Co-Parenting and the Pain of Spending Time Away from Children


It can be difficult, if not devastating, to spend time away from our children. We bring children into this world expecting to spend time with them, to be with them every day. We expect to eat dinner with them, to hear about their day, to read to them before they go to bed,  to see the work they bring home from school. We expect to kiss them and hug them. Every single day.

It is hard to imagine the heartbreak of having days away from your children if you have not experienced it.   Because caring for  and protecting children is woven into our DNA, being separated from them can feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us. It can feel deeply frightening and painful. Co-parents don’t ask to feel that way, they just do. The pain is real. It is not a feeling anyone asks for or intentionally conjures up- nobody would opt to feel that kind of pain.

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I have no doubt that the pain of separation contributes to conflict and animosity between co-parents, but it is rarely addressed, acknowledged or attended to. The pain of separation can create conflict in the following ways:

  1. It causes co-parents to fight for more time because it is difficult to face being away from children.
  2. It creates difficulty letting go when the child is at the co-parent’s house. The co-parent may intrude on the time of the other parent because of the difficulty they are experiencing, which can evoke anger and irritation in the other co-parent and lead to conflict.
  3. It contributes to obsessive worries and thoughts about the children.
  4. Worries about how the other co-parent is parenting can exacerbate the pain, leading to accusations and tension. 

Intense emotional pain is a force to be reckoned with. It is powerful and it hurts. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of skill to work with it. Here are some strategies for working with the pain:

  1. Learn to manage your emotional states. Because these states are painful, it is important to know how to tolerate them and move through them. Skills like Mindfulness can be an enormously  helpful for  coping with these states. (Learn more about Mindfulness in Alisa’s online class.) 
  2. Remember that emotional states are temporary. As painful as they are, they will pass. When faced with intense emotions, it can feel like we will be trapped there forever. This is never true.
  3. Get help. See a therapist. Go to a support group. You are not alone. Talking it through with others can be extraordinarily helpful.
  4. Move your body. Walk. Go to a yoga class or a Zumba class. Work out, swim, run, whatever you enjoy doing! Movement helps move difficult emotions out.
  5. Go outside. Fresh air and the natural world can change your point of view quickly. Staying indoors can contribute to keeping us stuck in difficult emotional states.
  6. Make plans with friends and families. Go to the movies. Get out.
  7. Cry. Allowing grief helps it move through. We tend to push grief away, but allowing it is much more helpful.
  8. Read about people who have moved through difficult times and come out the other end.
  9. Pursue a creative outlet, or get involved in a hobby or activity that engages you.

Emotions drive our behavior much more than we think. That is true for all of us. When you allow the pain of separation to drive you into conflict with your co-parent, you are not addressing the real problem, which is that it hurts to be away from your children. The reality, though, is that as a divorced co-parent, you will have time away your children. Learn how to work with it. Learn how to not let it cause more conflict.

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10 Responses

  1. What if you child is 16 and the other parent is finally ready to start being a parent after all these years. Then you let your daughter spend one summer with them and all of a sudden she doesn’t want to come back. She now doesn’t like the step father that raised her from a baby til now and says she doesn’t like it here. Do I let her stay? She says she has rights now and can choose where she wants to be. Talk about a slap in the face. My husband and I are crushed. If I make a stand that she lives the last two years with us, she will hate and resent us, but if I allow her to live the cool dad that has played the victim of never having money to see the kids or it wasn’t convenient to him. I still had to be a parent when we were broke and it wasn’t convenient to us. My daughter has been wooed of a fun live with little rules. I just don’t know what to do? I am so afraid that she will get hurt or he will let her do whatever she wants and ends up getting pregnant. My mind is a mess of the what if’s.

    1. Lisa, I feel for you. I know this has to be incredibly painful. I highly recommend going through my online class. I have no doubt it will help you a great deal. I will also send you a private message with some tips.

    2. Hiy, i can only imagine how u feel, and as hard as it sound you have to let her go. If u will try to stop her she will resent u more. The fun is only temporary. My kids r a lot younger but i gone thru same thing. I gone thru courts over and over to ensure their safety. At the end kids said they want to see father. So i gave up fighting. Agreed, had a court order. Its only a bit over the month after last court and its not so fun for kids anymore. Younger one doesnt want to go anymore but has to and older one has to do the parent when at dads because dad doesnt care about food or bed time or abything for that matter….

    3. Wow. Thank you SO much for sharing this. I can relate, maybe not in a direct way. But my son is 3. He lives with his mom, we seeperated about two years ago, I never thought she would want me back. I now have a one year old with another woman who I’m with, and the other mother makes me feel guilty. Like I’m picking on child over the other. But it’s not that simple. It just isn’t. I was heartbroken when she left me and took my son to Texas. I didn’t have the money to fight. So I went back home to Missouri and ended up starting a family with my childhood best friend. It all happened so quickly. But now I’m in a deep emotional mess because I miss my son every single day, and it takes me away from the present moment being able to be there for my daughter. I truly do not know how to deal with the pain I’m experiencing. It seems so permanent

  2. Mindfulness meditation is a good suggestion. I had a complicated co-parenting arrangement for 14 years. I’ve been practicing for meditation for two years now. It works! I suggest using an app like Waking Up or Headspace.

  3. Welcome to what dads have been dealing with for far too long. I haven’t been able to see my two beautiful daughters in 3 years, because of their birther and her false allegations to family court. Children need their full family. Not just one person, and whomever she decides to have around. My oldest will be 7 later this month, and we were two peas in a pod. I was the jungle gym for my youngest, and enjoyed every minute of it. Their laughter filled my heart to no end. Now I live a half life. This shouldn’t be about you and your ex. It should be about the children having a full relationship with both parents.

  4. Spending time with children is very important and this is something that co parents should really consider . The children are the most affected by the changes that take place in the home

  5. Anna Harrington its so painful to be away from my 5 year old trying to coparent with a man who is vindictive and continues to counterparent.
    My child is my life and my world .
    Maybe her father needs to show her peace and be a good person. We all wish .
    I am a mother who loves my daughter and gives her the best life possible.
    Unfortunately her father became a person who abandoned the family life.

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I am Alisa Jaffe Holleron, the creator/author of An Unexpected Journey book, classes and professional workshops. I hope you will explore my material, purchase a book, come to a class, or if you are a professional, come to a workshop, and learn about the work that I am proud to say has helped many many divorced co-parents find power and wisdom in very difficult circumstances. I look forward to serving you!

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