I don’t make an effort with my 14 year-old, I swear he’d stay upstairs texting/gaming from sunup to sundown. Losing time with my kids quickly taught me how to make the very most of every minute when they’re home. Try to limit your calls/texting (includes checking the Match profile, single mamas!) or doing work when the kids are around. Avoid scheduling dates and social events when you have them, and be super intentional and protective of your time.
Before I got re-married I felt I had to give my kids the most exciting, action packed days when I had them, and I’ve learned through the years that what they really want is to chill at home. Even if they don’t express it, they miss being in their own beds, in their own spaces and routines and they miss just being around you. Especially when they’re little. Kids long to have mom all to themselves, even through the early teenage years. Try and maximize your time with board game nights, family movies, playing in the backyard…which can feel a little lonely without a partner, but I really regret not having more one-on-one time with the kids right after divorce. Hold tight through the stillness, and the discomfort of being a non-traditional family of just “you guys.” And it does get easier. And if you’re re-married with an even bigger family now…
#3 Ensure Alone Time With Your Kids If You Re-Marry
It can be super stressful not being able to give enough attention to our kids when we do have them, let alone when we have a whole new blended family dynamic to navigate. Make sure you’re communicating your needs with your spouse, and create a plan going into each weekend, if needed. If you work hard enough, you can create special times/moments with your kids without the family at large even noticing. For example, my 14-year-old and I always watch a show playing chess together, and everyone knows this is “Mom and Eli’s time.” I always insist on driving my 12-year-old alone to his basketball practice, even when his younger step-siblings beg to join the ride, because it gives me a chance to catch up (alright he’s a boy so it’s usually one worded answers and grunts but I think it still counts!).
#4 Remember To Pray When You Start Freaking Out
We experience SO many conflicting emotions when the kids are gone, right? We worry that they’ll miss us too much. Or not enough. Worry for their safety and security if your ex’s parenting style is a bit “different” than yours. What are they being allowed to watch/listen to/hang out with when they’re gone? Rules and domestic culture involving screen time, curfews, activities, etc. can be so different between houses, and it can be very easy to lose our minds in worry and anxiety when the kids are gone. And each different stage of their childhood presents its new fears. I feel like I end every blog with this advice, but seriously, we have to remember to pray more when we’re feeling like this.
Even if you’re in a good place…because we all know triggers can happen just like that. We aren’t able to connect with them on the phone before bed and now we’re stressed. Or one of the kids stayed home sick and we didn’t know it. Or you see a commercial for that movie you were planning on seeing with your youngest and it’s coming out on your “off” weekend. Aaaaand there it is…that haunting sting of sadness creeps back in.
Remember to start every day in prayer, asking the Lord for complete peace, even when it seems impossible. Ask him to remove the hurting and longing in your heart and flood you with his supernatural joy and comfort. Proactively and continually give every fear over to him (the moment it invades your head) and remember He loves our kids even more than we do. He’s not going to let divorced homes and unideal circumstances destroy our kid’s lives. Honestly, losing the ability to always protect and control my kids’ environment has forced me to trust him like I never could have before. They really are in his hands, and God will honor our prayers. And no one prays like a mother.…all the men folk know it’s true.
Even on the hard days, coming off day number three or four (or FIVE) without seeing your children…you’ve got this. Your kids will always be your everything and your heart will always be their home.
For more on blended families, read my recent blog “5 Mistakes To Avoid When Blending Families.”