Divorce is about goodbyes. Goodbyes you never thought you’d be saying. Instead of everyday, like I imagined, I only see my kids 10 out of the 30 days in an average month. That’s a lot of time without their smiling faces. And when you’re the off parent, it’s a lot of time alone.
Today I’m in a much better place with it, but it’s never easy. I miss them. And I’m amazed when days go by without even a text or Snapchat. But they’re teenagers and doing their own thing. I get it. Still, it’s a heartbreaking situation for someone who’s emotionally open and connected. I suppose there a people who are more business like about it, but I’m a card-carrying member of the attachment parenting movement, and perhaps the attachment is just as strong both ways.
I’ve been a divorced dad for almost seven years and I’m still going through empty nest syndrome. Perhaps this is one of the gifts of divorce, the real empty nest won’t be so hard for me, since I’ve been 2/3 empty already. But the gift is a painful one.
On Monday mornings, at the end of my four-day run with the kids, I drop them off at school and then return to my old house and drop off their bags. Early on in the divorce this was hugely depressing. Everything about it brought back the pain. My old house. Dropping them at school knowing I wouldn’t see them for several days. And that one day thing on the off week is pretty hard too, but drop off Mondays were really a bitch.
Just this past Monday I had a moment of sadness and overwhelm. There were a lot of other pressures that converged on this particular Monday, but something about the drop off really struck a deep chord of pain in me. There’s no explaining it. I used to get sad sometimes dropping them off at day care when I was going to see them that same night. I miss my kids. I like to hear about their day (what they’ll tell me) and their ambitions for whatever. Being around them in their daily activities is a joy.
The only tonic to this sad dance is picking up your own life and moving on. In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it. And I continue to work on myself outside of my relationships, doing the emotional excavation to understand my sadness.
I was asked by a friend the other day what was the hardest part of divorce, losing my primary relationship or losing my kids? Kids. It wasn’t even close. Maybe that’s still some of the anger of the divorce talking, but I could imagine myself without my ex-wife, I could not imagine my life without my kids. It’s not that I’m living for or through them. But your love for your kids is something unlike any other relationship. There’s no explaining this to someone without kids. It simply doesn’t compute.
Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.
Do I still get tripped up on drop off Mondays? Yep. It’s part of the ebb and flow of life as a divorced parent. One day things seem okay and the next day the universe is split in two: time with your kids and time without them. I’ll take what I can get and do the best I can in that time. The rest is up to me.
The Off Parent
< back to Single Parenting
- The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce
- When Will I Get Over My Divorce?
- The Divorce Part You’ll Never Understand: Living Within the Compromise
- I Want To Thank You for the Divorce
image: kids at play, creative commons usage
This post was written as a response to a readers comment. You can see the entire dialogue in the comments of this post: Putting Your Foot (Fool) Out There – Online Dating in Perspective
Wow, H. You seem to have started a wonderful dialogue with yourself (and me) as a result of posting on The Off Parent. I salute you. And welcome the interaction. Here’s the crux (for me) of what you said:
“And then soon, I forgot the ‘longing’ of wanting something/someone else. My life as it is today, perfect, with my children, as they are my family now….Just like your happiest hours on Thursday nights (forgive if I got your name for it incorrect)…well, that is my life, every day and night.”
I appreciate the Happier hour of Thursdays. And I feel the tweak of my happiness every Friday morning as I drop them back at school. On the weekends when they will return to me Friday afternoon I have a nice routine, I finish my work around 3pm and I take the rest of the afternoon off, after I pick them up at 3:30.
This is such a weekend. Full. Complete. Completed. I do understand your fullness. When we are together there is nothing missing. We are a family as I envisioned it. Except of course, their mom. But of course things are MUCH easier without her, for us. There is not one single argument about cleaning the house, about chores (we have them, yes) about what we’re going to do on Saturday. This core unit has a connected and free form flow that probably drove my ex-y crazy. She much preferred the work plan model.
The longing for me, takes place, as it will tomorrow, when I drop them back at school on a Monday, after our full family weekend. It is that morning, as I pull away from school that I feel an ache.
Why did I, how did I end up in this “missing” place? It is a familiar feeling, but I no longer welcome it. I acknowledge the ache. And I can understand my past history that is riddled with so many “missing” moments. And for today, I move away from that HURT as I drive away from their school and them.
It is THAT longing that holds the key to me for what I am missing in the rest of my life. I DO want to be in a relationship. While I get so much joy and fulfillment out of simply being DAD, I am hungry for a companion. That longing that you have learned to forget, just might be a key to the relationship you want as well. It’s easier to keep driving away from their school and the ache and just carry on.
Later in the day your THREE return to you and you are full up in the activity of FAM again. Mine do not return to my fold until the next Thursday evening. And this coming Thursday, that glimpse, that ONE NIGHT and MORNING, is all I will have of them for the entire week. And the rest of the time I am what I call, The Off Parent. Both physically (they are not with me) and mentally I am OFF.
I love having entire weekends to plan activities alone. Time and options I never had while married. But I also wish it were not so. I was content wrapped in the everyday details of being Dad. Now I don’t have that luxury. Perhaps I am pushed out to learn more about myself, my needs, my next plan or dream. Certainly that’s what’s happening. But the reality is I LONG FOR MY KIDS when they are not here. And to a lesser extent, I can feel that I LONG FOR A RELATIONSHIP again.
There is no real reason to put up with red flags the new experimental relationships. What’s the point? If there are too many fouls, you pick up and move along.
So, H, perhaps you will find the longing in something as mundane as a painful shoulder that needs a strong and warm hand to knead and rub it. For now you can put heating gel on it, or ask one of your kids to beat it for you. (that’s what I do.) But if you can listen to the ache, only if you want to, you might find the energy behind the longing. And at this point in my life, I am finding that ache-to-energy to be quite powerful and quite transformative.
I am becoming someone else. I am expressing all side of the joy and pain, here on The Off Parent. I am leaving all of my grievances behind. And when they show up I’m putting them to rest by journaling them here.
I am excited that you have found the reason, the energy, to post such a reflective comment here. I hope you continue. A dialogue is forming between us. Another wonderful and interesting development from writing this down. The hard stuff and the good stuff. The dark sex stuff and the vulnerable stuff.
Thank you for joining in the dance with me.
The Off Parent
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)
Note on the image: My daughter saw this picture and headline above on my posterous site. “I know what that means,” she said. I laughed. “What does it mean?” At 9, she has been sharing more of her understanding of the world. “It means, for now. Eventually you will park on the side when you’re making room for a girlfriend.”