My daughters were 6 and 9 years old when their dad and I decided to separate.
Lisa Feiertag, API Leader, lives in the USA with her two children, whom she co-parents with their father. She serves as an API Leader Applicant Liaison for Attachment Parenting International.
It had become quite obvious that our relationship had come to its natural ending, and their dad and I were both ready to be in a place where there was less tension and more peace. When we finally decided to voice the realities of separation, we realized that one of our main concerns was the children and how this new structure would affect them.
I had questions: How would I function as a mother who would be away from her children for any length of time? How would my children react to being physically separated from me? Could I continue to financially support us without losing additional time with my girls? Would my children emotionally survive the divorce without scars?
It was quickly determined that we would share custody as best as possible.
We had modeled suggestions, such as every other weekend plus two nights per week or one week on/one week off. The latter was quickly thrown out, as I could not imagine being away from my kids for a week at a time. What we eventually decided upon was a schedule similar to the first option with an individualized scenario of offering our kids one-on-one time with each parent one weekend of every month: one girl on Saturday, the other girl on Sunday.
It was agreed that having this for our girls might help with the adjustment and allow for much-needed alone time with each child. This was a concept that we thought would happen only for the first few months, but when we went to reassess, our girls protested and shared that this was their favorite time in the month. How could we take that away? Three years later, we still have this setup with no end in sight.
The topic of finances brought on a lot of other emotional obstacles. Dividing all of our assets in half may seem easy, but it is not as carefree when you get down to all the little details. Financial concerns are stressed with the reality of living within two separate homes on the same income that you did in one house.
In the end, we were able to compromise and found a solution that would allow us to put our children first: I would have the girls when their dad was working in exchange for a higher child support payment that would allow me to continue to support myself just as I did when we were living together.
We also delayed our date of divorce so that health insurance and other issues could remain the same as we settled into this change. This assured that my children would not be in another person’s care, keeping the consistency of being with one parent at all times.
Within our negotiations, another challenge became very obvious: No matter what, the father of my children and I will always be connected.
We found that raising our girls in a shared manner would require a need for frequent communication. In speaking with one another, we needed to find a way to remember that it was best if we could be as direct and civil as possible. This is not always easy when emotions are running high.
The first year of separation is somewhat of a blur for me and was a time of complete survival. I didn’t recognize this at first, as I was intently focused on my children, but when we were apart, I experienced some of the darkest moments in my life. As an example, in the first month of our separation, I called a friend and asked her to help me pack for a trip that I didn’t want to cancel. She began to give me the basics, and I had to stop her and tell her that I needed specifics: I needed her to tell me exactly what she would put in her suitcase, so I could write it down and find the items in my house.
When my girls and I arrived at our destination, I realized what was forgotten and laughed as it was not on the list, so it did not make it into the suitcase. We did enjoy that trip and learned to live without some items. We were together and experienced a much-needed healing opportunity.
Over the last few years, I have come to realize that being securely attached to our children does not have to look like all of the other households where two parents are living happily under one roof. My children and I can maintain our connections from a distance with a few creative endeavors. For instance, my oldest received a phone at a younger age, so she can be in communication with her dad and me at any time. Another idea is that I put together little bags of small items for my youngest, so she can have pieces of me when she is away from me at night and needs to feel our connection. I continue to search for flexible, creative ways that my children are able to reach out to me even when we are apart.
The fear that my secure attachment to my children would end began to diminish in time. What I have come to understand is that I have to be fully present to my girls when I am with them. I need to be ready to sit, snuggle and be open to changing our plans if it doesn’t feel right.
It is important to recognize that their dad will do things differently, and that is OK. From this place, I am able to answer the questions that come up around meeting Dad’s girlfriend and her kids, help determine the best way to explain this scenario to the children’s friends and hear my oldest encourage me to begin dating.
Most importantly, I have to work on my own healing when I am alone so that I can do all of this and more as the need arises.