Not long ago, I received an email from a single dad who is going through something similar to what I went through a couple of years back when Grace’s mother and I broke up. This guy’s marriage crumbled, and he wanted to know how to, paraphrasing his words, avoid the accusations and feelings of abandonment and guilt.
Well, single dads and single moms, here’s my thoughts.
First, let’s be realistic. Breaking up with a longtime partner or spouse is bad. Really bad. I’ve heard it be described as everything from feeling like you were in a serious car accident every day for years to, in one friend’s words, “simply worse than you can possibly imagine.” I never knew what he meant until a few years ago.
Now, however, I know. It’s bad.
Feeling of abandonment and guilt, whatever the prior situation, are bound to occur at some point, especially if you have kids, assuming that your family life held a high priority to you. To put it bluntly, you can’t avoid it. I might argue, even, that you shouldn’t. Divorce and separation can feel like a death in a close family; sometimes, you just need to mourn.
But don’t go crazy.
In the situation where you left a spouse or loved one and left children behind, STAY ON TOP OF THE FAMILY SITUATION. You love your kids, most likely, your kids love you. You’re a parent, and become no less of a parent because you’re not there 24/7. The dirty little secret is that very few of us are actually there 24/7 anyway. But don’t lose track of what your kids are doing. Ask questions: about school, friends, home, what their likes and dislikes are, everything. If your kids are too small to answer back, play with them. Watch movies. Read with them. Take them to parks. In short, be an active parent. You’ll be amazed at how much less sulking time that gives you. I still get fidgety if I don’t see my daughter within a certain time period.
Another suggestion I would give would be to learn to tune out the noise. Obviously, if you’ve been with your partner for any appreciable amount of time, they are going to know you alarmingly well, and one of those things that they will most certainly know and will almost positively take advantage of is which buttons to push. Listening to the pertinent information and eliminating the noise is a skill that takes time to master, but it will be necessary for your mental health – and it will be your mental health that will allow you to thrive without your significant other. Remember that, and achieve a zen-like comfort level.
Finally, and this might not seem to be obvious, but get a lawyer if you can. This person is more than just a person that knows the law, it’s a person that knows the law that you are paying to be on your team. This simple knowledge will give you an important, and at least in my situation, unexpected emotional boost. Really it helped. Also lawyer will give you all sorts of information that you knew, but somehow forgot about when it comes to separation. It sounds strange, but it works.
Those are a few things that come to mind. I know that I’ll come up with more. I’ll keep thinking.
Hang in there!