Families come in all types of constellations. This is totally normal these days. So I wonder why I skirt around the issue.
When I was 25 I was living in London and fell in love with a Welsh man. I was moving back to Australia to spend more time with my family and he came too. We were married within 6 months and people thought this would never last. Just over a year later we had our first child. Less than a year and a half later, baby number 2 arrived. Let’s say, we didn’t waste any time.
He was amazing with the babies. He’d use a baby carrier to carry them, was one of the few dads I knew who changed nappies, bathed the kids, loved spending time with them, and was totally involved in any decision we made about schooling, raising them etc.
After 7 years living in Australia, we thought we would move back to the UK to be closer to his family. And, just before we moved, there was a chance to move to Amsterdam for a year. We jumped at the chance to live in a foreign country with our young children and still be just a short flight from his side of the family.
We signed the kids up for a Dutch Montessori school for the year and before long one year turned into many more. Amsterdam is that kind of place – we didn’t need a car, got around by bike, it’s family friendly, easy to travel around and explore Europe, and the Dutch for the most part work to live, not live to work. It’s an easy place to live.
After some time, we weren’t sure if we should stay married. We weren’t miserable, but we weren’t ridiculously happy and in love. Both being idealists, after 17 years of marriage we made a conscious uncoupling of sorts.
Conscious uncoupling for us actually looked like trying a marriage counsellor, an appointment with a non-violent communication mediator, trying to work out if we could improve what we had or whether we were better to let things go. Discussions then moved onto how we could realistically separate our finances and our housing, being sad that this was not how we pictured our future, hopeful that we could be happier apart, and always trying to respectful of the other. After all, we shared responsibility of two beautiful children and it was important to us, that no matter what happened between us, they would still have us both as parents.
We chose to separate and lived in the same house for two years. We had a schedule of taking turns with the children on weekends, and not much changed until he moved into his own apartment just a 10 minute cycle away.
Now the children are lucky enough to have two homes, they still have two parents, and both of us are much happier. It was a difficult time and, whilst you would not will it on anyone, it has been life-changing in the most positive of ways. Most significantly to work out what is important to me.
We are good friends. We are co-parents. But really, please, just call me a parent. I’ve never been fan of labels and I don’t feel like a single parent, divorced, separated or anything. I am a parent. And a regular person.
As I always like to say, there are no mistakes, just learning. I am super grateful for having been married for 17 years and I’ve also learned a lot from separating:
1. Drop the labels if they don’t serve you
I think that’s why I don’t really talk about this. I don’t want to be labelled as anything. I have two lovely children. I am a parent. No more. No less.
2. Take responsibility for where you are
Living without a partner, you recognise that the only person that can make you happy is yourself. You don’t look to others to blame them or make you happy; you take responsibility for your choices. This applies to anyone, whether you are in a relationship or not.
3. See your part in things
Ending our relationship was not my fault. And it was not his fault. But we both played a part. And could have done things better. Both partners are responsible in a relationship.
4. Time heals
Conscious uncoupling was not all smooth. There were days when I was so happy to be in my classes without time to think about my private life. I actually don’t know if anyone in my classes even noticed as this was my happy place at the time.
For a time I was grieving the relationship. I felt like I should have been able to live “happily ever after.” And I didn’t know anyone who had navigated divorce in a positive way.
Now over three years later, time does heal. I am only happy for him and for me. He’s in a new relationship and we celebrated Christmas at their place. It’s possible to be friends and parents.
5. Always be kind about the other parent
I’ll be honest. There were some days when I was not happy with him. There were difficult discussions. But this is something we never shared with the children. We only spoke, and continue to speak, about the other parent with kindness.
6. Agree on the big picture
For someone who might have been a bit controlling(!), I had to let go of how he was going to parent the children when they were with him. What he was going to feed them. How they would spend their time.
We have regular co-parent meetings to make sure we are on the same page, to discuss anything to do with the children, and check in with how things are going in both homes. The rest I let go of.
7. Take time for self-care
One advantage to being separated is having more time to myself. For an introvert, this is heaven. I enjoy my own company. If anyone in a relationship is reading this, do yourself a favour, and allow yourself this time even if you are married. It makes me a better parent.
8. Find ways to receive care
As I wasn’t living near my family through this period and your friends need to only hear so much, I had sessions with a psychologist to get the skills to navigate the transition and an osteopath to care for my body and mind. Both were male and for me I think having some father figures around me was useful during that time. I still see the osteopath once every six months to check in. Professional help is a way to receive care too.
I’m not sure why I’m sharing this. I guess I hope it will be helpful to someone out there who may be going through tough times. Or just to see that I am a person navigating life like you.
And in Montessori we realise that our children see what we do, more than they listen to what we say. So we need to try to navigate all of life like our children are watching. Because they are.
There are many family constellations. Ours is not so different.