When it comes to co-parenting, there’s lots of advice out there. Books, websites, documentaries, even apps. But many forget one important area: How do you cope while your kids are with their father? Separation anxiety is not exclusive to children, it’s a real and raw emotion, and it hits some single mums hard.
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 it’s much more than just an inconvenience.
Depending on personal circumstance, 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?
Here are my tips to deal with separation anxiety as a single mother.
HOW TO DEAL WITH SEPARATION ANXIETY AS A SINGLE MOTHER
HOLD IT TOGETHER IN FRONT OF THE KIDS
Advice for parenting through separation rightly suggests we are open about our feelings, and to 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 are likely to feel calm and happy too. This in-turn will make the separation more manageable for you.
Is handover hell for you? Read this: How to make changeovers when co-parenting a blinding success.
ESTABLISH A ROUTINE TO RELY ON
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.
KEEP BUSY … AND HAVE SOME FUN
Every cloud has a silver lining. In this case having kid-free time gives you a chance to catch-up on other aspects of your life. Use your time wisely. Just 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.
HAVE A PLAN TO AVOID THE DOLDRUMS
Separation anxiety can sneak up announced. When my children go I might feel elated that I have some space, only to deflate a couple of hours later as the house is too quiet. Once in the doldrums it can be hard to pull yourself out. What will you do once they’ve gone? How will you use your free time? Make a plan to combat yearnings for your youngsters. And stick to it. It should safely navigate you away from miserable ‘missing you’ moments.
How to deal with separation anxiety as a single mother (cont.)
DON’T STOP CARING FOR YOUR CHILDREN
Even if our little ones aren’t with us, it doesn’t mean we stop caring for them. Separation anxiety as a single mother can be eased by doing things for your children in preparation for their return. Activities such as cooking their favourite biscuits, sorting their room or even shopping for a little surprise for them. If your world seems a little empty, maternal pursuits can bring comfort and consolation.
OPEN THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION
Depending on your child’s age, keep in touch with them. Embrace technology and let them know they can call or message you anytime. It doesn’t hurt to send them the odd message or meme. Wish them a good time and let them know you’re OK (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.
STAY IN THE LOOP IF POSSIBLE
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. Perhaps ask him to send you the odd photo. Some co-parenting apps allow you to download photos to share between parents. It works both ways, so if you take photos for their dad while they’re with you, he’ll be more likely to oblige.
I hope these suggestions help you to deal with separation 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.
If you find you are really struggling, 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.