We are tremendously fortunate to have Holly Bell with us this morning on The Spike. You will know Holly from the Great British Bake-Off and you possibly follow her on Instagram. On a non-baking theme, she also got divorced and then decided to write a book about it, called I Don’t Know You, But… which is a very impressive and thorough manual for divorce from a female point of view, covering everything from the emotional to the financial, hundreds of testaments, tips, advice and viewpoints from women who’ve been there. Even if you have no intention of getting a divorce, it’s a fascinating book, a peek behind the curtain.
I’ve wanted to write about divorce on here for years, but every time I decide to go for it, my husband and I have a row and I feel like it would be just too passive aggressive to then suddenly post about divorce.
But it is such an interesting subject and, I feel, totally shrouded in mystery – much like a termination. If you need either of those things where do you go? Who do you ask? What will actually happen? If I was in a bad mood I would say it is the invidious machinations of a male-led society that wants to keep all of that information away from women, lest they start getting ideas, but in more clement times I’d say that once you’ve done either thing, you’re inclined to forget about it and not revisit the experience out loud. It’s not a selfish thing, more a natural response to something you’d just rather forget.
Anyway, I’m veering off-topic – Holly has adapted for us here part of her book about how to manage weekends post-divorce when your children are with him.
Take it away, Holly:
Divorce is tough, whether you choose it or have it thrust upon you. Divorce without kids involved is, (I am told) much easier. You can have that literal clean break (not just a financial one) and move to the other side of the world, never speak to them again and pretend the marriage was just a bad dream. This is a fantasy many divorced parents harbour.
If you have children and you’re separated/divorced/divorcing, you’ll know it’s not so simple. I remember thinking that I was having to learn to let go of my children way before what felt natural; the late teens empty nest emotional rollercoaster was coming earlier, though fleetingly. In the early days of separation, they were away every weekend and it was very hard. I went out a lot, visited old friends all over the UK, I did masses of DIY, but I felt lost and a bit limbless. I found it hard to come to terms with my sons having experiences and memories in their formative years that I would not be privy to. Their private interior world of experience was developing faster than I had expected to contend with.
Going from a busy house with three boys under 10 to the silence of zero was like a thump in the chest. It hurt. But then it hurt less. And less. And in time I began to see it as recharge and admin time. I committed to being present for the children when they were there and, in the time they were not, I would get the boring stuff done; the cleaning, the food shopping, the repairing, the sorting of clothes that didn’t fit them, the life admin of dentists and optician appointment booking. All the stuff that detracted from enjoying time with them. I batch-cooked too. A lot. The freezer was full of home-made ready meals. I had to focus everything on them and their needs during this downtime in the early days because I felt such guilt for having done this to them.
It’s been four years now and I no longer feel guilty when they are away. I use the time wisely on things that I enjoy. Writing, reading, trying to perfect my sourdough bread, making candles (yes really), watching comedy, having late nights watching films and drinking wine, spending time as a couple with my boyfriend. I deserve to be happy and I deserve to enjoy the time when they are away. It is a gift to me, not a hardship. When the boys are here, I do a really good job. None of us should be afraid to say well done for the mothering we do, especially in the face of adversity like divorce.
If you find yourself dreading the time when the children visit their other parent, I’d suggest you make a plan in advance. Preparation will make it far less traumatic in those early months.
Here’s a start:
1. If you find yourself having intrusive thoughts and spiralling into angsty moments of wondering how your life has come to this, set a timer. You’re allowed five minutes for the pity party, then do something else. You have to be your own best friend. Use distractions; audio books, podcasts, TV, music, whatever works for you.
2. Make plans to see friends in advance. Try to balance out married friends and single friends as well as varying the activities. It’s easy to end up drinking too much in the early days of separation. Of course you may need a boozy night out or three to drown your sorrows, but alcohol is a depressant so tread carefully. Likewise hanging out solely with friends who are happy in their marriages can be distressing, mix it up if you can.
3. Make a list of those tasks you’ve put off and commit to three manageable ones each time the children are away. It might be finally getting the eBay box of unwanted stuff online. It might be filing all the bills into folders. It might be shopping around for cheaper insurance. It might be weeding the garden path. It might be changing the layout of your sitting room. Whatever the tasks are, get three things done. The sense of achievement is immense.
4. Plan something nice for when the children come home. Maybe research some well-reviewed family films for a popcorn and movie night. Or print off some biscuit recipes and dig out the cutters to make some treats… plan a geocaching day out. Whatever it is, make a plan and commit to doing it. I hate the phrase ‘make memories’, but you catch my drift.
5. Find one thing that is just for you and make a start on it. Extra points if it’s something you can’t do when children are in the house. It might be barre lessons online or yoga classes. Perhaps taking a Spanish class. Maybe finally learning to use those old watercolours or going to a life drawing class. Or writing that book. Make a start.