We asked two parents, a man and a woman, what to expect right after separating, the good the bad, the ugly and the reality.
While people say it is not the easiest time to live through, it does get better with time according to these two. Everyone is different and we all have a different story to tell, but hopefully this will give a little insight from both sexes as what to expect in the first few moments after separation.
The post-separation hustle — his and her versions
Who did we ask?
Zoe, 33, anonymous input, divorced mum of two young kids
Ben Dillon-Smith, 40-ish, author at thesingledadjourney.com, separated dad of Jethro: 9 years
1. What are the top three emotions/feelings you experienced JUST after separating?
Zoe: Overwhelmed, disbelief, fear and loneliness. Overwhelmed at where my life was, disbelief (that my ex cheated after a lifetime together), and the fear about the future alone.
Trying to cope with the weight of managing everything alone took time to get used to, but then the realisation that I was actually doing it myself anyway gave me more confidence that I could do it! I spent many days just crying after the kids were in bed! But it did get better!
Ben: F——–kkkk! Is that an emotion? Sadness, anger, loneliness … mix and repeat. These three would come one after the other, with a good dose of confusion while you try and contemplate all the practical and logistical elements of what comes with separating. This is when you really need a good friend or two.
2. What were the top items on your list you had to figure out first?
Zoe: The kids were my top priority, exploring options of changing schools and home versus staying where we were. Evaluating the pro/cons of each and also the financial feasibility. I was lucky enough that my Mr Ex was supportive (at least in the beginning) to keep us in our home so they were not impacted. Some are not so lucky.
Ben: So how does this Tinder thing work. Ha … OK so that was way down the list.
It was a mix of all the practical living arrangements — where to live, how much rent can I afford, who gets the couch, do we sell the house the list goes on. BUT the main one for me was the realisation that before separating, I could see my child whenever I wanted, and to a degree you take that for granted. Now, I was going to have some form of restrictions placed around that, and that hurt more than anything. My main focus was to make work out an agreement of equal, shared custody. I could not imagine being a weekend dad. I know for some it’s just what works out as the most logistical with work commitments, but I wanted to work out how I could make 50/50 work.
The second was finding and creating a new place and sense of home — for my sanity and more so for son, to start to feel settled and safe in a new home as soon as possible.
3. What were the first steps you took in relation to your kids?
Zoe: I tried to keep the routine as normal as possible for them and also tried to schedule in as much time as my Mr Ex would agree to see them (this was a challenge in itself because he had found new freedom and devoured it).
In hindsight, I may have over compensated for my Mr Ex not being around by driving myself to the bone going back to work full time (from part time) to be able to keep the family home. My day started at 6am for work, and ended around 11pm trying to prepare and cook for the next day (still maintaining dinner, bath, story time, bed time and then meal prep/cleaning house for the next day all with minimal family help). It was consuming and took its toll on me physically losing approx. 12kg within a short period of time!
Ben: The first thing I did when I realised that the separation was a certain, was to research “how to tell your child”. It’s different with each individual circumstance and the style of conversation changes with the child’s ages, but there are some basic fundamentals that stay the same.
- Mum and Dad still love you no matter what
- We will always be your mum and dad, that won’t change.
- This is not your fault and it’s not your job to try and fix it.
- Things will be a little different, and it’s normal for you to feel frustrated, sad, angry, confused though this change. Just try to be aware of that and talk to us about how you feel.
I actually wrote a guide script and a list of possible questions and answers to be prepared and not caught off guard. In basic terms — letting them know they are loved and reassuring them as much as you can.
4. Did you ever explore going back to your relationship or were you done?
Zoe: In the early days I may have flitted from going over our decisions and actions but I knew it was the right thing to do (based on my situation) rather than prolong a situation where the ending would have been the same but perhaps allowed it to take longer.
Ben: After separating, no. I was too hurt and angry. Now? 4 years on, we both get along well and are rediscovering our relationship as friends and co-parents. I’m not someone to never say never, but it would have to feel right on all accounts. Life throws all sorts of craziness at you — I’m excited to find out what or who is out there to start something new and fresh and exciting.
I’m a romantic at heart. I love falling in love, being in love and all of that. Sure I love hot sweaty sex as much as anyone but, in the end, it comes down to the hugs, kisses and spooning too.
5. What advice would you give someone who has just separated?
Zoe: When it came to the kids I found that keeping everything routine and consistent as much as possible really helped!
Also plan catch-ups on your weekend free so the loneliness starts to disappear and so that you have something to look forward to! Find new things to try, this will fill in empty time when your kids go to your ex, this also helps make new friends and potentially grow emotionally! WIN WIN.
Ben: Surround yourself with a good core group of friends. The good and the bad will filter out quicker than you think and sometimes it’s a surprise which friends are more supportive. There are those who offer genuine support and listen with empathetic ears and those who just want to push their advice on to you, whether you like it or not. And there are those who just want to know how you are going on Tinder.
Last thing, be prepared for your first swap over day, where you hand your child back to the other parent — this can hit hard, so plan to catch up with friends, or take yourself out of your natural environment. Big Love. You are not alone.
Ben & Zoe’s 5 best tips
- Be kind to yourself.
- Try something new.
- Maintain regular routines for younger kids as close to pre-separation.
- Surround yourself with a support tribe.
- Get excited about finding more about yourself in this journey.
Ben started writing the Single Dad Journey because friends and friends of friends started asking questions about his life as a single parent and how he coped. It’s a mix of real, raw, honest personal truths and a good dose of humour.