When it comes to co-parenting, there’s lots of advice out there. But many forget one crucial area: How do you cope while your kids are with their father? Separation anxiety is not exclusive to children, it’s a natural and raw emotion, and it hits some women hard. That is why, in this article, I discuss single mum separation anxiety.
Firstly, it is perfectly normal.
Maternal instinct is a dominating built-in mechanism. Mothers are meant to be with their children … nurturing, guiding and protecting them. Co-parenting rudely interrupts this natural cycle and is much more than an inconvenience.
Depending on personal circumstances, it’s harder for some single mothers than for others, especially if you have concerns for your children while with their father. Unease for their well-being can intensify separation anxiety, making it almost unbearable. But even if your kids are happy with dad, premature bouts of empty nest syndrome are likely to make an unwelcome visit.
So how can you temper the temptation to lock all the doors so they can’t leave?
Having participated in shared parenting for many years, I’m keen to share my tips for dealing with separation anxiety as a single mother.
Advice for parenting through separation rightly suggests we are open about our feelings and encourage our children to do the same.
But be careful here.
Our children mirror our emotions. If they see you are upset when they leave, it will make them upset too. If you are calm and happy at handover time, they will likely feel calm and happy too. This, in turn, will make the separation more manageable for you.
Come on everyone: Hold that smile!
Is handover hell for you? Read this: How to make changeovers when co-parenting a blinding success.
If you find the build-up to saying goodbye to your child difficult, it can help to establish a routine.
This can be as simple as cuddling on the couch for ten minutes, enjoying afternoon tea together or tidying their bedroom. Sticking to a routine provides comfort and reassurance while you (and your child) mentally prepare for the goodbye.
Note: I would always make sure our routine included lots of cuddles. It felt like I was fuelling up with cuddle power which would see me through until they came home again.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
In this case, having kid-free time allows you to catch up on other aspects of your life.
Use your time wisely.
Even having the opportunity to clean the house might make you feel good, but make sure you practice self-care also. Meet a friend for coffee, go to the cinema, do whatever makes you happy.
The more you do, the less time you’ll have to miss your little ones.
For many single mums (myself included), you’ll wonder how you ever managed without your kid-free time and will revel in it instead of dread it.
Separation anxiety can sneak up announced.
When my children go, I might feel elated that I have some space, only to deflate like a balloon a couple of hours later as the house is too quiet.
Once in the doldrums, it can be hard to pull yourself out. So, the key here is to stop it happening in the first place.
Make a plan to combat yearnings for your youngsters.
And stick to it.
It will safely navigate you away from miserable ‘missing you’ moments.
Parenting comes complete with all manner of guilt. Shared parenting comes with even more.
Single mum guilt can ramp up when you have to hand over your kids to their father. This was never the plan for most of us, and we feel awful about it.
Then, once they’ve gone, bring on the single mum jealously. You start to resent that they are spending a perfectly wonderful Sunday with their dad and not with you. You become envious of them all being together, without you.
Guilt and jealousy are all part of this co-parenting journey. However, these are self-generated emotions. This means you (and only you) have the power to stop them.
Concentrate on what is within your control. Try the practical tips in this article to take your mind off what your kids are up to and make the most of your time without them. And focus on how you will enjoy your time with them when they come home.
Even if our little ones aren’t with us, it doesn’t mean we stop caring for them. We are mums after all!
Separation anxiety as a single mother can be eased by doing things for your children ready for when they get home.
The kind of things that help me manage my single mum loneliness include:
Maternal pursuits can bring comfort and consolation if your world seems a little empty.
Depending on your child’s age, keep in touch with them.
Embrace technology and tell them they can call or message you anytime (if this is OK with their dad).
It doesn’t hurt to send them the odd message or meme. Wish them a good time and let them know you’re OK because they may be worried about you.
Don’t hound them or seem needy. Simply keep the airwaves open. Just knowing there’s a line of communication will cheer you up.
If your kids are like mine, they’ll already have a favourite app, but if not, see: Best video calling apps to help with co-parenting.
OK, so your kids have yet to actually leave home! You have a while to prepare for that scenario.
Having said that, when they are with dad, it is natural to get the single mum empty nest blues. Does your house seem quiet, deserted and soulless when it’s just you? I get it.
Some easy ways to stop missing kids when they’re with dad and overcome your temporary empty nest syndrome include:
Don’t rattle around your home missing your kids. Instead, change the energy and embrace your time at home, sans kids.
If you have a reasonable relationship with their dad, find out what your children will be doing while they are with him.
If they head off into the unknown, you can drive yourself mad wondering what they’re up to. Worrying about kids with dad is a pro pastime for us as shared parenting mums!
If your children are too young to stay in touch with you independently, ask their dad to send you the odd photo. Some co-parenting apps allow you to download pictures to share between parents.
Remember, it works both ways, so if you take photos for their dad while they’re with you, he’ll be more likely to do the same for you.
When I first started co-parenting, missing my kid’s bedtime was one of the hardest parts. I felt lost getting into my bed without so much as a page from a storybook or a cuddle. For me, this was when the single mum loneliness really kicked in.
How I managed: I created a new bedtime routine for when the kids were with dad. And, I’ll admit, I started to enjoy it.
Bedtime routines are very personal but find one that works for you. It might include a bath, a movie, self-pleasure, a soothing cup of chamomile, or any stress relief exercises that work for you.
Remember, it will only be a few nights and you’ll be back to frantic baths and chaotic bedtimes that run you ragged but you secretly love.
Knowing how to manage separation anxiety as a single mum is essential.
Signs that you’re not managing might include:
If you are experiencing any of these feelings, please take action.
A starting point is downloading and using an anti-anxiety app and/or learning simple breathing exercises.
If these don’t help, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone. What you are experiencing is perfectly natural. Speak to a friend, family member or even your GP. Help is there, and you are entitled to it.
I hope these suggestions help you to deal with co-parent separation anxiety as a single mother. If you are new to co-parenting, it does get easier in many ways. Every situation is different, and only you can work out the best way through.
It is tough the first time your kids go to dad’s house. You might feel like a feather floating in the wind with no real purpose. But, in time, you will better manage this feeling and may even come to enjoy your kid-free time. I know I did.
Separation anxiety after divorce is a real thing for single mums who focus so much energy on helping their children cope with living between two homes but often let the maintenance of their own emotions slide.
Remember to plan both how you will say goodbye to your children (keep smiling) and what you will do during your time without them.
You need to think both emotionally and practically. I’ve talked about how to fill your time with activities that will help you feel better, as well as tactics to cope with those horrid, anxious feelings.
It’s interesting, as we often have mums posting on our FB group because they are worried about how they will cope when their kids are with dad. I can remember feeling exactly the same. Yet, now it’s part and parcel of our lives and everyone has got used to it. It is our new normal.
And I’m not gonna lie. I love having time to refresh, recharge, and rediscover myself as a person in my kid-free time. I really hope you get to this point as well.
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