Separation, Co-Parenting, Self Care & Me
Dealing with separation is immensely hard, suddenly finding yourself having to wade through life without an extra pair of hands, to help you with a toddler and a baby, is a shock. It teaches you so much about yourself though. You realise yet again just how strong you can be, that sleep is for the weak and that even if you don't think you can get through the next minute, hour or day, that you always will.
As a lot of you know my marriage ended just after I gave birth at the beginning of the year. It's been a year full of highs and lows and a massive learning curve, but we're starting to make it through together and find our new normal as a family.
The biggest learning curve though has been learning to co-parent.
When you are together as a family unit it's easy to an extent, you get by by working together. You talk and you find solutions. You hug it out and you back each other up.
When you are separated there's a whole host of other emotions flying around. Working together becomes a challenge, talking is a challenge, finding solutions that you both agree on is a challenge. There's no one to hug at the end of the day once the kids are in bed. There's no one to back you up when explain for the umpteenth time why it's not okay to hit your baby brother.
Luckily for us we're beginning to make it work. We both said from the beginning that the kids come first and they have done.
Shared custody is hard but a necessity for our children in order for them to feel loved and safe with both of us still. No matter what happens between parents, children need to feel safe. They need to feel heard, loved, accepted. They need to understand that they are not to blame and that no matter what, mummy and daddy are still a team. We still make time for us as a family and have dinner together every Sunday evening so that the boys know that both me and their dad are there for them, together, as that team, however they need us. So they know that they'll never have to choose sides.
I'm not going to lie there have been times our emotions have got the better of us and our children have seen the fallout, but what we have done is always talked to them about it. We have sat down together. We have backed each other up where we can.
Usually when a relationship ends that's it. You can avoid them, not talk to them, or see them ever again if you wish. This just isn't possible when you have children together. You have a constant reminder of what your life was like, of what happened and of the situation you are currently in.
So there comes a need for self care that wasn't there before.
I always put myself at the bottom of the pile before we separated and one of the biggest things I've realised is how important it is to put ourselves at the top too.
I couldn't parent day in day out on my own without having a breakdown. During that breakdown I realised that I am important too, and that if I want to be the best parent and deal with life, then I needed to start doing more for me.
So, I took up yoga again. I let go of my fear of unnecessary childcare and found a childminder to have the kids 3 mornings a week. I had some time for me and I had time to start working again and I found myself. Not my old married self, but the old Alex, except with new parts mixed in too. I then realised how much of me I'd lost in just becoming a parent.
It wasn't about the divorce, what had really happened was that becoming a mum had changed me. I became so caught up in my children, protecting them, loving them, keeping them fed and bathed, that I had forgotten about me.
So many of us do the same. I wasn't prepared to find time for me until recently and that's okay, it was my journey, but if there is one piece of advice I could give every parent whether you are in a relationship or not, it's to make that time. Find that time. Keep a part of you alive.
Would it have made a difference to my marriage? Probably. Would it have stopped it from ending? Unlikely, but it certainly would have helped me through that little bit easier.
P.S If you want support in parenting through separation I can highly recommend my colleague and friend Una Archer and her online group https://www.facebook.com/groups/parentingafterseparation/