Staying Sane During a Separation, a Move, Starting a New Job — Oh, and Being a Mom of Three

Monica2.jpgThere are moments when I feel a panic attack is creeping out of my roiling belly, up my throat, and threatening to leave my body in the form of tears, gasps, and retches. It’s happened before. Suddenly I’m crying and can’t catch my breath, my hands involuntarily opening and closing into fists.

Mostly though, in the past few months I’ve felt numb, so great is my focus on the task at hand. That task? Separating from my husband and moving from our home of three years into a home of my own. This will be the first house that has been just mine in 10 years. It’s not an easy task, separating and divorcing with children. It’s one of life’s toughest experiences, actually. Add starting a full-time job into the mix and you’re looking at a recipe for a full-blown panic attack. And I’ve had them, believe me. But, for the most part, I’ve stayed focused on my kids, which is a really excellent way to remind yourself to keep it together. Your kids look to you for how to behave during the tough times, and while it’s okay to cry every once in a while to show sadness, you can’t be a big floundering mess or you’ll scar them for life.

So. How do you keep it together during the toughest times in life? Especially when little faces are constantly turned your way watching what you do? The advice is as old as divorce itself: keep it simple. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a bunch of unnecessary nonsense.

It’s of course always easier said than done … but here are five ways I managed to simplify my life in the ways I can control:

Always Remember: “This Too Shall Pass”

Now, the last thing I want to do is get all biblical on you, but you have to remember that this is just a specific time in your life that sucks and it will get better. As much as you want to punch anyone who reminds you that time heals all wounds and other such nonsense, it’s true. You have to walk through the fire but you’ll come out the other side a stronger, wiser person. And if you can manage to do it with dignity and grace, you — and your children — will be all the better for it.

Rely Heavily on Your Network/Get Yourself a Network

And by “network” I mean your people — the people that help you out on a daily basis. That could mean your mom and your best friend and it could mean your daycare, your therapist — whatever. Just make sure you have a community in place to make sure you have help. Something that has made all the difference to me (especially during this move) was having a babysitter, a woman in my neighborhood who doesn’t mind last-minute calls to drop off the kids when I’m in a pinch. This is a huge help whether you’re in the middle of a move or just need a few hours to yourself.

Get Out and About

I know your inclination may sometimes be to sit the kids in front of cartoons and hide under the covers — and you should totally do that every now and again. But, for the most part, you need to get out and about. Know where to go and what to do: library, swimming pool, local park, hiking, biking, local festivals, fairs, and kid events. I’ve never really been the kind of person to be super involved with the community. However, the more I venture into those waters, the better I feel, especially as a single mom. Utilize local resources to keep your kids entertained. Check with your YMCA, Google around, and find out what kid-friendly activities you can take advantage of to get you out in the community and feeling productive. Even if you’re not in the mood to see people, you’ll feel better once you get out of the house.

If You Haven’t Used It in a Month, Toss It

I’ve recently become interested in minimalism. First, let me assure you, I am far from a minimalist. That said, I moved from a huge, three-story home with a giant cellar and attic into a tiny rambler home and don’t feel overcrowded at all. Before I moved I went over and over my stuff and took many bags to Goodwill. It also helped me be generous when it came to dividing our belongings with my husband. Instead of feeling possessive over every piece of furniture or household item, I kept pressing him to take more things. I really think it helped set the tone for our separation. Instead of arguing over material possessions, we both ended up urging the other to take more things at a time when many people end up spiraling into huge arguments over TVs and the like. The less stuff you have to move/deal with/take care of, the better for you.

Set Up Shop Immediately

I’ve moved a lot, and if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that you need to get your key rooms settled immediately. Some people randomly pile boxes into their new place and spend the next month living chaotically, digging through a box to find this thing or that thing. It’s important to set up your main living spaces — like your kitchen and bedroom — on the day you move in; it’s no harder than just piling boxes into one room to get the job done. Label your boxes, and make sure they’re brought to the appropriate rooms right away. Spend an hour putting away your silverware and dishes, and the same with your bedroom. Immediately make your bed and put away your clothes. That way you have instantly created a feeling of comfort for yourself. You aren’t going to be eating take-out with your hands while sitting on a crate because you can’t find the silverware. You can sleep in your own bed and wake up and have breakfast in your kitchen right out of the gate. This is important for your mindset. You can slowly organize the rest of your place as time goes on, but setting up the primary living areas immediately will get you off to the right start.

Establish a Routine

This one goes hand in hand with making sure you have a network. If you’re moving to a completely new area, the first thing you need to do is find yourself a good daycare/babysitter/camp/child entertainment type place. Then map your routine out. The child custody schedule my husband and I worked out is about as complicated as launching a missile, but it’s awesome because neither of us ever goes more than 24 hours without seeing our kids. Here’s a snippet of what we’ve worked out:

Monday/Tuesday: I’m with the kids in the morning until noon while Serge writes. I drop the kids off at pre-school and go to work from 2pm – 10pm. Serge has the kids overnight, and I’m there first thing in the morning to take kids wherever, again dropping them at pre-school and going to work.

Wednesday/Thursday: I have off so kids are with me until Friday at 2pm, when I go back to work.

Friday night into Saturday: Serge has the kids, I pick them up Saturday after work at 5 pm and have them until Sunday at 2pm, when I go to work.

Sunday afternoon to Sunday night: Serge has them into Monday, blah blah blah.

It may seem complicated, but it’s a routine that works really well for us, as everyone gets to see everyone on a daily basis. It will likely change when our kids get older and can decide for themselves where they want to sleep, but nothing is really set in stone, and we always want them to feel comfortable. If Henry decides he wants to sleep at Dad’s on a night he’s usually with Mom, that’s fine!

The only way you can work out a solid custody-sharing solution is to live as close to your ex as possible and let go of all the B.S! So it didn’t work out and you’re sad/mad. Don’t spend the next year of your life dwelling on who is the bigger jerk. What’s the point? It’s over. Now is the time to focus on what’s best for the kids. Ten years down the road you won’t care who got the flat-screen TV in the divorce; you’ll only care that you managed to slip into single parenthood in a graceful, responsible way. When you start to feel angry at your spouse, remind yourself that it takes two to fight, and if you don’t engage, if you let go of everything, there is nothing to fight about. It’s then that you’ll feel not only sane, but free and, eventually, happy again.

Image courtesy of Monica Bielanko

Read more of Serge and Monica’s story here.

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