It’s only been 18 months since my separation; I’m still working my way through it. In many ways, I think I probably always will be. Because life is always presenting us with new transitions. I get quite a few messages from recently separated mums, asking me how I coped. So, I thought I’d write down how it’s been for me, so far. In those early days. It really is a case of taking it ‘day by day’. Some days are better than others. Some weeks are better than others. You are going to be ok, though. That, I can promise you. And you will laugh again. A little note: separation isn’t ‘one size fits all’ and I wouldn’t want to attempt to comment on all its many aspects and circumstances. I only know my own. But there’s a great blog called Divorced Girl Smiling, which can do a much better job of that, than me.
- Telling your kids you’re separating. There are text books telling you how to do this stuff. And I know there are ‘proper’ ways to handle it. But I’m definitely more ‘heart on my sleeve’ and, when things were deteriorating, it was difficult to hide this from our kids. Separation is an emotional time and you don’t always handle it with dignity, grace or self-control. Or schedule arguments for after the kids are in bed. So, they knew about our separation, as it happened. And, since then, I’ve always been honest with them. I’ve kept it simple and age appropriate but I’ve answered all their questions and, when they’ve had sad days (which are very infrequent now), I have focused on the positives instead – that we are all happier in our new dynamic. Obviously, focusing on the positives is easier the further down the line you get. In those early days, I think it really is all about reaffirming how much your kids are loved. That you are still a REAL family. That there are ALL kinds of families. I think being honest removes a lot of the fear. Because it can be really scary and uncertain being kept in the dark and kids are astute; they feel when something is up, no matter how small they are. Do you remember when your parents argued when you were a kid? And it felt like it was shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding, with stifled shouting behind closed doors – ‘Not in front of the kids’! I have found it far better to let them in. I think it’s helped normalise our situation. Because it’s not a dirty secret. It’s not off limits to talk about it. And, if they haven’t said anything for a while, I always check in and ask them how they’re feeling about ‘stuff’. So they know they always can talk about it.
- Sharing your kids. This is the thing I get the most messages about. How to feel ok about sharing your kids. I remember this so well. I went on a girls’ weekend shortly after we separated and left the kids with their dad. I spent the WHOLE weekend fuming that he wasn’t doing everything I asked him to do. ‘They’re MY kids!’ I said. ‘Except, they’re also his kids,’ my friend reminded me. Oh yes. I think it’s really natural to feel possessive about your kids when you first split. To try and control. Especially, if you were wronged or didn’t want the relationship to end. It is painful, there’s no two ways about it. Being physically separated from your children is HARD. It might be something you’ve never even done. And, in some ways, it never feels quite right (even though you’re desperate for a break). But they are both your kids and, so long as there’s no reason why your ex shouldn’t spend time with them, you do want your kids to have a relationship with both of you. Remember that. Hold your kids’ faces in the forefront of your mind. If it doesn’t feel comfortable initially, start off slowly. We did a year of Daddy having the kids one day a weekend, before they started staying overnight. Now they spend one weekend day and night, every week, at Daddy’s house. And I have learned to enjoy the respite.
- What to do the first time you’re without them (and beyond). When the kids first started leaving, I used to sit on the floor for an hour, in some sort of paralysed shock. The silence was deafening. I wanted to do both everything and nothing. In short, I didn’t know what to do first. Then, after a few weeks of feeling a bit lost, someone told me they used to spend that first hour or two tidying the house, to make it nice for the rest of their free time. It kept them busy, they said. And stopped them from overthinking. So I did that. Then, I really found my groove. I ran. I read that book I’ve been reading since 2009. I had a rebellious beer in the bath whilst listening to Madonna at full volume, at the very time I would have been doing their bathtime. And I started going out with friends. THAT sense of freedom was a revelation, I can tell you. The hangovers? Not so much. Now, I feel really lucky that I get one day and one night a week just for ME. I need it to be on form to do the other six days a week. And I love it. But I am ALWAYS glad and ready to have them back. Until they start bickering, anyway.
- Helping your kids make the transition between houses. Some weekends, my kids come back in a vile mood. They are rude, overtired and whingy. Obviously, at this point, I am totally blaming Daddy for ALL of this (see below). But that isn’t really helpful, is it? And then, one of my IG followers messaged me privately and said that when she was younger she found the transition between houses really tricky. She said she often came back and was really rude to her mum. Naively, I hadn’t really considered that. They’re always happy to go and they’re always happy to be back so I just hadn’t considered the transition element for them. Foolish of me. So, now, I try to cut them some slack, accept whatever mood they return in and make sure we don’t have anything planned that afternoon/evening so we can just CHILL, reacclimatise and get an early night.
- Try not to hate each other. 18 months on, I try really hard to love my ex-husband. Yes, I did just say ‘love’. Because, we spent 15 years together. We have three kids together. Who would not be their marvellously, crazy, unique selves without his genes (or mine). Some days, I do NOT manage this. And I send him an impulsive, angry, ranty text. Usually, because I am knackered and blaming the kids’ marvellously, crazy, unique selves on his genes. Haha. But if I’ve learned one thing since we split? It’s that I’m the only person who suffers when I pick fault with him, wish he would do things my way and generally get cross about EVERYTHING. I don’t want to feel rubbish. I don’t have the energy. So I am trying, trying, trying to focus on all the good stuff. And also remember that we liked each other once. It just didn’t work out, that’s all.
- Don’t ‘slag’ each other off publicly. You are allowed to do this. Just don’t do it with the WHOLE world. And NEVER via Facebook or your Christmas newsletter. Confide in your close friends. Open some wine. Rant. Cry. Feel everything you need to feel. This is a really important part of the grieving process. But there WILL come a day where it doesn’t feel quite so raw. That you’ll make your peace with whatever happened. That you’ll feel differently and maybe even meet someone else. When this does happen, you’ll be glad you didn’t tell anyone who would listen, how crap your ex was. It’s not about sides. It’s about support and, as long as you’re getting that for YOU, what everyone else thinks about what happened, means nothing. It’s not their business. It means nothing.
- Dealing with new partners. If you or your ex meets someone and your kids are starting to spend time around them, it’s probably a good idea for your ex/you to meet them (no matter how painful this might be). Make it a quick introduction the first time. And, if it’s you meeting your ex’s new partner, resist the temptation to ask them, ‘What ON EARTH do you see in him?’ It may feel awkward. Sad. Confusing. You may suddenly feel like you are being replaced (you aren’t). It may bring up all sorts of emotions you thought you’d already dealt with. It’s another milestone and it will move you on a little further. Again.
- Finally. Always, make your own rules. Separation doesn’t have to be miserable. It doesn’t have to be bleak. I realise not everyone separates amicably. That it is not always mutual. That said, I think there comes a time where you can choose how you want it to frame your life. I decided early on that separation was going to make everything better for all of us. It had to. Otherwise, why was I not ploughing on with my marriage? Mostly, this is how we live. I refuse to maroon myself in a place society might like to stick me. Where separation is a disaster. A sad statistic. A failure. Don’t get me wrong. There are days where I have felt like a failure but these are few and far between now. There have also been times where I have felt uncomfortable not being part of a parenting couple. Going to things on my own with the kids. Going to things on my own without the kids. But, I have also made some amazing new friends, who are in the same boat as me. On the whole, we make our own rules. Because I want our separation to be inclusive, as far as it can be. I want my kids to have as much love as possible, from wherever it comes. It is so exhausting living amidst sadness and resentment. And whilst there may be days like that, I want those to be the exception, not the rule. So we will always make our own rules.
Lots of love to you wherever you are in your relationship/separation.
You are going to be MORE than ok (take your time).