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.
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:
- It causes co-parents to fight for more time because it is difficult to face being away from children.
- 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.
- It contributes to obsessive worries and thoughts about the children.
- 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:
- 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.)
- 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.
- Get help. See a therapist. Go to a support group. You are not alone. Talking it through with others can be extraordinarily helpful.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make plans with friends and families. Go to the movies. Get out.
- Cry. Allowing grief helps it move through. We tend to push grief away, but allowing it is much more helpful.
- Read about people who have moved through difficult times and come out the other end.
- 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.