I didn’t get married planning to get divorced, but it happened anyway.
In 2017, my daughters and I moved out of state. Their father decided not to come with us. It was over a year before we returned to the state where I had spent most of my life. The divorce is finalized now and visitation is established, so we’ll be traveling 500 miles north four times a year so my kids can spend as much time with their father as possible.
Our first trip was this past Christmas. I was on my own for days at a time—something that hadn’t happened for years. I found myself unsure of what I was going to do, but knowing that I absolutely needed to do something.
There’s not a lot of time to breathe when you’re solo-parenting.
You’re making sure everyone does their homework and has a real dinner, and wondering when they last showered. Even taking time to relax with my kids becomes a job. As much fun as it is to watch a few episodes of their favorite shows with them, it’s also about making sure that they see me as a person, not some inscrutable entity who tells them what they can, and can’t, wear to school.
I didn’t think that being the primary custodial parent was going to be easy, but it is hard in ways I didn’t expect. When I was married, I often said things like, “I feel like I don’t get a break.” As a solo parent, I don’t get to stop, ever.
There’s a funny dichotomy here, though. In the middle of ridiculously busy days, I sometimes think, “If I could get a day off, I’d feel so much better.” But when I was faced with actually having time without my kids, I wondered what I was going to do with myself. The idea of being out of Mom-mode was almost unreal. I didn’t know how to stop or even slow down.
There was a huge part of me that was tempted to either mope around and be lonely without the kids, or spend all my time sending them silly Snaps so I still felt connected to them. But I knew that would do a disservice to both me and my kids. They deserve to have a great time visiting their dad without wondering if I’m lonely without them. That’s not their problem, and I will not—cannot—make it their responsibility.
I don’t need to be a mom to be healthy, but I do need to be healthy to be the mom I want to be.
Being healthy means remembering that I’m a person in my own right. Acting like that person, even when I sometimes forget who she is, helps me be a good mom.
So I picked some things to do on the days without my kids. I went shopping in the early evening without worrying that I was screwing up dinner or bedtime. I watched a few movies and knitted a lace shawl that was too complicated to work on when I was being constantly interrupted. I read. I went to a new restaurant without stopping to check the menu for things the kids would eat. I didn’t send Snaps to my kids, not even at bedtime.
For the next visit, it looks like their father will be able to take the kids for the entire week they’ll be in our old hometown, so I’m going to travel. It might be short trips to see friends who live within a couple hours, or it may be to the middle of the country to visit online friends I rarely get to see in person. I’m not sure yet.
I don’t know the last time I said that about my time.
I know that in order to take care of my kids, I have to take care of myself. Visitation seemed terrifying at first, but I’m getting used to it. It’s an adjustment, and a big one at that, but it’s a chance for me to recharge, relax, and remember who I am.
Change is never easy, but just this once, I think it might end up being good for me.