I just saw a story on Facebook from Good Morning America. As a single mother, it really struck a chord with me (as the title said it would) especially after a recent conversation where I was expected to excuse bad behavior from my ex even after all these years. Luckily, I didn’t have an ex like the woman from the article. Mine showed up when he was expected to. He was there every other weekend and for regular weekday visits as well. He showed up for holidays, sporting events, and whenever called upon. He paid the child support he had agreed to.
I often praised my ex for the things he did right. We behaved like adults by attending baseball games, football games, and wrestling matches together – just my ex, the woman I had thought of as a friend who was now his wife, and me. Now and then we had dinner after games. Once when there was a real problem with a teacher, my ex and I went to the school together. When Travis broke his foot, his step-mother and I took him to the emergency room and later to the osteopath. Whenever discipline was necessary beyond a time out (which luckily wasn’t often), we presented a united front.
But that still left me to do everything else. Sometimes I was really good at it and sometimes I fell way short. Whether going through the parental version of the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, I was always there and never resented having to be there and do whatever was needed. I took my son for regular check-ups and doctor’s visits when he was sick. I made the dentist appointments. I went to the back-to-school nights and parent conferences. I drove and often stayed for the sports practices for years and years. I took him to parties, to church, and anywhere else he needed or wanted to go. I dealt with the tantrums from the anger and hurts of life. I dealt with the tantrums and the anger and hurts brought on by time spent with his dad at times. But I also shared the little joys. I made a home for him where I tried to be sure he felt secure and loved.
Often I was overwhelmed. Yet I never complained about being a single parent (other things, yes, but not that) because I knew that the most important thing to me in the world was my son. I was given the great gift of watching him grow. I loved that I was the one who was there to see the daily life and the growth, that I was there before school, and that every evening I was the one to say good-night. I loved being the one who taught him things and helped him navigate school and friendships and hassles. I was the one he called to come and get him late at night. I was the one he called to say good-bye to when he was sure he was dying after he drank way too much one night in college – trusting that anger and condemnation wouldn’t be what he’d get. I loved being the one to take care of him when he was ill and celebrate the little, everyday victories. It was difficult financially. It was a lot of work. And it was completely, absolutely, 100% worth anything I gave up to always be there.
Early on I had made a promise that I wouldn’t say things that would make my son view his father in a bad light. I would never try to turn him against his father. For a long time I think I carried it too far. For example, after many years I finally said, “With your father, silence is golden. He doesn’t really praise people or offer compliments. That’s just not how he works. Just because he didn’t say anything doesn’t mean he was upset with you.” This statement didn’t carry judgement. It’s just a fact of his father’s personality that my son needed to understand and that I should have helped him to understand before he was a teenager!
Some people noticed the effort. I often got questions, especially from others struggling as single parents, on how we maintained a cordial relationship and did the things I did. It was simple. I loved my son more than anything – more than I hated anything – and wouldn’t do anything intentionally that would hurt him. I grinned and kept going through many things. And I liked the life I was living. It wasn’t what I had dreamed of as I was growing up, but it was good and it included everything that was important to me. I have to admit that I had hoped there was some dividend, some benefit that came with the things I did, the life I lived, and the desire to put my son first. That somehow karma would prevail. Who knows, maybe someday…