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Answering the supremely awkward questions

Categories: Missing Parent, Tentative Steps

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It was quiet in the Safeway as the sun dipped down in the parking lot outside.  I blew a wisp of hair out of my eyes and unloaded some green and red peppers on to the conveyer belt as my son played with a packet of Transformer stickers and my boyfriend (which man - is there no good alternative to this word?  I am in my thirties and saying the word boyfriend makes me feel like I am 14) was loading bags into the grocery cart.  We were making quesadillas for dinner: veggies, wraps, salsa and benign items lined up in a row.

There was a blip as the cashier scanned a white onion and then a loud, startlingly clear voice asked:

“Mommy.  Why are you and my Daddy not friends?”

I froze, vegetable in mid air in my hand, and looked at my clear-eyed son.

“What?” I was numb, and I glanced sidelong at the cashier, looking for help.

“My Daddy,” he said impatiently, obviously wanting to know,”Why are you not friends with my Daddy?”


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Why do single moms have to ask permission?

Categories: Best Practices, Missing Parent

37 Comments

My phone vibrates on my desk, and a picture of my son on a mossy tree stump lights up the display.  It’s my ex, my son’s Father, calling.

“Hello?” I say warily, bringing the receiver to my ear.  My friends all tell me they know immediately when Nolan’s father calls, they say a wary tiredness overtakes my voice.  I’m working on that. “Hi!” I try again.

“I’m going away next weekend,”he informs me,”Friday, back Sunday night.”

“Oh,”I say,”Well, OK.”

But it’s not like he was asking my permission.  He was informing me: he’s going away for the weekend so I’d better swap out any plans I may have had: I’ll now have our son for the weekend.


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Co-parenting when ideologies clash

Categories: Missing Parent

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I’m stuck in bumper-to-bumper bridge traffic late on Sunday afternoon, my windshield wipers feebly half-parting the sluicing waves of rain over my Jeep when my Blackberry vibrates.

“I know!” I answer immediately, seeing his number on the call display “I’m late, we’re headed over there now.  I got lost trying to find your rugby game today and Nolan’s cranky…”

“I’m not cranky!” bellowed an indignant, trembly voice from the backseat. He had blueberry yogurt dribbled on his chin and clutched a crusty Spiderman action figure.

“He’s not cranky,”I sighed,”We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

“OK, “said my ex,”Tell him I rented him the new Batman movie.”

“The new Batman movie?” I blinked, glanced at our son in the rearview mirror,”Not the Dark Knight?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“He can’t watch that movie!” I hate that my voice just moved up four octaves, and I take a deep breath,”Man, wait.  Have you seen that movie?  It’s rated R and I had nightmares about blue-mouthed evil clowns for weeks after watching that and he’s 3.”

“He’s gotta grow up sometime.”

I have the feeling he’s pressing my buttons and I fight the urge to press them right back.

“He’ll have nightmares, R, please.”

“I’m not going out again.  If you want him to watch a different movie, stop and get one yourself.”

I hang up the phone, glance in the mirror and my son is looking intently at the back of my head. We go to the video store and pick up a copy of Finding Nemo.

***

I don’t think any parents of a child make the decision to split up with lightness.  For my ex and I, there were a multitude of reasons.  There were the “standard” things: money, unresolvable fighting, a diminishing lack of respect for the views of one another.  One of the things that came up time and again was guns: I am staunchly anti-violence and anti-gun and my ex is very much at the opposite end of the spectrum.  If I had my way, our son would never play with toy guns, would never watch a violent movie - would not be exposed to the reality that human beings kill each other, fairly regularly - until much, much later in life.

If my son’s Father and I still lived in the same household, this would be easier to assure but as it is, of course, we’re leading completely separate lives.  Our one shared life thread is our son, but we have heavily differing views on what is right and appropriate for a 3 year old.  So - right now, there’s an uneasy balance: I guide Nolan according to my principles at my house, and his Father does the same thing at his house.

It’s far from ideal.  I wonder about the future implications of the mixed message for our son, and wonder what I can do to help come to some kind of happy medium.

Among the things I’ve pondered:

  • Writing a list, asking my ex to abide to the top 5 things that are very important to me (no violent movies, teeth brushing every night, no sugary food right before bed, etc.)  I would then encourage him to write a list too, and promise to abide by what he considers important (assuming they are not in direct disagreement with my list.)
  • Asking him to attend a co-parenting class.  We’ve done this before, as a mandatory part of our Separation Agreement process, but it might make sense to do it together.  I’m not sure he’d be interested, though.
  • Giving up any illusions of control whatsoever and realizing: he’ll do what he does, I’ll do what I do, and hopefully our son will turn out OK despite of us.

dating, waiting, and hesitating

Categories: Hoping for Love, Missing Parent, Tentative Steps

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I think, much like labor and childbirth, one has to experience the blindsiding pain of kid-addled divorce (or permanent separation from a life partner) to fully fathom the pain.

I’d been through plenty of breakups before separating from my son’s father, and though each one of those hurt at the time, the sting was nothing compared to the devastating pain I felt to lose the Father of my baby: the one man I thought I would spend my entire life with, that we would spend our entire lives with.


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What makes a family?

Categories: Missing Parent, Tentative Steps

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My son and I arrive back at our home as early dusk settles into the trees: the wind is whirling through winter-thinned trees and white lights spackle through the leaves of the yards of our neighbors. I’ve been here only a year and a half, but I’m already converted to the enviro-conscious lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest: I carry a re-usable bag filled with ripe tomatoes-on-the-vine, fresh garlic, yellow onions, and whole pepper: tonight I’m making roasted tomato soup.  I’m wearing yoga pants and a faux-fur lined hoodie, a warm cap pulled low over my hair.  My son is three: suddenly he can undo his own seatbelt, open the car door and leap out joyfully, terrifyingly.

“Unky!” he yells, sprinting in the direction of my 29-year-old brother, who is draping lights across a rhododendron bush in the house we have bought together: a joint venture born of being in places we Never Expected We’d Be, at this time in our lives.

“Hey bud!” says my brother, stopping to embrace my blond whirlwind in a hug,”Hey, I’m putting lights up in the tree.  You wanna help?”

My three-year-old son stands back and stares, feeding mini-lights to my younger brother, his hands encased in wooly gloves and a baseball hat pulled low over his eyes. He suddenly looks like he’s 10.

His Dad lives here now, but this weekend he’s back visiting friends in the City where we used to live.  In the meantime,  my son is surrounded in so much love, he doesn’t notice.  He’s got my Mom, his Nanny, his playmate and perpetual cheerleader.  He’s got my Dad, who’s lost all his Gruff and Intimidation exclusively for his only grandchild.  My son is also best pals with my brother, who is the consummate cool Dude and exactly the kind of Unky every little boy wants: a snowboarding, dirt-biking, warm-hearted, role model.  And - if Nolan had his way, he’s steal my brother’s girlfriend out from under his nose: he loves hanging out with Alex and her long blonde hair and green-blue eyes, her sisterly hand and her always accommodating vibe.

***

I stood outside my car, clutching my bag of produce and French bread, watching my brother and my son interact.

I spent so many months aching over the loss of Nolan’s father in our lives.  I realize: it wasn’t him, so much, it was the thought of “Family” that I mourned.  A mom, a dad, a child, in one house.

But those ingredients don’t make a family.  It’s love, and devotion, and sacrifice, and blood - and a lot of compassion.

My family is different from what I envisioned, but it’s every bit as good.  With white likes twinkling and People Who Love Him abounding at every turn, I am confident that my little boy is lacking nothing, this Christmas.  This Christmas, there is no guilt.  This piecemeal, loving family, is every bit the real thing.

Single Moms are just as competent - sometimes more so?

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype, Missing Parent

9 Comments

The release of a University of Maryland study last week prompted the arrival of several emails into my inbox, from other bloggers and friends who thought I might be interested. And indeed I was.

The study focused on the amount and quality of time that American Mothers are spending with their kids. And surprisingly to the researchers (but not to me) - the data concluded that Single Moms spend almost exactly the same amount of time with their children as married Moms. Despite the steriotype of the frazzled Single Mom balancing a low-paying job, slightly deprived TV-zombied children, and Kraft dinner meals in a dilapidated house — the evidence shows that single Moms devote about 90% of time with their children that married Moms do. Single Moms are doing a stellar job of balancing work, life, and kids without a mate to help.


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Holidays without the kids

Categories: Missing Parent, Tentative Steps

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This year will mark my second Festive Season as a Single Mom. And I’d kind of rather wade into a teeming cesspool of leaches with cement blocks on my feet than hang out without my three-year-old sidekick on Thanksgiving and Christmas — but it looks like that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.


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Custody battling

Categories: Best Practices, Missing Parent

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My friend emailed me late one night this week, an update email about his kids, his work, and what was stewing in his head. He’s a fairly newly divorced dad, with a 7 year old son and a 3 year old daughter. His ex-wife and the kids live about six hours away by car.

It’s a situation he was amenable to at first: she was offered a great career opportunity in her old home town; her family was there and he could have the kids on weekends and for stretches of time over the holidays.

“But I miss the kids so much,” he wrote,”I want her to move back here, or at least halfway. And I want to ask for joint custody.” I could almost feel the pause in his missive: a friendship between a single Mom and a single Dad is rife with opportunity for misunderstanding merely on the general perspective of the sexes.

“What would you do,”he wrote,”If your ex asked for joint custody of your son?”

I drew in a breath and wrote back right away.


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Raised by a single mom

Categories: Best Practices, Missing Parent

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While seated solo at the bar at a busy restaurant at LAX last week, picking at a cold quesadilla and organizing folders on my laptop, I met a young business man.

“Where are you headed?” he asked when I lifted my laptop bag to make room for him next to me, the only empty stool in the room.

“Going home,”I said, stretching my arms and feeling my shoulder prick with the aftermath of terrifying GPS-led navigation on LA’s infamous freeways,”Just here for the day for meetings.”


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Divorce with kids: better now or later?

Categories: Best Practices, Missing Parent

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When I was contemplating the ramifications of separation from the Father of my son, I sought wisdom from my two best girlfriends. One of them, Shelly*, is a child of a nasty divorce. Her Mother left her Father when she was not quite three, and moved her and her older sister across the country to be closer to her own immediate family. She rarely saw her Father growing up.

“Do you resent your Mom?” I asked, stomach sinking,”For moving away from your Dad, I mean.”


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