My kids came home yesterday from two solid weeks with their dad. The sugar-induced excitement of being home with their toys and mom had them bouncing off the walls. Evidence of their time there was apparent when the first tear fell when I told them they could not watch TV day and night. No matter how "super cute" the show was. But returning my kids to the scheduled, predictable lifestyle I run in this house is not the hardest part of being a single mother. Though it feels like it when it takes weeks to get them back on track. The hardest part was handing them over to begin with. The second hardest is sitting for two weeks, wondering if they are OK, if they are happy, if they miss me, day after day, waiting on them to come home.
No one tells you this part about divorce. The part where you spend every moment taking care of your kids, loving them, handling their bad days, kissing their little cheeks only to have extended periods of time without them where you simply don't know what to do. People tell you of the stress of the divorce process, the hard time you might have handling little people all by yourself, the financial stress of raising kids in a single parent household. But they leave out the loneliness, the sense of loss and the stalling of time while you wait for them to come back to you safe and sound.
The weekends away are not an issue after a while. In fact, I get caught up when they are gone with their dad for a few days. But when they are gone for 16 days and the chores are done, the drawers rearranged and the house is clean, then what do you do? How do you get through it without coming totally undone?
This is my second summer to hand my kids over for a total of 30 days to their dad. I am learning, though slowly, how to survive the hardest part of single motherhood. With another two weeks looming next month, I have a few tips for how to survive them and come out stronger.
Yes, I know this seems like a no-brainer. But if you are like me, sitting on the couch doing absolutely nothing sounds like an amazing staycation of epic proportion. The problem is that it is hard to get off that couch. If you don't get off of it by forcing yourself to make plans, you may find that you spend the entire time alone, sad and a little angry without your kids. Just as they force you to get up, run errands and take them to friend's houses, you should do the same for yourself. Catch up with old friends. Plan those business trips that you have put off. Visit those museums you always wanted to go to. Keeping the same type of busy schedule you have when the kids are home makes the days go faster and offers you a true fun and energetic break.
Another one that is easy, you would think. But I am amazed at how many single moms only talk to their kids a few times a week or less when they are with their dad. I call my kids every single day, sometimes twice a day. Yes, I am aware that it is his time with them and that answering the phone at a bad time of day may be hard. But I simply can not go a day without hearing my girls' voices. So pick up the phone and call them. Even if they don't want to talk to you or they are busy, at least you get that valuable feeling of still being connected to what makes your world go round.
No one gets more than I do that money is tight as a single parent. Plus there is the added "what do I do on a vacation without my kids?" thought process. But I find that getting out of my house and to a new place is really wonderful when my kids are not home. Instead of walking past their empty bedrooms time and again, constant reminders that they are not there, I can sit by the pool at a hotel, shop in some local stores I stumble upon and dine on the local cuisine I would never be able to make in my kitchen. Vacations don't have to be expensive at all. Hotels have deals, friends can share gas money and the costs and the time away can be invaluable.
Single parents are among the hardest-working people on the planet. Balancing child care and work, the checkbook and the custody schedules can be very taxing. Add to that the emotional roller coaster of parenting, the constant battle for structure and the feelings of never getting time to ourselves when the kids are home and we can literally spend months on end never having a peaceful moment. So though I do not recommend at all sitting for weeks doing nothing, I do think a day or two of unplanned time to catch up on a good book, a favorite show and your own mental health is a good thing. I usually take a day or two right before the kids are home to relax and enjoy the rare silence. After keeping myself busy the entire time the kids are gone, that silence and selfish time that I struggle to allow myself to have is important and necessary before my little tornadoes come home.
It is OK to be sad and to miss the kids when they are gone for an extended amount of time. I still let the tears stream down my face when they leave. Weeks without your kids that you love and wrap your life around is a very hard thing. But if you stay busy and allow yourself to spoil yourself a bit, the time will fly and you will be a rested, more well-balanced mom for them to come home to.
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