Break ups are hard. There’s no getting away from that, yet managing your split successfully and navigating the world of single parenting is absolutely vital for your children’s emotional wellbeing and security.
The number one thing I recommend everyone to do is to go on a self-healing journey. However your relationship has ended, we all have a journey to go on. There’s a common misconception that if you are the person to end a relationship then it must be easy, but the truth is that you’ll likely be plagued with guilt and may still feel a great deal of sadness.
Taking yourself on a journey of self-healing is vital. As a parent we need to be grounded and sturdy, and we do this through taking care of ourselves and our long term emotional wellbeing.
Some places to start the journey are through reading – You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay and When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron are both incredibly useful.
This is so common, and often isn’t just about it being a strict parent’s house, it’s simply being in a different house. The first thing to remember is that if your child feels safe expressing those emotions with you then that’s a fantastic testament to just how safe they feel with you. It’s not a bad thing.
From a practical point of view, simply hold space for those emotions and make space for your child to let them out. Listen, observe, be present, validate their feelings, whatever they may be or however they might present themselves – simply pour love all over them.
If your child feels safe expressing their emotions then that’s a fantastic testament to just how safe they feel with you.
The single most important thing is the energy of the relationship with your co-parent. Your kids will pick up on that energy. Do you have a shared intention for how you want to show up for your kids and how you want to support them?
You should also ask yourself honestly whether you’re really co-parenting or single parenting with shared custody. Co-parenting is about making joint decisions, planning together, sharing values and agreeing on how you want to raise your kids.
Which decisions are co-parenting decisions and which are not? What are the agreements around what’s okay to just decide yourself and what do you need to agree on? If in doubt, have a discussion.
Keep the lines of communication open as much as possible. This may vary depending on where you are in the journey, the age of your kids, your relationship with your ex.
Keep the children in the loop when it comes to arrangements so that you maintain those feelings of being grounded and secure. If they are old enough, ask for their input too. What’s working for them? What’s not working?
Go back to your energy around transitions. Babies even more so than older children will pick up on your energy. They don’t understand words, so they will be noticing your energy and that will determine their own state.
Be well prepared so that transistions are very smooth. For example you might have a specific bag that’s packed in advance. This allows you to be really present with your baby before the transistion rather than being distracted by packing or looking for things.
If your baby has a favourite toy or cuddly, taking that with them between homes can help to create a sense of familiarity and stability. Keeping their cuddly or blanket inside your jumper for the hour beforehand so that it smells of you can also be a comfort.
Make sure that when they do go, you have something planned for yourself so that you’re not sitting there for the whole day worrying. Take the time to fill your cup with some single parenting self-care – talk to friend, take a bath, go for a walk – so that when they come home you’re rested and relaxed.
This is a tricky one as there is really no right or wrong answer and it very much depends on your circumstances and your feelings.
If you are in a place where you are loving yourself, you’re grounded and sturdy, having someone else spend time with your kids has a far lesser impact.
If this is a new girlfriend who isn’t living with your ex-partner, do you really need to meet them? Is it that you think you ‘should’ meet them? Would it be good for you emotionally? You don’t actually have to meet this new person if you don’t want to or if it’s going to be too difficult for you – you certainly don’t owe anyone that.
Keep in mind that it’s hard to hate somebody up close, so if you feel like meeting a new partner could help you to let go of any negative feelings then it might be useful for you.
Dealing with the envy comes through the self-healing. If you are in a place where you are loving yourself, you’re grounded and sturdy, having someone else spend time with your kids has a far lesser impact.
It’s very natural for three year old boys to be physically rough! Make sure he has plenty of outlets for his energy, for example long walks, trampolining, playing tag, tickling etc.
If there’s an element of the roughness that’s anger coming out, that’s also normal. Child led play is a good way to explore this – 15 minutes a day where the child controls what you both do. This is a brilliant way to form a connection with your child and it gives them power. A lot of times anger comes out in young children because they feel powerless, especially in the wake of a separation.
Giving your child choices also helps to negate this anger and help them feel in control, even if it’s something as simple as ‘do you want to put your trousers or your top on first?’
You can also weave in quiet time. This could be something like a back rub, reading stories, guided visualisations or mindfulness activities – anything that helps them to wind down and connect with you.
Again this comes back to the self-healing journey. You have to commit to going on that journey and to not stay in this place. While of course you want to allow yourself time to grieve, you need to be proactive and focussed on moving forward.
Practice gratitude. Keep a journal by the bed and every night write down three things that you’re grateful for – specific things that have happened in that day.
Do something for yourself, something that you’ve always wanted to do but never have done. Everything is available to us so easily now, the world is your oyster! Take a course on somewhere like Udemy to develop an interest that’s always taken a backseat. Reconnect with yourself and something that you love to do.
Imagine you have two jobs and for half the week you work in an environment that’s very strict and for the other half you go to work at Google and play ping pong and get to come and go as you please.
The first thing is to have empathy for the child because this is hard. It’s not their choice and they are just adapting to the environment that they’re in.
What sort of relationship do you have with your ex? Can you have a conversation about shared values and how the boundaries we put in place are there to help our children? Ultimately while you can have the conversations, you have to let go of what you can’t control. Don’t waste your energy trying to control anything other than what happens under your own roof.
When you go on you healing and self-love journey it becomes about what you do and your own relationship with your children and unless there is actually a serious safety concern then you have to let it go. When your child comes back into the different environment, come back to that idea of holding space for their emotions. Validate their feelings, acknowledge that it’s difficult for them, but maintain your boundaries.
This post is just a summary of a live Q&A with Yvonne Smyth for Frolo. You can watch back the full session on YouTube.
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