By Dena Landon
Google sleepovers and you’ll find a lot of advice geared towards when your kid is old enough, how to handle it if a guest cries for their parent, and how to plan that first overnight. Nobody talks about that first night when your kid is sleeping over at an ex’s house. That first night when you, the mom, are alone.
I’d been a stay-at-home mom for my son’s first ten months of life. By the time my ex moved out, C was almost four and I’d only spent four nights away from him – total – since his birth. Intellectually I knew that he’d be just fine sleeping in a bed twenty minutes away in another part of town. Emotionally I was a wreck.
At first, it was nice to clean up and put away toys without a toddler following me around and immediately removing them from the toy box. I could sit on the couch and finish a cup of tea before it got cold. Read a chapter in a book without the constant interruptions of “Mommy, I need water. Mommy, will you read me a book? Mommy, play with me!”
Plan for the loneliness. It’s going to feel strange. Even if your children are older, or you have been away from them more often than I had, remember that feeling when you went to the grocery store for the first time post-birth without your baby? That odd “am I naked in public, what’s missing?” feeling that all moms understand is how your first night alone will feel.
When my ex gave me the date he planned on moving out, I made dinner plans for that night. I had friends over. I knew that I’d need company and support. Schedule events with friends and alone – mani/pedis, brunch or coffee, time to relax and recharge but also distractions from the emptiness.
If you and your ex are civil (my ex and I were at the time), see if you can set up a FaceTime or Skype call before bedtime. Just seeing my son’s face and hearing him chirp excitedly about his new superhero sheets reassured me and calmed me down. Judging from the questions he asked, he needed to hear that I was close by and missed him, and he smothered the phone’s screen with kisses.
After we hung up and my friends had gone home I tidied up around the house to delay the inevitable and then went up to bed. I performed my nighttime rituals, washing my face, lotion, and meditation, then lay down in a wide, King-size bed and stared at the ceiling. The space between me and my ex’s former side yawned large and empty. Fifteen minutes later I gave up on sleep and went to the bathroom. On my way back to my bedroom I stopped with my hand on the doorknob to my son’s room. Out of habit, I’d been about to check in on him.
Post-divorce you’re moving into new territory that will change your relationship with your children. Embrace those changes and learn to make the best of them.
It was then that I finally cried. I’d held off on leaving my ex for so long partially because I couldn’t bear the thought of spending a few days a week away from C. I hadn’t wanted him to grow up shuttling back and forth between two houses. And yet here we were. I’d wanted to end my relationship with my ex but I hadn’t wanted my relationship with my son to change. But in that moment, with my hand on the doorknob, I knew that it would.
Post-divorce you’re moving into new territory. It will change your relationship with both your children and yourself. Embrace those changes and learn to make the best of them. I do all my laundry and housecleaning tasks on the nights and weekends I don’t have my son. Coffee dates with friends, movies, and dates are all on my ‘free’ weekends, time alone that I’ve learned to enjoy. That way when we’re together he’s my priority. I can plan fun events like going to the museum on Family Day, playdates or walking to the park without worrying in the back of my head that the house is a mess.
Tune in to hear Dena discuss the stigma of divorce on our podcast “Divorce and Other Things You Can Handle”
Prepare yourself to accept and process the full range of your emotions your first night. Grieve, if necessary. Know that it’s undoubtedly the worst night and that in the morning you can step forward into your new, better life.
About the Author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.