For the first time, I was faced with the realization that I was not going to be able to tuck my babies into bed every night, I wasn’t going to read them their bedtime stories, make sure they didn’t eat junk food, and be there when they woke up in the morning. My youngest was 23 months and a second realization hit. Our breastfeeding routine was going to change. While she’d mostly weaned herself over the previous six months, she still nursed in the evenings before bed. But now that she’d be at her daddy’s house three nights a week that would change. Emotions I was not prepared for swept through me.
That first night, after I rained kisses on their heads and sent them away with a big smile and a wave, I closed the door and collapsed in tears. I spent the night pacing the empty house, wishing with all my heart I could walk into their rooms and listen to their breathing. The next night was no easier. Weeks passed and I went through the same heartbreak night after night.
Then, one night as I lay in my oldest child’s bed clutching a picture of him and his sister and sobbing, I came to the stark realization that this was going to be happening for the next 16 years. I knew I needed to find a way to cope. I sat down and made a plan; here, five things that have helped me deal when my kids are away at my ex-husband’s house.
1. Don’t be alone. I’d been so afraid to let on how well I wasn’t doing that I hadn’t even considered calling my friends to spend some time together. I’d assumed they’d be busy with their families. They’d assumed I’d be enjoying my “free” time. The moment I asked, they came over and we discovered a perk to my child-free nights: a house without kids or husbands where we could sit and talk without interruption or guilt.
2. Find a hobby. I signed up for a painting class that met each week on one of the days the kids were gone. I’d never painted before and showed up to my first class nervous and apprehensive. I left with a barely dry painting that made me smile and a list of future classes. Finding something to make the time go by is key. I also, somehow, started running, finding freedom in not needing to be back in time to make dinner.
3. Paint the walls. It may sound drastic, but I spent quite a few of those days and nights without the kids tackling home improvement projects that would be too difficult to accomplish while chasing a preschooler and toddler. I stayed up late while Adele crooned, drinking a glass of wine and painting baseboards, as well as remaking my bedroom.
4. Go on a date or chat someone up. Non-custodial nights are perfect for dates. With no need for a sitter, I could get ready in peace and come home as late as I wanted. And, before I was ready to date, I used some of those evenings to take advantage of dating sites’ messaging programs and re-learn how to flirt.
5. Get out of the house. No plans? Make some. Drive to the beach, go to a movie, or check out a local band at a coffee house. In other words, start doing all those things you did before you had kids and a husband. It’s guilt-free time to get your nails done, join a book club, or even just sit in Starbucks and have a leisurely cup of coffee.
I still miss my children every time they leave. I still feel twinges of sadness that don’t go away until they’re back with me. But, after a few years, I’ve found ways to make the pain bearable and to discover a bit about myself.
How do you cope when your kids are at your ex’s house?