It’s a chilly December day, and I’m staring blankly out the tall airport terminal window. Somewhere nearby a baby giggles and holiday music tinkles through the overhead speakers, but it does little to lighten my mood.
Down on the tarmac, a massive metal bird has swallowed precious cargo: my two little boys. I imagine them settling in, getting pampered by flight attendants. But for the millionth time, all I can think is…
“How did I get here?”
In the blink of an eye I’m transported back to my wedding day, showered in white lace and smiles and kisses on my way to a prosperous future. I never imagined myself here, sitting in a stuffy airport, palms sweating, sending my little ones away for Christmas.
Then the moment passes. And I remember I’ve done this dozens of times.
I don’t cry.
It’s the first time I haven’t cried.
This is real. This is my story now. But I know I’m not alone. There are other mothers (and fathers) who go through this holiday song and dance too. Here’s a shout-out to all the single-parent, post-divorce, blended, empty-nester, and otherwise not-so-cookie-cutter Christmas families out there. I hear you. And I see you.
I’ve been doing this for a while now, and although I’m not perfect I’m getting better at it! Here are some tricks and tips that help me get through the holidays when I’m missing my kids. These ideas might not resonate with everyone, but they have worked for me. If you have more, please share in the comments!
- It’s ok to FEEL. We hurt sometimes. And that’s ok. That doesn’t make us bad parents. It doesn’t necessarily mean we hate our ex. Separation is just hard sometimes. Allow yourself to get your feelings out–whatever that means for you. A good cry, a hard run, some sort of outlet. Sometimes we just need to purge and then we can move on. I know this might sound hypocritical since I didn’t cry at the airport. But it has taken me several years to get to this point. And it’s genuine. If I’m sad I cry. If I don’t need to, then I don’t.
- Emphasize the positive with your kids. If you have negative emotions about your kids leaving, try to separate them from interactions with your children. If you need to cry, do it on your own time. The best thing we can do at times like these is help our kids feel secure and loved wherever they are–in our home or with the other parent.
I know this is a touchy subject, but we have to consider our kids first. In our family we try to emphasize: more family = more love! Trips away mean even more fun. I keep my dark moods to myself and process them after the door closes between us. Then I am the one dealing with my emotions, instead of forcing them on my kids.
- Co-parenting takes practice. It’s true that blended families are a lot more common these days. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! Be patient with yourself and your co-parent. Try to understand that the pain you feel when you are separated from your kids is the same pain your partner feels when they are separated. (Believe me, I don’t mean to lecture here. I’m trying to remember this too!)
The best co-parenting advice I’ve ever heard is to treat the relationship like a business deal. Your kids are the most important business on the planet.
- Enjoy the alone time. I know this is bittersweet, and the “quiet” can be deafening when the kids are away. But try to enjoy it if you can. Sleep in. Paint your nails. Read that grownup book you’ve been putting off. On those normal days when you think, “I just want some peace and quiet,” what do you fantasize about doing? Do that! And then don’t feel guilty about it.
- Take some time to socialize. This one is tricky. When my kids leave, I’m usually tempted to pull the covers over my head and watch chick flicks in my PJ’s for a week. And if that floats your boat, I won’t judge. But this can also be a good time to connect with friends and family without a curfew! Maybe even go on a road trip.
Have you lost touch with any friends because you have kids and they don’t? Spend some time with them. If you’re in a relationship, use this time to go on a few dates without a babysitter.
- Catch up on your to-do list. Okay. It’s Christmas. Maybe this sounds like the most boring thing in the world. Or maybe it’s a welcome treat! Chores, Christmas shopping, and errands with no kiddos tagging along? Perhaps it’s just what you need.
It’s up to you. Take it one day at a time. See how you feel. But I’d be willing to bet some mamas would be happy to switch places. If you’re feeling extra generous, maybe take a friend’s kids for a couple hours so she can shop.
- Soak up the season. If you’re anything like me, this time of year is pedal-to-the-metal from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. While the children are gone, give yourself permission to stop and breathe. Who is keeping you on a schedule?
Maybe you have work or other responsibilities, but let’s be honest. If you’re a mom, then subtracting your children leaves a gaping hole in your routine. Don’t be afraid of that space. It might do some good to sit back and enjoy a little bit of Christmas.
So put on your favorite holiday music; close your eyes and listen for a while. Watch a dorky Hallmark movie. Burn a candle and just sit back and enjoy it. Soak in some peppermint bath salts. Read a Christmas book. I’m sure you can find some holiday happiness to soothe your soul.
Whatever you decide to do, don’t worry. The time will soon pass. And before you know it those kiddos will be back! So hang in there. You’ve got this.
Winter break is hard, but sending the kids away for Christmas is nothing compared to the six-week summer stretch! If you do that too, then you know what I’m talking about. Check out my related article, “For the Lonely Mothers in the Summertime.”
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, from Mama Crossroads!