There’s now doubt about it—when I first became a single parent, which was from day one (I left my marriage when I was three months pregnant), I wanted so much to separate my “new life” with my daughter (whom I adored from the first second I saw her) from my “old life” with my ex-husband (whom I simply couldn’t find any polite words for!).
Five years on, I’m in a very different place. It’s taken hard work on both sides (and probably for our daughter, too), constant reviews of how we communicate, a respect for each other’s boundaries, and a slow and steady building up of trust. I still find it hard, though, when I have weekends, weeks, and now fortnights where my daughter is away with her father.
Here’s what I’m learning:
1. Put the Children First
The emotions you feel for you ex are not shared by your children. The sooner you learn to facilitate a system around which your children can have access to both parents, the happier everyone can be. The key (and often the hardest task) is to keep the communication open with your ex. If something causes conflict, discuss an alternative way to do it. Never settle for repeat conflict—it serves no one.
2. Ask Your Children About Their Time Away
This serves two purposes. Firstly, it allows you to be aware of how they enjoy their time with your ex, also allowing you to build confidence in being apart from them.
Secondly, it will give you a sense of whether your children require extra resources, confidence, and skills from you to equip them to handle their time away from you and their relationship with their non-resident parent.
3. Be Clear About How to Spend Your “You” Time
The first time my daughter had an overnight with her dad (when she was about fifteen months old), I dropped her at our meeting point on a Saturday morning, handed over bottles, nappies, and a print out of her “routine.” I watched them leave and I felt fine. I then got back in my car, drove to Oxford Street (the busiest shopping street in the UK!), parked up, put money in the parking meter, and was about 20 meters away from my car when I burst into tears in the middle of the street. I had no idea what I was doing there. I had completely forgotten what to do with “free” time and I suddenly realized that I’d always hated shopping—I just didn’t know what else to do!
These days I’m a little more equipped! And when my daughter’s away, I plan in time with my friends, catch up on stuff in the house, spend more time at the gym, go to the movies, read books, Facebook, talk on the phone for hours, have a massage—things I wouldn’t normally have time for on my parenting days.
I guess most of all, my confidence in knowing that my daughter loves her time with her dad, coupled with the fact that I now have a list of things I can do when she’s away, has allowed me to be more positive and much fairer in sharing her time with my ex.