Breaking free after a separation – Some valuable lessons learned along the way

This January as I carried out the tedious task of taking down our Christmas tree I was extra cautious with my ever growing supply of fairy lights, which brought so much warmth with their constant gentle glow to me and my two children over the holidays. I felt a little too protective of them as I gently laid them down and realised how this extra caution had a deeper meaning for me around not getting tangled or caught up in anything I am not really a part of and this was such a perfect analogy for my own journey through separation over the past two years.

Separation doesn’t just happen, it’s got to be worked at, in fact I believe to do it healthily requires the same amount of conscious input for a time as maintaining a healthy relationship. Separation hurts, and it doesn’t just mean that with one clean swoop of a knife the cords that held you together are cut forever. In fact, in my own experience it’s been somewhat the opposite. Separation is messy, it takes time, it involves moving in and out of something continually over time, in order to eventually find a new territory that feels comfortable and safe for both parties. Teasing knots out of heart strings is a tedious task and should be done with caution just like ensuring my delicate fairy lights were alright as I took them down.

For me, over two years later, it still at times feels completely ironic to call myself a single parent –a paradox almost. I struggled to get my head around being a forty something singleton again and being Mam and Dad to a then two and four year old for the most part of my week. That said I have adjusted to this title now and in fact I’m really proud to call myself a Single Parent. Because ultimately I know I am bringing so much more of the very best of me to my children, on my own, so much more compared to when I was in a relationship.

But as I move through this journey it still strikes me at times to be so very bitter sweet. As one thing is dying and falling away another thing is thriving, that being the love of two adults for their children, their own love for each other has come to an end and all ties associated with that love begin to be undone. While at the same time two souls they brought into this world continue to grow and thrive and adapt to their new world as our world falls apart, their constant need for both of us continues to exist no matter what.

So detangling is not clear cut. For me I needed to ease the knots with a kind of self care balm that slowly allowed myself to move away carefully out of a nest that was created out of love, carefully constructed by two parents over the course of six years. I wasn’t married and of course you don’t need to be married to tie the knot, knots get tied along the road anyway, they get double and triple knotted – they get tied in a secret way that only two parents know how. And then they’ve got to be undone to allow for new roads to be travelled all the while maintaining a middle road where you can both somehow still hold hands in commitment to the well-being of your two precious children.

I think the hardest and most important lesson on this whole journey for me has been one of acceptance. Acceptance that whether someone changes their behaviour or not, ultimately that’s not my business anymore. While at the same time accepting that despite the fact that your relationship has ended you’re never ever done as two parents – your work is your children and that piece is never done.  Finally and most importantly; self acceptance has been a really big lesson. To accept myself in the present moment however that moment may present itself has been a lesson that has offered some of the greatest healing.

I’ve also learnt that moving out of something means moving into something else, finding a new territory is about finding a new sort of safe place where you can be comfortable with yourself, just you. So rather than questioning an old relationship a new one comes in and with it newer questions like: is it safe to be alone right now in the world, what new boundaries do I need now to survive and where do I find them in this new territory, and at the heart of all of this: who the hell am I now! after a long period of being completely enmeshed in one life, what do I want for myself now! Big questions and such important ones.

When friends would ask me if I was dating or ‘getting out there’ over the last two years I would each and every time reply with a resounding No, this started as an uncomfortable No, one where I questioned what the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t get out there, couldn’t start dating at least, why did I recoil at the thought of it, why was I so afraid when others seemed to do so easily and naturally.

However, over time, this No in fact became one of the most powerful and proudest No’s for me to speak, as it came from a new boundary that I created for myself as well as a deep knowledge of my needs today. Moving on was not about finding a new relationship with a man, it was about finding a new relationship with myself, I had to become my new love, and that took time and nurturing, patience and a whole lot of trust.

For me this has one of the most fruitful gifts delivered to me in my 42 years on this planet. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance, an opportunity to live the life I was destined to, my soul has realigned with its purpose and my ship is on course again and I thank my lucky stars every day for this journey. Challenging and rewarding don’t even come close to sum it up. But to say that I cherish the lessons and the Now pretty much does.

Detangling, unknotting, easing out over time, getting stuck and unstuck slowly moving on and releasing myself from deeply held patterns of connection means that now I am discovering how it is to fly free and hold real possibilities to connect with others in a whole new way. For me now, this sort of new connection must allow for greater movement, to hold tight in some places and to be separate in other places – coming together in a unique way only known to two people is a beautiful thing but I believe knowing how to unlock the hold when needed and find new unique ways to detangle may be the key to maintaining this hold over time.

I look forward to discovering new possibilities. In the meantime I’ll wrap up my fairy lights every year with tenderness and care and thank them for the gentle beautiful glow they bring to our home. I remind myself to apply such tenderness and care to my own heart, that continues to hold love, happy memories, hope and joy despite travelling through the darkest of days, its power is my source of faith.

And now thankfully springtime is upon us, may we all flower and feel the warmth of brighter days upon us.

Ruth Fagan
Ruth Fagan
Ruth Fagan, 42 lives in Galway with her two small and beautiful children aged 4 and 6. Working in the community promoting volunteering for over ten years Ruth is passionate about personal transformation and growth. She is also part of a new local theatre company based in Galway where she is beginning to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a drama facilitator in the community. Her journey into single parenthood two years ago has brought about a new phase of transformation teaching her many life lessons she is truly grateful for.