If someone asked me what the hardest part of divorce was, I would say it was just after my ex moved out, and the nights my kids were at his house. I would go to bed and wake up in an eerily quiet house and I hated it so much. Coping with divorce in this regard isn't easy and it takes time.
I have a friend who is experiencing a new separation, and she called me crying the other day because her two little girls were at their dad's house from Friday night through Monday morning.
"I have never been without them for this long," she cried. "It hurts so much."
I felt terrible for her and I was able to related 100%.
When I first got separated and my kids went to their dad's, I started doing a couple of things. First, I started obsessively cleaning my house, and I'm talking to the extent of scrubbing the floors on my knees. I'm sure some therapist would be able to analyze why I chose this behavior, but I don't really care. It stopped after a few weeks.
I also began drinking wine a lot, even when I was home alone. I would drink a couple glasses and then call my girlfriends and cry. It was awful.
I would tell anyone who is newly separated to be aware of how much you drink. Newly separated people are susceptible to addictions (including alcohol) because they are trying to numb pain, anxiety and fear. Anyhow, it took a few months, but the drinking stopped, too.
As time went on, I started getting used to the kids not being at my house on certain nights. Actually, I don't think you ever really "get used to it," but I started to be able to cope. Here's how. Here are 6 pieces of advice for dealing with your kids sleeping at your ex's house:
1. Don't think too much and stop the guilt
It's easy for a newly separated person to start hating him or herself. "I chose to get divorced and now I have to be without my kids. God is punishing me. I'm a horrible person. Who doesn't sleep in the same house with their young children every night?"
Those are some thoughts that were going through my head when I was recently separated, and I now see how ridiculous they are. You aren't being punished! You did what was best for everyone by splitting up. And, if the divorce wasn't your decision, you had no choice.
Ask yourself this question. Would the kids be better off living in a household with two unhappy people whose marriage wasn't working? Where there is no love, only fighting and anger and deceit and resentment? Every case is different, but I have to believe in most cases, the kids are better off in 2 loving homes than in one unhappy one.
2. Learn to enjoy the time alone. When your kids were babies, how many times did you wish you could run away and do something for yourself? Now you can! Do a yoga class, work on doing your job better, see friends, go to a movie, read good books, take a bath. Life is too short to spend ANY time sitting around being miserable. We are put on this earth to enjoy ourselves. Please don't waste precious time crying about something you have no control over.
3. Don't feel guilty about enjoying the time alone. That's just unproductive and stupid. And I bet if you asked your kids, they would want you to enjoy your time.
4. Talk to your kids about it. After 7 years, my kids still sometimes ask me, "Mom, what are you going to do while I'm at dad's," as if they are worried about leaving me home alone. I answer them by rattling off a million things I have to do, or maybe friends I am seeing, which I think makes them feel very relieved and happy. The burden isn't on them. The worst thing you can do is show that unhappy face that lets your kids know you are sad that they are leaving. It's actually selfish to do that, in my opinion.
5. Be flexible with your ex about schedule changes. Let's say your ex has to go out of town and can't have your kids on his scheduled night. What to you do? Say, "tough. Get a sitter?" No! Say, "No problem, I will have them that night." Why? Because then, he or she will do the same for you when you need to make changes. And, if he or she doesn't reciprocate, who cares? What have you lost by taking the high road? Nothing. You've gained good karma and you did what was best for your kids. Trust me, helping each other out is so good for your relationship with your ex. More importantly, it's good for your kids.
6. Focus on and enjoy the time you have when your kids are home. Think about parents who have long work hours, or people who travel a lot for their jobs. They are really in the same boat. You might have less time with your kids now, but you can make the time you have really fun and enjoyable. So don't focus on the times you are home alone, focus on what you are going to do when your kids are with you. It doesn't matter if it's a day in the city at 2 museums, stores and out for dinner, or if it's sitting in front of the fireplace watching iCarly. Looking at their little faces, scratching their backs, listening to their stories and enjoying every moment is what counts.
Jackie Pilossoph is the author of the blog, Divorced Girl Smiling. She is also the author of her new divorce novel with the same name, as well as her other divorce novel, FREE GIFT WITH PURCHASE. Ms. Pilossoph is a weekly business features reporter and columnist for Sun-Times Media. She lives in Chicago with her two kids. Oh, and she's divorced!