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When Shared Custody Leaves You Alone For The Holidays

I wake up at 5am and start getting my hiking gear ready. I take a deep breath knowing I am pushing myself to the limit today - both physically and emotionally. It’s Christmas morning 2017, I am alone in St. George, Utah, away from my baby girl who is only three years old.

My heart sinks knowing I won’t be with my daughter as she opens her gifts this Christmas morning. It’s 30 degrees outside and I want to turn on the fireplace and get back in bed. I want to cry because my heart is broken beyond repair. I know I made the right decision by walking away from a relationship where I was deeply unhappy, unvalued and unloved - but it meant sacrificing time with my child and turning her world upside down. Now she is away from her mom and I am facing my first holiday without her. “I better get used to it,” I think to myself, but I wonder if it will ever get easier.

Nothing prepares you for having to time-share your child with your ex. I’ve often said to people that making the decision to separate is the easy part (which is really not). When a child is in the mix, what follows is an array of negotiations between attorneys and mediators. The first thing is to agree on the percentage of time the child will spend with each parent, in my case it was a mutually agreed 50/50. Then the discussion turns to a flea market bargaining situation, where you bid and trade for special days, days of the week the child will be with each parent and what time exchanges should happen. It’s exhausting and sad for all parties. You walk away from the session with a parenting agreement which outlines the details. I felt it was a fair agreement, but nothing prepares you for that first cycle of holidays.

Healing labyrinth at Red Mountain Resort

So I did what I do best, I decided to run.

I Googled, “Places to go for Christmas when you are single.” And Whoa! The plethora of choices. I opted for Red Mountain Resort, a place where I could choose to be as active as I wanted to keep my mind busy, and a place where I could begin my healing. For Christmas, I signed up for an all day advanced hiking excursion to Zion National Park. We did three hikes, the first two challenged me physically in an altitude I was not used to. I had a packed lunch from the resort - a veggie and hummus wrap. I reflected, I thought of my child and at times I wanted to cry. The group was supportive and I made wonderful friendships I will never forget - including a lovely family from DC, who ended up inviting me to sit with them for dinner that evening when we returned to the resort.

Everyone there had a story. Many women I spoke to were on the same journey as me. Others had survived the trauma of divorce years before and made it a point to return when their kids were with the other parent so they could connect with themselves and to avoid the awkward holiday invite to someone’s house - when you really don’t want to be there. The theme I heard over and over was to always have a plan for the holidays. They said it never got easier being without your kids, but at least the initial shock wears off. To me, it was pretty raw. All I could do was count the days before my baby would be back in my arms.

Hiking at Zion National Park on Christmas morning

Fast forward to 2020, it’s been three years for me. The initial grief has subsided. But if this is your first year away from your kids, I see you, I honor you. All I can do is offer these three things I learned from a Mayo Clinic article I mentioned in the Feisty Mermaid Podcast:

  1. Acknowledge the feelings you are having by having to adjust your holidays without your kids. Honor these feelings and know they are normal, but they don’t have to consume you.

  2. Reach out to people, support groups and communities. You don’t have to go at it alone, but nobody can help unless they know you need it.

  3. Be realistic - The holidays will never be the same, so have a plan for your holidays. Do what feels right to you.

The 2020 holiday season will be very different for all of us. With the global pandemic in full swing, it will be more isolating. If you are a parent without your kids, take special care this year. Be gentle with yourself, find your center and be limitless.

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