Being a mother was the most challenging and difficult job I ever had. When I first held my son and saw his little face I was unprepared for the powerful rush of emotion that swept over me. Profound love and fierce protectiveness unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I could actually feel my heart come out of my body and, ever since, as far as he is concerned, it has remained out there; vulnerable and unprotected. He has always been the only one who could so easily fill my heart with joy – and just as easily fill it with pain. I think this is something he figured out when he was very young.
When my son was 4 his father and I were divorced. I just read an article that said recent studies have shown that children adjust much better to divorce when custody is split evenly between parents – commonly known as joint custody. When children split their time evenly between each parent’s home they get a more healthy balance of “Mom time” and “Dad time”. If divorce is unavoidable then that is the ideal arrangement but, unfortunately, most couples are either unable or unwilling to work that out. For one thing, the parents have to live close enough to each other that they are both able to get the children to school or daycare and their extracurricular activities. They have to want to share the job of parenting equally so, if they weren’t doing that when they were married they’re certainly not going to do it when they’re divorced.
My son’s father was a long distance truck driver so shared custody was not even a possibility. I knew instinctively that a child could adjust to divorce more easily if, 1) regardless of the visitation arrangement, the non-custodial parent was a consistent, dependable presence in the child’s life and 2) the parents were civil and cooperative with each other. As long as a child feels loved and secure, they can handle a lot; if they feel abandoned and unimportant, that’s when the trouble starts. My son’s father decided to move from Rhode Island back to northeastern New Jersey, where we had both grown up and where our families still lived and, as a result, his visits became infrequent and unreliable. Try explaining that to a four-year old! I decided that I would also move back to New Jersey so that my son would be closer to his father and our families. I relocated to a town at the Jersey shore where my son’s only aunt and cousins and my best friend lived, about 75 miles from his father and both sets of grandparents. I thought it would be good for both of us to be closer to family. A few months after I moved, my ex-husband was offered a job back in Rhode Island so off he went!
For many years I held a lot of resentment toward my ex-husband for all the times he broke promises to his son, the infrequent visits and the poor job of keeping in touch between visits. It was heartbreaking to watch a little boy trying to deal with disappointment over and over. I’m sure this feeling of abandonment was the contributing factor to all the anger and bad behavior that came later, which, of course, was usually directed at me.
My son’s teen years were very difficult for me – he probably remembers all the good times he had but, to me, it was a lot of reckless and self-destructive behavior. I struggled to keep the lines of communication open between us. Our relationship continued to be rocky throughout his twenties and I was in a constant state of worry. Too many times I “rescued” him from the results of his bad behavior and bad decisions instead of letting him suffer the consequences and learn from his mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes of my own but, in the end, I know I did the best I could and always loved him. I think that’s all a mother can do. Here’s part of the verse from the Mother’s Day card I just received:
I know it wasn’t always easy
keeping me to the straight and true.
But knowing you were there for me – hoping, guiding, praying –
well, sometimes that was all I needed to make it through.
It’s so nice to get a card like that because I know he really feels that way. I’m happy to say that, after all the ups and downs, joy and pain, my son has grown up to be a man I can not only love but, also like and respect. He is kind, generous, loyal to his friends, well-read and intelligent, and successful in his career. He has a great sense of humor and a strong work ethic. I did my best to give him a good foundation and I can now see the fruit of seeds I planted long ago but, I can also see all the characteristics that are unique to him. I hope he will be a father someday – it would be wonderful to see him wearing his heart on his sleeve!
Making the decision to have a child – its momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone
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