My last column explored my personal experience of separating with kids. Honestly, I could probably churn out another 50 pages diving into how those feelings morph with each milestone that goes by. But for now, I want to offer some practical and (hopefully) helpful advice. In my next column, I’ll focus more on how to forge a healthy co-parenting relationship, but this column will focus on you. I know first hand how hard it can be to put one foot in front of the other, but if you are deliberate and intentional, you WILL get through it. Trust in the wise words of Rilke: “No feeling is final.”
Journal, paint, draw, sing, craft – do something creative!
Writing is what’s gotten me through, but any creative outlet will help. Including the kids is great, but if you’re able to get time alone to do this all the better. Remember, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t be able to be the best parent for your kids. The pressure of the emotions swirling about inside you can be overwhelming and they need to get out somehow. Art can provide a healing way to this and a healthy distraction to negative thoughts.
Move your body
Walk, run, hike, bike, swim, dance, yoga, lift weights. It doesn’t matter – just move! When we’re faced with danger or the unknown our bodies want to respond in one of three ways: fight, flight, or freeze. Responding to the perceived threat triggers hormonal and physiological changes and helps you move on to the processing and recovering stage (that’s where you want to be). Recent studies point to the effectiveness of exercise in mimicking the body’s natural fight and flight instincts. We’re no longer running from prey on the savannah, but our bodies don’t always know that. In the early days when my ex and I were separated but still living together, I’d feel myself getting worked up about something and knew I wouldn’t be able to have a productive conversation, so I would go for a walk or a bike ride. Every time I felt calmer and more centered afterwards.
Get a therapist
I mean, everyone should have a therapist anyway even if your life’s going great. I can’t say enough how awesome it is to have a person to talk to who’s completely unconnected to anyone or anything else in your life. A good therapist won’t tell you what to do, rather reflect back what you’ve said in a way that makes you able to see it through new eyes. The unfortunate thing is that many insurance plans don’t adequately cover mental health. If this is the case for you, I recommend searching for counselors or therapists not yet certified. Often they have a wealth of training but need to complete a certain number of practice hours to finish their certification. Because of this, they can offer much lower rates than licensed therapists. The key is finding someone you are comfortable with and feel you can trust.
Turn to your friends (but don’t alienate mutual friends)
Don’t worry if you haven’t talked to someone for a year. Call them! They’ll listen and you’ll probably find out everyone has empathy for what you’re going through. A caveat though: if you can, try not to drag in mutual friends or other parents that you and your spouse will continue to have contact with into the drama (full disclosure: this is easier said than done, and I don’t always follow my own advice much to the chagrin of my future self). Naturally there will be some siding that happens, but let your friends be the ones to make that call for themselves.
I know, I know . . . “mindfulness” is such a buzzword these days, but here’s the thing – it really helps! Kids can’t always give you a break so you need to make space when and where you can, even if it means taking three deep breaths before you walk out of the bathroom (I’m only half kidding about this). Some great books to explore are Mindfulness in Plain English or The Power of Now.
Tell people what will be helpful
Naturally, friends and family will want to be there for you, but you don’t necessarily want to spill your heart to everyone you talk to. The solution? Give people jobs to do. I promise, it will make you both feel better. Decide who makes sense for your “tell all” group, your “keep my mind off this” group, and your “please help me with practical stuff” group. Say it directly: “You know what would be really helpful? If we could just go for a hike and not say anything about my divorce.” Or, “I know you really care about me and want to know how I’m doing, but it’s exhausting having to verbalize it all. It would be really helpful if you could watch the kids on Sunday afternoon so I can get out of the house.”