The empty nest syndrome wasn’t supposed to have happened for another decade at least, but now I find myself in an empty home as my children are at their Dad’s house for half the week as we share the childcare…
Ever since I became pregnant with my first child, I have carried at least one baby pretty much everywhere with me.
I struggled to even let a relative hold my newborn so I could sleep. But gradually you gain more confidence and independence over a period of time.
Obviously, it would be a bit difficult to carry my now 4 year old and 7 year old in a sling (although they would still let me if I could manage it) and they have become their own people whilst still relying on “mama.” But this independence has been gradual, starting off with staying at their grandparents to nursery and now school. It has been a slow process.
So nothing could have prepared me for what happens when you separate from your children’s dad (or mum).
Is it ‘empty nest’ syndrome or is that just when your child grows up and leaves home? What about when your children are still young and they leave home? Nobody prepares you for that.
Here’s what I’ve found out about sharing the care of your children…
I am a big believer that both parents (unless in certain circumstances) should have the opportunity to equally care for their children providing they are in a loving and safe environment.
But this strong belief of mine has sometimes been at my detriment.
I hadn’t realised the impact that shared childcare would have had on me.
But my daughters are more important to me than what I feel about the situation.
So I’ve decided to share what I feel because the more I have spoken about it with mums and dads in similar situations, the more I realise how common these feelings are.
I felt a lot of guilt initially that I had failed at bringing up the children in what ‘appears’ like the perfect family home with two loving parents and one house. I felt guilty that they would have to be ‘suitcase kids’ like I was going from parent to parent. Even though, I know deep down that there is no ‘perfect’ and all children need is love and security.
But I couldn’t help but feel guilt that I had let them down and I felt selfish that this was my choice.
Often we see families (and I still do this) and we think “oh wow how perfect are they?!” But when parents separate and in our case, when children live in two separate homes there is a lot of adjustments to be made with home, work and school life. You want what’s best for your children so you have to build a support network around you all. That said, you can’t help but feel shame when telling people that things have changed and that you are two families now.
There is no shame in it at all and I would never judge another family… other than myself! I felt and feel so much shame. Luckily, my family and friends areand just want us all to be happy so I don’t feel pressure in that sense. I imagine for others this feels much worse when their peers go against them because of the choices they make.
When my children started living at their dads, I felt like my heart had been shattered into pieces. Still now, the days feel long without them with me and I try and keep as busy as possible so I am able to be fulfilled in other roles.
But the grieving process is still underway and some days it feels too much to be apart from the children you gave life to. I wasn’t prepared for how hard this would be. I even started to miss the mess, the chaos, the daily laundry cycles, the trips out and most of all I miss having two beautiful humans to care for and to look after.
I want to cook for somebody, I want to even clean up after somebody (and I am no domestica goddess) and I want somebody to hug and love.
It’s not all doom and gloom. I have also had pangs of feeling free. I have waves where I cannot believe that some days, my life is my own and I can do whatever I want (within reason).
I love the freedom to build friendships again, to go out without having to prepare too much, to go to the gym when I want and to shape my day however I want.
At times, I feel like I am a rebellious teenager again because some days I can do what I want and I am socialising more than ever. I am trying to be proactive so I don’t just mope and become a workaholic again because life is too short. I learnt the hard way. That said, my professional life is buzzing at the moment which is helping me to thrive personally too. Perhaps it’s because I now have time to focus?
There are still moments, however, where I feel lonely. The online world has really helped me to communicate with people 24/7 but people only see snippets of my life (believe it or not I have a personal life too although I am open about a lot of things).
When the house is quiet and I am sat doing my work, I feel pangs of loneliness. Whether I get a new exciting project to work on, I win an award or I need to vent, it is sad not to have someone there some of the time.
That said, even when you have kids running around, you can still feel lonely and isolated.
But for me when there is silence that loneliness intensifies engulfing my mind,body and soul as my heart breaks when I am away from the kids for a prolonged period of time.
6. Finding myself
They say however, that you can ‘find yourself’ in your darkest moments. And whilst the quietness of a partially child-free life can feel deafening, it does give me space in my mind and in my diary to discover what I want from life. From what I enjoy doing to what makes me feel fulfilled.
I think as parents we tend to go on auto-pilot and follow our children’s wants and needs and often we forget our own. Our sons and daughters are rightly the centre of our universe but sometimes this can impact our own sense of belonging.
So after a lot of trial and error, I am using this period in my life to find myself and understand myself as an individual human being.
I‘ll admit, I struggled at first because being a mum has been my identity for many years and whilst I’ve not totally lost this title, I feel like I am a part-time mum (if I was speaking to another single parent I would say this is not the case as you are still a mum/dad throughout the week but for me, this is how I feel right now as it is too painful to talk about my kids when they are not with me).
I have already started to rediscover my passion for my work (as a blogger, Vlogger, dancer journalist and film-maker) which all has health and wellbeing goals. I realise that this is my ‘calling’ so to speak to use my own experience and background to help others who can relate to me. I don’t pretend to be the perfect product. I am very far from that! But I think showing people’s honest journeys is much more interesting and relatable.
7. Creating new habits
As I have come to a turning point in my life, now is a good time to create healthier habits so that I can start my new chapter afresh. This idea has only dawned on me because I have to be careful that unhealthy habits don’t kick in.
When I was first separated from my children, I wasn’t eating properly (I still struggle to shop and cook for myself without feeding others), I was living off caffeine and sweets and I was just sticking unhealthy plasters over my deep wounds. But as the plasters quickly began to wear away, I realised that I couldn’t live this way. I had to start adopting healthy habits so I could live a sustainable future.
So I have decided to throw myself into health and fitness because this is something that is rewarding and will help improve my overall wellbeing. I am trying new forms of exercise, dance classes, health workshops and I am starting to teach and perform bellydance again. Not because I have to but because I want to.
I am even planning on starting to play football again because I miss the team, physical exercise and camaraderie.
So rather than slipping back into old bad habits and coping mechanisms, I am taking control by setting the foundations for the future with my health and wellbeing (and it’s something I can involve the kids in too when they are around – from climbing to Park run and dancing at home).
8. Peace and Happiness
Focusing on fitness challenges and my own health is helping me to find some peace from within. Rather than looking back at what was or even worrying about the future and what might happen, when I am being active even if it is just a walk to clear my head or to think through my work, it really helps me to be in the moment.
Also, the more relaxed and happy I become, the less fractious my daughters are. I think as a parent our worries and behaviours can rub off on to our children without us even realising sometimes. And I realise that I am not being selfish when I am focusing on myself when the kids are away because I can’t change the situation. I can just try and appreciate the moments I do have with them and actually we love doing a range of activities together.
9. The need to build a strong support network
That said, all of the above is hard to do without a strong support network around you. It’s surrounding yourself with positive people who will be your cheerleaders no matter what. This support might come from family, friends, colleagues, community groups, gyms or wherever. I realised to create my support network I had to be a bit proactive too because a lot of people don’t realise what’s going on for people. I think we all rely a bit too much on social media to judge how our friends are whereas only human contact and time will tell.
I’ve realised that having time child free has allowed me to bond with new friends, have quality time with old friends and also to meet new people when I am trying new hobbies.
It didn’t all happen at once though… As mentioned in some of the points above, at first, I shut myself off from a lot of people because I felt I no longer ‘fit in.’ I didn’t feel valid going to mums groups or play dates or even to attend church. But actually the people who really matter are there for you no matter what.
Slowly, I am building a strong community around me whilst I build myself back up to be even more confident and stronger than ever before.
10. Having to ask for help
Which brings me on to learning to ask for help. I felt overwhelmed when I first became a single parent. I still had to work, look after the house, sort childcare and keep everything going. I imagine it is a lot harder if you’re not sharing the childcare of your children and you’re trying to manage everything.
But even remembering to put the bins out on the right day felt too much!
So I have asked (a lot, sorry mum) of my mum when it comes to helping me with the kids and to help me to move house. I also have a really strong group of friends around me who I can call on for a chat, shop, gym class or help sorting my house!
11. Looking to the future
When I was first separated from my children, I felt like there was no future past this hellish place. How could a mother survive without her babies by her side?
But actually as time has gone on, I realise that as long as my children are happy and loved whether that be with me or with their other family, then I am happy.
I look at my own relationships such as that with my own mother and I realise that our bond is there no matter what, whether we see each other daily or weekly.
So sooner than I had imagined, I now have time to pursue my own dreams. I have time to travel, to write (finish off my book that’s being published), time to experience new things and to start shaping my own future.
I am now in a new chapter of my life, a new phase of parenting and motherhood and I have time to shape my own future. Whilst it’s hard to get used to changes, I really do believe that these testing times help to make you stronger in the long run. It’s good not to be comfortable or complacent all the time. So now is the time to re-jig my ambitions and to become the person I have always wanted to be.
I will always be a parent no matter what.
I would love to know your thoughts and experiences. Have you felt these feelings? Please comment below or chat to me on social media @mamameiblog.