So you’re struggling to get used to time without your kids now that you’re no longer with their other parent. Here’s how to get off the couch and fill your time in ways that will leave you feeling better than just another night of binge-watching.
Few of us start a family expecting to divide our kids’ time between two households. But for the 40-ish per cent of those of us whose marriages end in separation or divorce (plus all the others who were never officially married), this is a fact of life that takes some adjustment.
Although the veterans among us will speak of the silver linings of divorce, including time to recharge and pursue grown-up interests during child-free days and nights, newbies to shared custody can struggle to adjust to the quiet in their households.
Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes a night in front of your latest Netflix obsession is just what the doctor ordered. But if it’s your literal fall-back position when the kids aren’t at home, things may have gotten out of hand.
Here’s what other separated and divorced parents say helped them get away from the flatscreen and into the land of the living again.
- Get out of the house. Go now. Even a walk around the block can be enough to start to shift your mood and get you out of a funk.
- Meet a friend for coffee. Then meet another for tea tomorrow. Repeat.
- Shop for groceries. Without kids in tow, you can take your time and maybe even make an extra stop at that bakery or farmer’s market you like. Plus you’ll be all set for the kids’ return
- Think of something you used to enjoy as a kid. Are you lapsed hockey player or jazz dancer? Did you enjoy drawing when you had more time? Dust that shit off, friend. It’s time to revisit that part of yourself.
- Breathe. Meditation consistently comes to the top of most-recommended activities for anyone who wants to manage stressful circumstances or just feel a little calmer each day. Apps like Headspace and Calm put easy, guided instructions right into your hands.
- Exercise. In fact, while you’re at it, why not get in the best shape you’ve been in for a while? Not only will this give you needed hits of mood-boosting endorphins, it doesn’t hurt to feel strong and confident about your physical condition at a time like this.
- Entertain. If your space feels quiet, fill it up by entertaining friends. It doesn’t have to be fancy, complicated or expensive. Have one or two friends in for popcorn and a movie, pizza and beer or a potluck. Bonus: you may just make your new space (or newly all-yours space) feel more like home.
- Declutter. Put on some music or an engaging podcast and tackle a junk drawer or messy closet instead of another season of Stranger Things. It’ll give you a little sense of accomplishment when it’s easier to find your keys or something to wear on a busy morning. Plus decluttering can be cathartic in times of change.
- Go for a hike. You probably haven’t been on every trail or in every park that’s near to you, so look for somewhere new or try a reliable favourite.
- Learn something. Take a class at a local community centre or the library. Just see what’s available and pick one that fuels your curiosity. Or try an online learning platform like Udemy.
- Read. Haven’t made time for anything beyond Goodnight Moon or Captain Underpants lately? You’re in luck! If you’ve got time for Netflix you definitely have time for reading again. If you don’t already have one, get a library card and pick out a real page-turner that will help you escape your worries, or a personal development book that offers some good perspective and tools for times like this. (See our list of best books to read when you’re going through a separation or divorce.)
- Blow off steam! Party like you don’t have kids. Seriously. We’re not suggesting getting sloshed every second weekend, but if you haven’t had a good, long night out on the town in a while, now is the time. Take out those dancing shoes and find a co-conspirator or two. (Pro-tip: Don’t assume your married friends won’t be up for a night out. They’re probably overdue, too, and will be happy to make being your wingman/wingwoman their convenient excuse for proper night out.)
- Bake. Make some muffins, homemade granola bars or cookies for school snacks, or a “just because” cake for a little whimsical fun when the kids return. (Btw, there’s no rule against baking your favourite thing and having it to your own damn self!)
- Batch cook. When stars align and I manage to get a meal or two into the freezer for busy weeknights with the kids, I feel like that’s the single working parent equivalent of a touch down (you should see my victory dance). Put a little of your free time to cooking ahead if the spirit moves.
- Phone someone. Remember when we called people instead of just texting? That was nice, right? Call someone to catch-up, and if you’re tired of talking about your own situation, make it about them. There’s probably someone who could really benefit from hearing from you right now.
- Make some cash. Pick up an extra shift, freelance or consulting gig, or start a side hustle during your downtime. Simpler yet, use some of your kid-free time to sell gently-used clothes and gear in Facebook Buy and Sell groups or on E-bay.
- Check out free events. Pick up a local paper and see what’s happening in your area. You’ll expand your horizons and make better use of all your town has to offer.
- Make some art. It doesn’t matter if your skills are grade-school level, using your hands will feel good. So sketch something, try an adult colouring book, or check out a Paint Nite,
- Get some plant babies. They’ll perk up your place, clean the air you breathe and give you something to care for and Instagram-brag about.
- Take a drive. If you’ve got a car (or can car share, rent or borrow one) hit the road for a day or even just an afternoon. Drive somewhere you’ve never been or couldn’t linger at because the kids were just too “are we there yet” for you to visit that brewery or antique shop.
- Volunteer. There’s nothing quite like focussing on the needs of others to get you out of your own head. So find a way to give some of your time to a cause that matters to you, preferably one that involves getting out of the house.
- Clean up. Do your housework at the beginning of your kid-free time so you can enjoy a tidy space while there’s no one there to dump out the Lego, leave a towel on the bathroom floor or dive jam-face-first into your upholstery.
- Try a new recipe. With no one around to declare unfamiliar foods yucky, you can afford to put some time and grocery bucks into trying a new dish that appeals just to you. Leftovers will keep you going for a few meals, and your experiments may just yield new favourites.
- Sleep. Enough said.
- Go to church, temple, mosque or other place of worship. If you belong to a faith community, this might be a good time to make the effort to get there.
- Take in some music. See bands you once loved, discover new ones and put time you haven’t had recently into nurturing your musical interests. At home, with the kids’ playlists off rotation, put on tunes you haven’t spun in a while.
- Collect something. Always wanted to own great vinyl, Fiestaware, first-edition comic books or old typewriters? Now you’ve got the time to visit thrift shops, garage sales and peruse eBay.
- Refurbish small furniture items found curbside or at yard sales. Thrifty and eco-conscious, manageable makeovers will keep your hands and head busy and net satisfying results you can either keep for your own home or sell.
- Get on top of your budget. Your financial situation may have changed. Rather than despairing, use some of your child-free time to empower yourself by creating a new budget. Use an app like Mint or You Need a Budget to make tracking expenses easy.
- Improve your co-parenting relationship. Find community in our free Facebook group: Positive Co-Parenting After Separation and Divorce, and take our inexpensive self-directed webinar to learn how to manage conflict for the sake of the kids’ and your own sanity.
- Take up a new sport. You don’t need to be a super jock to find a new athletic endeavour. Go quirky if you feel like it (axe-throwing is popular and we hear Pickle Ball is catching on…) or join the beer league of whatever sport you’ve always been curious to try. Never really been terribly sporty? Say yes anyway if a friend invites you to join the mom or dad division of whatever activity the kids are trying these days. Make this a year of yes.
- Fold the laundry. And put it away. On the same day. I know.
- Pamper yourself. Have a long bath when there’s no one else around to bang on the bathroom door
- Join a running, walking or hiking group. There are groups that are free and others that carry a fee, but check out what’s available in your area and get outside.
- Check out local meet-ups. Just search meet-ups and you’ll find a group of people for just about every interest or activity you can imagine.
- Go the movies. Get out of your PJs and see a new movie in the theatre, popcorn and all.
- Help a friend. Use your extra hands to help a friend manage arsenic hour with little kids underfoot. Volunteer yourself for someone’s move, or to paint the spare bedroom. You’ll feel useful and you’ll have lightened someone else’s load — a welcome break from your own problems.
- Take a little trip. A weekend away, even if it’s just to visit a friend or family member a short train ride or drive from home, could do you a world of good. If budget allows, you may be able to fly somewhere you haven’t been, but even a trip to a local suburb to overnight with a friend you don’t see often enough can fill the time in a happy way.
- Plan activities for your kids’ return. Use your breather to see what fun things are going on next weekend that you can check out with the kids, or to get supplies for a craft project you think they’ll enjoy. Ditto taking some family-friendly movies out of the library, or organizing a playdate dinner with another family.
- Wander a bookstore. Lose yourself in the stacks when you’ve got the time to browse. If you’re feeling ambitious…
- Start or join a book club. Now that you’ve got a bit more time to read, make it a social thing, too.
- Thrift. It takes time to sift through vintage clothing shops, second-hand furniture or collectibles markets for those treasured finds. Enjoy the hunt while you’ve got time.
- Climb the walls… at a local indoor climbing gym, of course. Challenge yourself to new heights. The singular focus may just get your mind off the kids. Plus you can report to them about your progress.
- Get a massage. If it’s in your budget, treat yourself and get those knots untangled. Self-care should be a big priority right now.
- Write down your goals. You may find yourself at a place you never expected to be, that’s why it’s critical to give a little shape to how you’d like some aspects of your life to unfold — at least in the next little while. Big or little, note some goals in a journal or Google doc where you can see them and note their completion.
- Treat yourself to a magazine. Head to your favourite cafe and enjoy it with a latte.
- Download an audiobook to keep yourself company on long walks or while puttering around the house.
- Makeover a room. Try a coat of paint or just rearrange the furniture and switch up accessories. Always hated your spouse’s old artwork. Take it down and make a space your own.
- Take up a cause. Get involved in local politics, collect signatures on a petition that matters to you, work to get something fixed in your community. It’s a way to bring some meaning to the time you’re spending away from your kids in a way that will make you — and them — proud.
- Play Pokemon Go. Why not? The kids dig it and it’ll get you outside.
- Go to an Arcade Pub. Speaking of digital fun, revisit your favourite old-school digital past-times at one of the arcade pubs popping up all over the place.
- Visit an elderly relative or neighbour. Your time will be really well spent dropping in on an older person who doesn’t get a lot of company. So go see your great-aunt or grandparent, or take a plate of cookies to the elderly neighbour and stay a while.
- Host a board game night. Adulting can make us forget how to play. Relearn by having a few friends over to play a board game. Put out some bowls of chips and your hosting duties are complete.
What else helps you fill your kid-free time in enjoyable ways? Leave your thoughts in the comments! We’ll update this piece from time to time to include reader feedback!
And remember: You’re doing your children zero favours by sitting around feeling miserable when they’re away. Sure, it’s okay to make time to feel-the-feels. But it’s a great example to your children and others to model resilience and to live your best life. Fill your cup so you have more to give when your kids return home.