Absence makes the heart grow stronger
I’ve made no secret of the fact I find co-parenting incredibly difficult. It requires a great deal of patience, compromise, and selflessness on both sides. Throw in a broken heart, lingering animosity and a whole lot of grief and suddenly the idea of “remaining amicable” seems more like a cute fantasy.
But in among the murkiness of making it work with your ex, there’s the fact your child has a dad. He deserves to see him. They deserve to have a relationship. So you have no choice but to bandage your broken heart, smile through your animosity, and push the grief to the side for the sake of a smooth handover.
In the early days, I used to wake up with a pit of anxiety in the depth of my gut knowing he was on his way to pick up Oliver. I certainly didn’t want to be alone when I felt so emotionally unstable. Oliver’s needs and demands were what kept me going, I couldn’t lie in bed all day because he needed his nappy changed, to be entertained, to be fed. Once he was gone, what purpose did I have? I’d evolved to be Oliver’s mum, my identity was being part of our family unit. Who was I if I didn’t have my family?
I also felt like I was being punished for his indiscretions by having my son taken away from me when I had done nothing wrong. I was all of a sudden expected to resume my life pre-Oliver, pretend I’m not a mum for the day or two he was with his dad, then pop my mum hat back on when he returned. This wasn’t what I signed up for. I wanted to be Oliver’s mum all of the time. I didn’t want to do this parenting thing in shifts. I’d contemplate all of this as I closed the front door and crawled back into bed. I had no intention of moving. It was difficult to find the strength to do much at all, let alone focus on myself. My soul was bleeding for my family, now it was off on the other side of Melbourne and I wasn’t included anymore.
There’s so much emphasis on ensuring a seamless transition between parent to parent and putting on a brave face in front of the children. But what few people discuss is the feelings of loneliness, isolation and rejection that bubble to the surface as soon as your child is buckled into the car seat and driven away. Yes, keeping it together for sake of the children is vitally important. But when your days revolve around your babies, and all of sudden you have to hand them over and fill your day with something else and focus on yourself, that’s when things can start to unravel.
That's why this post will focus on the wellbeing of the mother who has to say goodbye to her child and rediscover her identity. There’s plenty of literature out there filled with useful information about how to manage children in the event of a relationship breakdown, and that’s so important, but no one mentions how vital it is to find yourself in amongst the chaos of adjusting to co-parenting.
Four months later, I wish I could say it was easier. Perhaps we’ll get there one day. For Oliver’s sake, I hope we do. But to get to that stage, it’s crucial to shift my thinking from feeling punished by co-parenting, to using the time to get to know me. I am still Oliver’s mum. But this is my chance to re-discover myself. My ex and I were together four-and-a-half years. I was just 22 when we fell in love.
Who I am now, what I value now, what I am looking for now is completely different to then. I’m a different person. But in amongst furthering my career, getting engaged, and unexpectedly falling pregnant and having a baby, I don’t remember the last time I checked in with myself to learn more about this new-and-improved woman.
I was someone who went from long-term relationship to another, absorbing myself into the person I had given my heart to. I was someone who believed in the best of everyone but myself. I would hang off your word like it’s gospel. I would believe you’ll practice what you preach. That’s probably why I feel the sting of a lie so deeply. It cuts to the core of everything I believe in the people I love most. This blind faith would mean I replay everything you said on a loop, desperate to decipher meaning, determined to hang off a hook of truth to protect myself from the painful reality.
I was naive. And I was a romantic. This combination means I would feel everything so much longer than I should. I would beat myself up, berate myself, hate myself for being so foolish.
I was also a career woman who worked incredibly hard for a number of years to achieve her goals. Shift to a strange city away from my family, friends and fiancee? Sure. Sacrifice birthdays/weddings/social engagements for the sake of a good story? Yep.
I was a party girl who loved to go out, drink too much wine, stumble home far too late. I pushed my limits. Saying “no” was never an option. I wanted it all and I wanted it now.
However, reflecting on all of this, I realise she isn’t gone. She is still me. I am still that woman. She was just disorientated for a little while, consumed in a relationship where her self-worth was chipped away, lost in the labyrinth of motherhood, forced to pick up the shattered pieced of a broken heart and start again. But now it’s time to find her and teach her the lessons of her past so she never makes the same mistakes again. But how do you do that?
Well, you go back to basics and check in with Elizabeth the 27 year old.
I am stronger, wiser, richer for the lessons learnt, that I know.
But who is Elizabeth?
What do I like to do?
Who do I choose to surround myself with?
It’s early days in this mission. So while I don’t have the answers to my questions yet, the more time I dedicate to myself, the closer I become to filling in the blanks. You can’t pour from an empty glass. To be the best mum for Oliver, I have to learn to love and nourish myself. I have to make the best of a bad situation by using the time alone to figure out who I am. Only then can I be everything he needs and more.
Without even realising, this blog is the first step to answering those questions. It is helping me re-discover my voice, connect with like-minded people, feel a sense of personal accomplishment and achievement I haven’t experienced for so long. I’m doing this all myself, and that feels really damn good.
The more I try to stop dreading the weekends apart, the happier I become. Now, I book out my weekends with activities, friends, events. I want to meet people. Try new things. I don’t let myself sit idle on the couch without plans or a purpose, because that’s when the feelings of loneliness creep back in to make me feel worthless. Instead, I reconnect with old friends, drink a margarita or five, eat too much food, nap, sleep in until midday, take a yoga class, go for a long walk, head down the coast with friends, go on a date.
It’s in broadening my horizons I hope to one day come back to this blog post and confidently answer the questions I set out for myself. It won’t happen overnight, but with every moment I have to reconnect with myself, I’m edging that little bit closer.
I suppose the most fitting way to finish this post is to say…
“to be continued.”