Divorce

A Divorced Single Mom’s Cycle of Self-Blame—And Resilience

Young woman in the coffee shop surfing the net on smartphone

Every time I face a setback as a divorced mom, I cycle through a familiar whirlwind of emotions. I start by going through a succession of ugly, disjointed thoughts. Then I proceed to sift through those thoughts one at a time until I find peace, as I have learned to do over the past few years.

For instance, last month I was told my son might have a learning disability. And while this is something many parents face, for me it felt particularly painful and overwhelming.

My ex-husband and I were invited to meet with a team of educators at our children’s school for the second time this year. One of our boys has been struggling with reading and I was hopeful we would hear he was doing better. During the first minute and a half the news was all good. “He is a committed and determined student,” we were told.

But then the conversation took a sharp turn and someone said something about him reading words backwards. She then added that despite constant practice, he simply is not able to remember the sounds of some vowels. And then another woman at the table used the words I am still struggling to repeat…possible learning disability. What followed were simultaneous explosions in my head and my heart. Though the conversation continued, I heard little else other than a suggestion that maybe he was born prematurely.

I stopped making eye contact, terrified I would make a fool of myself. Not crying became my primary goal. Meanwhile, my ex was the perfect parent, asking all the right questions. “We are eager to take the next step to support our child in any way possible,” he said. I observed this stranger in disbelief. How was he so calm?

We filled out a form to initiate testing that would involve more specialists. Our son will be pulled out of class for evaluations and exchanges with social workers they explained. A special education teacher will be added to the classroom for his assistance…do they really still call it special education?

“Oh, not to worry, I was assured. “Special education is not what it was when we were young.

We thanked the group and exited the building. I longed for the father to comfort me…to say anything. But that is not who we are. I wonder if we ever had a relationship like that.

So instead, I cried alone in my car.

A learning disability sounds common enough. So, what is the big deal? Why am I so freaked? It’s because I have to handle every hurdle alone, and because it’s so easy to blame myself, especially at first.

On my drive back to work, I searched that dark pit in my soul where the bad feelings lurk to understand why I had such a severe reaction to the school’s report. The initial answer is always the same.

It is all my fault. It is because we got a divorce. I am a terrible mother…I should have known he was struggling, but instead I told him to try harder.

He will be stigmatized, ostracized and mocked. His self-esteem will surely plummet. He will miss out on opportunities. 

I can’t handle anything else. Don’t I have enough on my plate? Why is this happening to my baby?

I am scared. I am alone. I’m being ridiculous.

I should be grateful they caught it early. It could always be worse. I will read everything I can about his struggles. We will help him. I will survive this too.

And with that, I parked my car, wiped my face and returned to my desk. I smiled and did what I always do to get through the day, no matter what it brings. There is no other choice. I am a mom.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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