Separation is without doubt one of the most stressful things to go through in life.
Once you have gone through the “before” (dealing with the actual break up), and during (the separation process), then comes the ‘First of Everything’: the “afterwards”…
• The first post separation contact time
• The first birthday of your child
• Your first birthday
• Your first Mother’s or Father’s Day
• Christmas & New Year
• Family gatherings
• Religious celebrations
• Holidays and so on…
Here are 5 tips that might help you get through the ‘First of Everything’…
Tip 1: Have a clear agreement with your ex-partner, made well in advance and preferably in writing to avoid any confusion, about who will have your child and when. Agree to take turns but also have a chat about what is important to you and what is important to your ex. For instance, I was supporting a Danish / English couple during their separation: for her the 24th of December was important as this is the Danish national day for celebrating Christmas, and for him it was the 25th. For her New Year was important but he preferred celebrating it with friends. Easter was important to him and not for her. Some people feel it is really important to spend Mother’s Day or Father’s Day with their children but others don’t have the same attachment to this particular day.
Be sensible in your approach and try to act fairly even though it may be painful to feel that you are maybe “missing out” on certain dates. If communications between you and your ex are difficult or contentious there are free online services such as Talking Parents which can help you plan your agreements and ensure everything is clearly and securely recorded.
Tip 2: Get creative! And feel free to mix it up. Who says YOUR Christmas celebration has to be on December 25th? A separated parent I know is having the first 25th of December without their child this year and has decided to do “early Christmas” and have a celebration day with family and friends the weekend before! Children are often delighted with the idea of doing something a little different; we often use the expression: “Christmas has come early this year!”, so why not? Maybe if you aren’t seeing your child on their birthday this year you could flip the year and arrange to do something special with them exactly 6 months before their birthday, or the week before. Or just before your child’s birthday month put dates 1-30 into a hat and pick out one and set that as the day to do a birthday treat this year for your child.
Tip 3: Be busy: The first few weekends away from your kids (and possibly a good few after) can be really hard. Try not to spend too much time home alone, surrounded with your kids toys and reminders of them and eat chocolate, ice cream or get stuck into the wine. Plan what you will do, maybe try something new that you have never had time to do. Get some good friends together and have fun. Strike a balance here though. It’s a good idea to have one thing planned each day that gets you out of the house and around other people but resist the temptation to cram the days with too much. It might seem like a great opportunity to go wild and party all night or undertake a hectic round of scheduled activities under this “new freedom” (or in an attempt not to think about missing your kids) but try not to do too much that will exhaust you and leave you feeling overwhelmed in a different way. Give yourself time to adjust to the new regime, think carefully what you say YES to and whether it will serve you well, and maybe as time goes by you can start seeing this as an opportunity for some ‘You-Time’ for sport, hobbies or just meeting up with friends.
Tip 4: Get through it with REAL friends: You need people around you while you go through this, but not just anyone; you need radiators, not drains. Drains leave you feeling…well, drained! Their negativity, own emotional needs or low level of empathy can drain your self-esteem, happiness and coping strategies. CLICK here to read more about getting through divorce with friends
Tip 5: Remember your worries are YOUR worries. It’s natural to feel worried or sad at these times but remember this is always hard on your kids too. If they have to deal with and process your sadness, loneliness or worries on top of coping with the changes in their lives they might start feeling guilty or sad for you too. They might even start feeling that they are responsible for your happiness and hide if they are feeling sad. So let them go with positive words and a smile and keep the crying for later on, and with friends! And you don’t need to go though this on your own: there are some amazing run support groups for both separated mums and separated dads, facebook groups, support lines etc.
Mette Theilmann – part of the Parenting Community team