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Life After Divorce: Surviving Holiday Separation Anxiety

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Divorce is a level of hell that I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

It’s one thing to separate from a person that you can no longer be with. It’s another thing entirely to be separated from your children for weeks at a time. The holiday custody schedules can be brutal, especially if you don’t have an amicable situation with your ex.

It’s New Years Eve, 2016. I’m half asleep as I write this. My children are with their father. I have them the majority of the time for a variety of reasons, and I had them last New Years, so you would think that I would be generally fine with this distance. I am, and I am not. I’m glad when school is out and they get to spend more quality time with their dad. They need him.

BUT…knowing that they need him doesn’t change the fact that I am sitting here with a gnawing emptiness in the pit of my stomach, the feeling that a part of me is out there wandering around, separate but connected.

I never experienced this feeling before having children. I didn’t even experience this much when they were babies and we went on small vacations. It’s different, post-divorce. They are out there beyond my immediate reach, and I can’t control their environments beyond the basic levels of emotional and physical safety. I have to let it go. It’s actually way harder than I expected.


Some parents treat it like a vacation, and that’s ok. For others, even one day away from their kids is too much, and that’s ok. I’m somewhere in the middle.I don’t always miss my kids, and that’s fine. I love them dearly, but I’m also raising them to be on their own one day. It’s ok to be relieved to have your own time. However, after about three days (such as over the summer, or during longer school holiday), I’m just not very much fun to be around.

I know I’m not alone in this. There are mothers and fathers all over the world tonight without their children. So, I’m going to lighten this up a bit.

For everything, there is a season. When the hearts outside of my body are wayyy too far away from my body, I get a bit weird.

To cope with separation anxiety, I often…

  • Walk around the house gazing distractedly off into the distance.
  • Rearrange every wall hanging.
  • Tear a page out of their coloring book and borrow their colored pencils to zone out.
  • Take random Snapchat selfies.
  • Pick the lint from in between my toes (yeah. I went there).
  • Cook food for 6 people in a house with only 2 people. Math is hard.
  • Eat all of the food.
  • Eat all of the chocolate.
  • Think about organizing their bedroom.
  • Sleep in until 7am.

My bed totally looks like this on kid-free weekends. Don’t ask questions.

Sometimes I do a few productive things though, and you can too. Below, I’m listing a few out that I did just this past week. Every single thing. It helps, it really does.

Your list will look different from mine (you can’t cuddle with my love, sorry), but do whatever it takes to move yourself forward.

Making the best of a quiet holiday season:

  • Write posts about picking toe-lint. (check) Seriously though, I forced myself to write. And I’m glad I did
  • Deep-clean the house. I get to enjoy clean floors for about 24 hours!
  • Prep meals for the upcoming week.
  • Shave my legs without interruption.
  • Grocery shop in peace, with a planned list and everything (SAY WHHAAAAAA!?).
  • Catch up on non-urgent, but very important, work tasks. Fill in editorial calendars. Schedule social media posts. Write blog posts for clients. Research upcoming blog posts. Etc.
  • Cuddle up with my love, if he’s not working too much or covered in sweat and dust from working on his car.
  • Pop in at a friend’s house, park myself on their couch, and ramble and listen for a few hours.
  • Pray. Meditate. Pray some more. This is the last thing on the list not because it’s a last thought, but because it is the most important thing.

And then get back to eating my chocolate, obviously.

It’s all about balance, you see. Let’s take it a bit broader though, shall we?

Shared Custody Solutionfor the Holidays

How to prepare for post-divorce holiday separation anxiety:

Secure Your Foundation

Parenting after divorce involves a ton of letting go and moving forward. It’s important to secure your foundation. Your children cannot be your emotional foundation. They are important. They are yours, they are loved. However, if they are still little, you are their foundation. That is an important distinction to understand. You owe it to your children to find emotional stability and security from a different source.

Controversial statement time: my kids are not the center of my entire universe. God is my foundation. I love my children more than my life, and would throw myself into a fire for them without a moment’s hesitation, but God is my rock. He strengthens me, He upholds me. When I feel unsettled and empty, He settles me. If I forget to pray, it just prolongs the misery until I remember. Without that assurance in place, nothing else fits.

Which brings me to the next point….

Find The People Who Can Let You Be Vulnerable

Family, friends, and a supportive community is not something to take for granted. If you don’t have your people, find them. They are out there online, or at church, or at local community centers. They ARE there somewhere. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of being vulnerable in the right groups, at the right times. Don’t spray all of your personal business everywhere all the time, but there are times and places. In AA meetings for example, they encourage you to talk for 5 minutes or less to give others time to talk. If you have to share something for more than 5 minutes, they state that you should go over that with your sponsor.

It’s a very helpful reminder that although everybody loves you (in AA or in “your group”), there are times and places to share certain information. I absolutely adore what Brene Brown had to say about this:

“Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.” – Brene Brown

Give Back

Reach out to somebody who is struggling, but don’t let them drag you down into negativity with them. This is tough for me sometimes. I’m a codependent, or an empath, or whatever the word is these days, and that means that others’ emotions affect me deeply. It’s uncomfortable for me to be around somebody in pain, so I awkwardly try to remove myself from the situation far too many times.

If you’re like that, push out of your comfort zone and be there. Ask how a friend is doing, and really ask to find out. Volunteer with an activity at your local community center, or church. Send an anonymous gift card to a friend who is struggling. Offer to clean a new mom’s house. Offer to babysit your friend’s crazy toddlers so she can get a free date night with her husband.

Don’t overthink it. Just give back. Step outside of yourself and see where you can contribute. The rewards are massive, for both you and those you help.

Be Thankful.

Then hug your baby, or babies, hard when they return. Be happy that they got to spend that time with their parent. Be happy that they’re home. Help them readjust to your rules and routines, and be thankful. I’m speaking as much to me as I am to you right now. Cry, write, sleep, and then dust yourself off and get back to work. You’ve got this.

Related reading:

9 Tips For Surviving and Thriving in a High-Conflict Custody Battle
8 Harsh Truths You Need to Know During Your Divorce

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Sitting on top of Pike's Peak in Colorado, a little over 2 years sober.

Hi! I'm Ashley, and my sobriety date is May 6, 2015. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope in recovery. On any given day, you can find me developing websites, writing, or chauffeuring kids around.  Read my story...

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Shared Custody Solutionfor the Holidays
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