Not sure what to do when your kids are spending time with your ex?
Divorce comes with a host of positive and negative emotions. In fact, it’s not unusual to experience feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, and sometimes even relief as you and your ex-spouse navigate separate lives. For most people, these emotions are rather expected.
In some cases, however, divorce also leads to feelings of loneliness, especially if you share joint custody and the kids are away with your ex. Now, with COVID-19, those feelings of loneliness may be especially noticeable. Suddenly you’re spending more time alone than you ever imagined, and you may not know what to do with the extra time. If life seems lonely while your kids are with your ex, the following tips might help.
Parents Need Time for Themselves
Being a parent is a huge part of your personal identity. So much time and focus is dedicated to this role that it can become all-consuming. But what happens when your kids are out of the house and they don’t need you – even if it’s only temporary.
If you’re struggling with loneliness because your kids are away, chances are your role as a parent is eclipsing who you are as a person. It’s easy to spend so much time focusing on your kids that you don’t make time for yourself. Keep in mind that it’s important to maintain your own sense of self and address any needs you might have that are independent of the family. Now – when your kids are temporarily away – may be your best opportunity.
Your Ex is Still Your Co-Parent
Despite how you may be feeling, loneliness is no reason to fight with your ex, especially if you’re vying for more time with your kids. It won’t alleviate your loneliness, and it could jeopardize your relationship with your ex – and with your kids.
Acting out whenever your kids spend time with your ex sends a message to your kids that your emotions are their responsibility. Not only is that an unfair burden for a child to bear, but it can do serious, long-term damage to the parent-child relationship. Your kids need to know that you can manage your own emotional needs. They also need to understand that your partner may be your ex, but he or she will always be your co-parent.
Take Advantage of the Free Time
Like most parents, you may have forgotten what free time is all about. If the best way to deal with loneliness is to spend time with others, this is your perfect opportunity.
Visit friends or family members you haven’t seen in awhile, although you may have to do it virtually during the COVID-19 lockdown. Devote some much-needed time to the neglected hobbies or activities that bring you joy. Or use the time to build relationships with new friends or partners. It may feel awkward or forced at first, but it will get easier with practice and repetition.
They’ll Be Back
At the end of the day, try to remember that the time away from your kids is only temporary. Your children need to have a relationship with your ex to stay emotionally healthy. But they need a significant relationship with you as well. You will always be their parent, and it helps if you are emotionally stable and supportive. Taking the necessary time to tend to your own needs is critical to achieving that.
Remember that it’s normal to feel lonely when your kids are spending time with your ex. But rather than fighting it, accept the feelings and put your energy into constructive alternatives. Your kids will be home before you know it.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.