This is for all the single, divorced, or separated mothers who are wondering what it means for you and your children in the future. I want to provide a possible flash forward by affording you a view from my own rearview mirror some 26 years later.
My son was 3 when I got divorced. It was a gut wrenching decision fueled by knowing it was the right thing for all of us. It’s never easy to split up a family, and I don’t want to minimize the amount of second-guessing and angst that went into it. I suspect many parents agonize over the decision, especially with young children involved.
As much as I was told that “children are flexible” and “they bounce right back” – I knew that was relative. Every individual has their own measure of how resilient they are, and I had no idea what that threshold was for my little boy. In the end, though, I realized that my family was broken and I had to fix it. Staying together was not an option. Looking back, I was pretty brazen to have the confidence that I could support myself and my son working part time at a college magazine and running a very tiny small-town newspaper. Some might—and did—say I was nuts!
But, guess what? I found reserves of confidence and independence that I never knew I had. Soon, I had the chutzpah to go for a better job and convince them I could do it even though I had no idea if I could. It was the responsibility of giving my son a better life that made it an imperative for me, and that impetus was truly a gift.
What happened was that my kid and I became a team, and now we both look back on those years as the bonding that would never have happened otherwise. We each came away with specific benefits from the experience. I’m not recommending single parenting as something to take lightly, or as a panacea, but at times, as my mother used to say, it was for the best.
Let me admit that I was scared for much of the time in the beginning. Scared that I couldn’t pay my rent. Scared when my son was sick and I had to miss work. Scared I couldn’t afford childcare. But, the funny thing is with a 3-year-old, you can’t show him the scared mom. You have to put on a front that you believe everything will be OK. And in the process, you begin to believe it. You have to make smiley face pancakes on Saturday mornings and hang glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling so that he isn’t afraid of the dark. And, you have to find the right words when he calls for daddy in the middle of the night. You have to carve a pumpkin on the small patio of your new tiny apartment and make friends with neighbors who might be able to help in an emergency. Miraculously, those friends are there when you need them.
Later, you have to explain why he can’t have the toy on TV or the brand name sneakers, and walk through the supermarket saying “no” a lot. My kid learned early the value of a dollar and the reality of what we could afford. It’s not a bad life lesson. He saw me struggle to rebuild my credit too, and now at 29 he protects his own with a vengeance.
My kid had an extra burden because I was sick a great deal when he was young. He had to learn that when I said I couldn’t do something, it was because I didn’t feel well enough. I wish that hadn’t been the case, but the result was that he understood at a very young age to be sensitive to another’s needs. Today, he applies that knowledge every day as a social worker. Did I mention how damn proud I am of this boy?
When I look back on the period of time when we were just us two, before I married again and we blended into a new family unit, I realize how that experience forged a unique mother-son bond that I wouldn’t trade for anything.