Almost automatically, Paulina would turn down the opportunity to travel to Singapore for work, but why? Because they can be with dad for a week without her. So she decided to just do it with an extra week to refuel.
Paulina (42) is the mother of Jasmijn (12), Fabiënne (9) and Koen (7).
“From the plane home from Malaysia, I looked blissfully at the clouds below. I ordered another gin and tonic, took a crazy selfie for my kids and decided I wanted this freedom forever.
‘They look like koala bears,’ my mother joked about my children for years. There was some truth to that: with a husband with an international job, my kids were used to me being home all the time and dad being gone regularly. They always hung from my legs, and I had carefully adapted my part-time job to that.
By a thread
My marriage was already hanging by a thread when I got the chance to travel to Singapore for work three years ago. I almost automatically wanted to reject him. After all, who took care of the children? But they were all in elementary school, they could certainly do without me for a week, I realized in the same second. Couldn’t we manage without their father?
Suddenly, I was done adding my life to our family for more than twelve years. A choice I had made myself, but then it was also my choice to do things differently from now on. I accepted my employer’s offer without consideration and announced it dryly at dinner that evening.
“Before I knew it, I was like, ‘Actually, I’m going to stick with it for another week in Malaysia to refuel’.”
The kids shrugged, but my husband was less resigned. I couldn’t just leave, could I? Of course, it wasn’t that easy; we had two months to live up to it. And: my husband was at home during that period, there was nothing to prevent it from happening. Before I knew it I was like, ‘Actually, I’m sticking with it for another week in Malaysia to refuel.’ I didn’t even listen to his answer.
In retrospect, it sounds selfish. Yet that action was just what I needed to break free from a life that had made me miserable for a long time. All this time I was guided by one fear: that the father of my children would not be able to take care of the three of us. A fear that was unrealistic, but I will never give him the chance to prove otherwise. So I used my parents, in-laws and friends as a safety net, packed a suitcase full of bikinis, took the kids to school in the morning when I left and drove straight to the airport.
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My time abroad was the greatest gift I could give myself. Working with colleagues from abroad gave my confidence a huge boost. And when I traded my hotel in Singapore for a luxury stay on the coast after five days, I knew for sure: I wanted a divorce. For that, I had to overcome only one obstacle: learning to let go of the full-time care of my children.
The week that followed proved to be a crash course. The cow fell in the school yard and had to be stitched up. Without me. And where I – sometimes to the extreme – emphasized healthy food, my children suddenly ate frikandels. I swallowed their reports via app as bravely as possible, took another dip in the sea and made it easier every day. I missed them, but not so much that it hurt.
“Where the kids used to hang from my legs like koala bears, dad was suddenly the hero”
When I got home, the kids were happy to see me, but where they used to hang from my legs like koala bears, Dad was suddenly the hero. Another swallow, but above all a huge relief. My children and their father can do without me too.
The perfect exercise
Now, more than a year after the divorce, I realize that my ex may not be a great partner, but he is a great father. And even though I have to miss my kids half the time, I enjoy the freedom. My vacations are now semi-imposed on my own and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My first trip alone was the perfect exercise in co-parenting.”
This article appears in Kek Mama 08-2022.
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