Guest Writer: Lisa Salsman
The first Sunday after dropping my children off with my ex-husband, a lady at church walked up to me and said, “Where are your children today?”
Nearly on the verge of tears, I responded, “They are with their biological father.”
“Oh, that must be nice, to get a little time to yourself. Kind of like a vacation,” she chimed. And I looked at her with confusion, because instead of seeing my pain, she apparently thought that I was having a good time.
It continues to be said, when people see that my children are away, that it must be nice. I understand why it is said, and yes, a little quiet time can do the soul good; but here is what I really wish people knew about time without my children.
#1 Shared custody is not a vacation for us
While some people have amicable divorces, and still maintain a relationship with former in-laws and friends, many do not. And, some only enjoy that after years of ugliness die down. Like any parent, I feel overwhelmed with parenting some days, and may look forward to bedtime, when the house is quiet. I enjoy the times when my kids are with my loved ones, or at a friends’ houses playing with other friends. But, let’s be honest, this is not the same thing.
Court orders mean that, even if little Suzy or Billy have been running a fever and spent the last two nights in your arms, you still have to hand them over. Court orders mean that, even if the other parent shows up without even a diaper for your infant, you still have to hand them over. Court orders mean that, even if your child is crying, screaming, clinging to their car seat, and begging you not to leave them, you still have to hand them over. And often, we must hand them over to an individual or individuals who have hurt us and our children, individuals who may hate us and badmouth us, or the young girl who helped to tear those very children away from the other parent in the first place.
It’s not time off. It’s time spent praying that your children won’t hear what is said about you. It’s time wondering if they are sleeping well, and have the things they need. It’s time longing for them to be under your roof, where you know they are safe. It’s not time off.
#2 We need you to give us a break, if you don’t have our full attention.
Because of the emotional toll on us, we may become very distant and distracted while our kids are away. We are often thinking of them, and our maternal instincts tend to remind us that they are not near. Some activities are harder on us without our children. Moms’ play groups, birthday parties, and other things that remind us that others are with their children while ours are gone, can sting a little.
It’s not personal. We are still happy that you are enjoying your time doing these things. If we take a pass, however, it may just mean that we are not feeling up to it at the moment. Give us a call later to say “hello,” and ask how our day has been. If we tell you that we spent the entire day organizing our napkins or cleaning out our toothpick drawer, maybe lay off the “And that was more important than little Sam’s birthday party?!” comment. We are often distracting ourselves to pass the time.
#3 Church can be really hard without our children.
When we attend church, there is a routine. We park and walk in with the children. We guide them to their classes. We make sure they come into the auditorium. We sit together as a family, except for our older children who often sit with their friends. Even then, we watch from behind to make sure they are not being disruptive. We share Sundays. It is an important day to our family. Being there, in the same routine, minus the children, just makes it awkward. Everyone else is there, but them. We notice holes in the pews where they sit. We still pause at their classrooms in the hallway, reminding ourselves that they are not with us that day. Sometimes, it really is preferable to just stay home. So, if we show up without our kids, just try saying something kind, and maybe acknowledge that something is missing; but please, don’t go any further than that. We may already be close to cracking – no need to tap that egg.
#4 Talking badly about our “ex” can actually make things worse.
Imagine the people who see that you are pregnant and launch into a full horror story on how they nearly died during labor and have never felt that much pain. Imagine the person who hears about a person’s recent cancer diagnosis and proceeds to tell them about a friend or family member who died from that. The terrible part is that people can be incredibly insensitive to the anxiety those stories cause, especially to a person who can do nothing else about their situation.
It’s the same with a mother, who already fears what her children are being subjected to and knows that they are not in the best situation, but must endure others reminding her of how awful the person caring for them really is. I know you think you are helping. I know you believe that misery loves company; but, truly, I don’t need more reason to worry. What I really need is for you to remind me that, no matter who those children are with, God is there too. I need you to pray with me, that God will send angels to guard my children’s ears and hearts from anything damaging they may hear. And, what I really need that may surprise you, is for you to pray for my ex’s heart, and for him to exercise caution, as well as for me to do the same. Badmouthing him only points out everything I already hate about my situation and weighs heavy on my soul. I need to think of positive things, good things, and things that give me comfort, not more worry.
#5 Our houses are quiet and it actually really sucks!
I can remember needing to take sleeping medication the first time my children were gone, because the silence and emptiness of my house wouldn’t let me sleep. I would often stay in my pajamas all day, because I had nowhere to go, no one to care for, and the stillness was depressing. I know that I have mentioned not wanting to attend some big gatherings with children, but consider the opposite. Having a friend or two come over and watch a movie, or go to dinner, or just walk around the grocery store can be ridiculously comforting. Every night with no children to tuck in feels like a week. Every day with no children to feed, or bathe, or get dressed to go out can drag along more slowly than a tax return. But, with a friend to talk to, a little distraction, or a reason to put on real clothes and leave the house, time goes a little faster, and brings relief from the quiet. You may have to push a little. It’s hard to get out of a funk. As one friend of mine did, you may have to call and say, “Unlock your door – I’m on my way!” and just walk in with a cup of coffee.
Lisa is a freelance writer with a knack for creating Christian rap lyrics, singing karaoke, and telling the truth. A wife, business owner, and mother of four, she enjoys quiet naps in her husband’s recliner, long showers, and any movie that is not animated. Her goal is to write honestly, without flattery, to provide better insight into many of the struggles that women face.