Like many mothers, my heart has always anticipated the school bell on that last day, releasing the troops for summer vacation. For years I spent those preceding weeks combing parenting magazines, the internet–anything I could get my hands on–to prepare the perfect summer routine with just the right balance of educational enrichment and knock-your-socks-off, memorable fun!
But now those days have abruptly ended. Suddenly, instead of seeking out those summer-prep articles, I cringe when I see them. My heart sinks because I know my children will be gone and my arms will ache for them. Since my divorce, I am legally bound to turn them over to their father on the other side of the country for those long, lonely weeks of “visitation.”
Now my summers are filled with time. Time and solitude. Isn’t it ironic? During my most uproarious days, when my blood pressure seems maxed out, when little people are screaming at each other and at me, I’ve wished for it: just a little bit of “me” time. Now I have it in spades. For me, it’s a bittersweet gift–but a gift nonetheless. And I am trying to savor it in spite of the aftertaste.
I know I’m not the only mother out there in this predicament. There are others who–for whatever reason–are separated from their children during the summer, perhaps because of forces beyond their control. Take strength in knowing you are not alone. And take courage in knowing there are ways you can make this time work for you!
Here are a few strategies I’ve discovered so far:
1. Ditch the guilt. Okay. Here’s the deal. You might feel bad about having all this time to yourself. You might even feel selfish about the idea of enjoying it a little. But will torturing yourself change the fact that your children are away? No. Will having fun make the time pass faster? Yes. (By the way, I am definitely trying to drill this into my own brain as I’m writing this!) So, ditch the guilt, and just have fun already.
2. Make a bucket list. I could list a thousand things to do without your kids in tow this summer: read a whole book start to finish that doesn’t feature Nemo or Cinderella, lie by the pool with both eyes closed, or go on a walk all by yourself! But these are things that I enjoy. What are things that you enjoy?
When you make your bucket list, rewind your mind back to your single, carefree days. Recapture your personal identity, before you were “Mommy!” What did you like to do back then, when it was just you? Next, try to tune in to your more mature, motherhood-phase daydreams. When you’re blankly staring into space while doing a monotonous chore to the tune of a teething toddler or ranting teenager, what do you fantasize about? Pick one dream, and make it happen.
Next, pick a hobby or a talent you’ve been meaning to develop. (Last summer, I began teaching myself how to play the guitar!) Check your local YMCA or community center and see what is available. You may not have time to make any real progress, but don’t worry about it. Who knows? You might fall in love with something and stick with it after the kids get back. If not, you can always pick up where you left off next summer … and the summer after that.
Finally, make sure your bucket list doesn’t become a “To Do” list. These are ideas. You can complete these items in one summer or twenty. The point is not to make a checklist and then spend the summer feverishly scrambling around trying to scratch off every item.
3. Hang out with your friends. In the beginning, when my children went away, I had a tendency to isolate myself. Bad idea! Resist the strong temptation to stay in bed all day. Okay, okay, so a pajama party in the yummy covers with some popcorn and chick flicks is allowed once in awhile. But in general, shake off the loneliness, and get out of the house! Pick at least one night a week to have dinner with a friend. Spend some time with friends who don’t have kids while you can actually talk to them without little wild ones running circles around you. You’ll be glad you did.
4. Babysit. So, you might think, “Yeah, right!” But it’s an idea that has worked for me. If you are having a really lonely day and missing your kids like crazy, I have a hunch that if you call a friend and say, “Would you like me to watch your children while you run errands today?” she won’t fight you! Even if you say, “Hey, can I tag along with you and help out with the kids today?” she probably won’t mind. Wouldn’t you jump at the opportunity?
So, when I say “babysit,” I’m not necessarily talking about looking for a gig every Friday night. (However, if you want to babysit on the weekends to help ease your loneliness pangs, I’m sure you’ll find some couples willing to help you with your dilemma!) All I can tell you is that if you are missing your kiddos, borrowing your friend’s children for a while might do your aching heart a little good.
5. Relax and enjoy it. Remember to slow down. Chill out. Be present in the moment, rather than wishing your days away or scrambling to try and get the next thing done before the kids get home! If you can’t relax and slow down now, then when?
Every day, set aside some time to close your eyes and be still for a few moments. How often do you get to do that? I mean, without someone yelling, “Mom, I can’t find my cell phone!” or “He’s hitting me!” or “Mom, I’m hungry. Is it almost dinner time?” or “Did you go to the store today?” or “I looooooove you, Mommy!” I know. You miss them. But enjoy the quiet while you can.
Just like always, from the beginning, the summer may look like an endless ribbon shimmering on the horizon, but before we know it, those sizzling weeks will come to an end. So don’t waste your time stressing out! It’s natural to miss your children while they are away, but don’t wallow. Instead, live your life and love it.
QUESTION: What are your strategies for coping with loneliness when you are separated from your kids?
CHALLENGE: Make this summer the best yet: ditch the guilt, make a bucket list (not a to-do list), spend some time with people you care about, and maybe even sleep in!