I’m in the middle of a three-week stay in Copenhagen while my kids are in Greece with their dad. I’m having a pretty great time (currently writing this in a T-shirt and panties since my jeans were a little tight, thanks to, well, beer). Even though it is a beautiful day in Denmark, everyone outdoors enjoying the last of the Nordic summer sun while sipping mugs of beer, I’m indoors typing.
I could sit in the wifi-equipped courtyard of the apartment building where I’m staying. That would be awesome, right? In its adorable welfare state way, the landscaped space is outfitted with a sandbox that the parents dutifully brush off after every use, toys kids trust to leave overnight, and communal tricycles. Most of the time, I can hear from my windows little guys squealing or screaming or laughing or squabbling. Their parents spread table cloths on the patio tables and eat simple meals with wine and beer. There is even a white plastic Ikea high chair in the communal mix — just like I had when my kids were little.
It is all so cute and cool. But I don’t go there. The adorable families make me miss my kids. They remind me that we are having separate adventures. That, because ours is a divorced family, there is not the intimacy that comes with constancy. I don’t feel like that when I’m home– after all, rarely do I go more than 36 hours without them. There, when I see cute kids I just smile smugly because I don’t have hang out with mine all the time.
But here? I’m a bit aimless.
I know how to be a traveling mom — single or otherwise. When I was in my 20s and traveling the world alone, I knew how to do that (age-old recipe: stay in a hostel, hang out with the other travelers, go to the local Irish pub and get wasted on cheap booze and hook up with someone who is not from your country). In my life now, I know how to be a woman, independent of my mother status. But for weeks on end, without my kids, I’m not quite sure how to be.
“I need to find some trouble,” I IM’d with my friend Betsy back home. “But I have no idea what that looks like when you’re a middle-aged mom!”
This feeling is not entirely new. When I was first an unmarried mom — more than 5 years ago — I would feel like this for the very few hours my kids were not with me. They were so tiny then, and parenting was so intense. But one of the upsides of single motherhood is that it forces you to nurture the other parts of yourself, because if you don’t fill those hours that your kids are with your dad, you will be a neurotic, co-dependent mess who is 100% guaranteed to screw up the kids. In a culture that pressures moms to elevate our feelings for our children to a level of infatuation, motherhood becomes a dangerous balance between devotion and obsession.
But if you are fortunate enough to have any sort of co-parenting arrangement, life is different. You may find yourself for weeks on end in a delightful little European country where beautiful, brilliant women you’ve never met invite you to hilarious dinners in cafes on the canal, or to their neighborhoods to visit historic sites, or to dinner parties at their homes. And maybe, if you get creative, you might find a little bit of trouble, too.
And then, before you know it, you are home. And you go to the airport to fetch your kids, with a bunch of flowers for each one of them. And then they spot you and you spot them, and you gobble them up in your arms.
How about you? Do you miss your kids when they’re away? Or do you revel in it? What do you do when your kids are with their dad? Share in the comments!
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.