Surviving the summer without your children!!
(A helpful guide for divorced parents)
Summertime is here and for many separated/divorced parents, this is the time of year your children have extended visits with their other parent. With the staggering amount of marriages ending in divorce, it is becoming more and more common to have weeks or even months apart from your kids over the summer.
For some children this can be challenging; being away from the parent they spent most of their time with, or going away for a longer time than usual (a weekend visit may be the norm, for example). However it is even more challenging for the parent! Now while many parents dream of having a child free night, the thought of having an entire week or more away from your child can be terrifying. Aside from being away from your child (and missing them terribly), the truly scary thing is trying to fill the time and the void that an empty house brings. You stop being the primary parent, you stop having your days filled with taking care of your children, and you suddenly are thrown into a life where you aren’t responsible for the day to day care of anyone but yourself. What do you do with yourself now???
My wife and I are both on our second marriages and each have children that we share with our ex-spouses. We have spans of entire weeks where we go without seeing any of our children over the summer, which is heartbreaking to us. Here’s a list of five things that I have found helped the summers more bearable.
1) Get used to or fill the quiet.
I know it sounds weird but you’re going to have to get used to the quiet; that was the hardest thing for me to to get used to at first. When my ex-wife and I separated, we agreed on shared custody immediately (before we separated I had never really been apart from my kids for any real length of time). Without my kids around running up and down the hallway, without the sounds of them laughing, and playing (and even fighting and crying), my house became eerily quiet. The first few days I binge watched TV to fill up the void, and I fell asleep on the couch (it seemed less depressing then going to my bedroom). God bless Netflix! As the days progressed the quiet became easier to tolerate; I caught up on full seasons of TV that I had missed, pulled out some old CDs that I have listened to a couple of years (on a side note the digging out old CDs are better when drinking wine), and caught up on some books I’d been meaning to read.
2) Do some chores around the house that you normally would have trouble doing with the kids there.
Every summer my wife goes through our children’s clothes and toys, and donates what they have outgrown and no longer really use. She can only do this when the kids are gone as they hate to part with any of their toys (and claim their favourite pants still fit!!). The kids are none the wiser when they get back (they are thrilled with their clean, rearranged room), and some other less fortunate children get some new toys and clothes. This also, in some way, comforts her and keeps the kids close to her heart; spending time in their rooms and being close to their things.
3) Try to relax!
Yes- easier said than done! Pull out the candles some nice music, and have an uninterrupted bath for change (do you remember what that is?)! Read that book you have always wanted to read. Sleep in… as a parent this is normally taboo, and you should enjoy it while you can. Go for a walk and enjoy nature without worrying about your child. Go for a drive up the coast and bring a blanket and a picnic lunch. Go for a massage, manicure/pedicure (men, trust me on the pedicure it is worth it!) and haircut. Treat yourself! Re-charge your batteries so that when you children come home you are rested, refreshed, and ready to spend amazing quality time with them!
Call up some friends and go for some drinks or a coffee (I cannot stress enough to go out and see other adults without it being a play date). Spending quality time with another person definitely makes the time fly by much faster. Go out on a date! My wife and I make a conscious choice to book an entire day and just be a couple again (in fact my wife and I had our first date on one of these child free breaks). Dating when you have children is complicated for a number of reasons and time to fit someone in is usually near the top. Now you have some time! (Keep an eye out in the future for my blog about dating as a single parent!).
5) Try to find yourself (again)
Who are you? I mean it…who are you now? Outside of being Mommy or Daddy, who are you? This time off can really challenge your self-awareness. In order to know who you are you need to remember who you were. What did you used to like to do…scratch that…what did you used to love to do before you became a parent? What was your passion? Was it reading or painting, or perhaps writing? I have heard from many parents saying that they discovered their life purpose during these breaks. Maybe you will find yours! Register yourself for a class of some sort (try something new!). Maybe you can finally give yourself that jumpstart back at the gym you have been wanting but could never find the time. Whatever you do make sure you are doing it for completely selfish reasons. You have earned it and should absolutely spoil yourself. It killed me to be away from my children… but slowly but surely, I started to remember who I was before children (and I was kind of awesome)!
Believe it or not, your children worry about you and your feelings just as much as you worry about them and theirs. If you are not able to show them that you are ok without them being there, they will not be able to truly enjoy themselves (they will spend all of their time worrying about you and feeling guilty about having fun without you). That is not fair to them, or to their other parent who is probably excited to have the time with their children again. As much as you may hate to admit it they love your children just as much as you do, and while it can feel like knives to your heart, you have to make your children feel as if you are happy and excited to hear about the fun adventures they are going on with their other parent.
I have found that once I was finally able to enjoy and truly appreciate my time without my kids, they were able to enjoy themselves more as well. I have also found that this leads to a better co-parenting relationship your ex which benefits everyone. I’m not saying that this is easy… in fact I know firsthand how hard it is. What I am saying is that it does get easier and your children will more than likely be thankful for it in the long run. In the end I am now more appreciative of the time I do have with my kids, I have found myself, and I have found love again. Not bad for a week without my kids.