My kids saved me from the worst of divorce – over and over again.
If your children need food and clothes and a roof, you find a way to make money. If they need you at their side while they go through tough times, you brew another pot of coffee and sit up through the night, listening. If you’re in pain, whatever the reason, you set it aside when a child steps off the schoolbus.
You find a way to be your better self.
Your child needs you to be there, really there, and not lost somewhere in your own head.
My kids saved me from disappointment, from despair, from a diminished view of who I was and what I might have become. They were the reason I couldn’t give up when I felt like I had no reason to get out of bed.
When the years dragged on and skirmishes continued with my ex, I had to find my “better angels” to be a decent mother, to work around the ongoing obstacles, to convey to my kids that joy still exists and then to demonstrate that I, too, was capable of feeling it.
When jobs that might require travel simply weren’t in the cards, I could look into their faces and know they were the most important job of all, and somehow, we would figure things out.
When my self-esteem would plummet – often brought on by extended periods of loneliness – I could sit with my boys and feel loved. At least as important, I knew I was needed, truly needed. I couldn’t give in to depression, to weakness, to discouragement – to whatever was bringing me down. They were counting on me to bring them up.
From the outside looking in, it may have seemed I was giving to them. But they were giving so much more to me.
I was revisiting a conversation that I had with my firstborn son. I had requested his input and his voice in what was an illuminating writing exercise. The goal was to capture his words, his viewpoint, and his impressions of me as a mother – off the top of his head.
And I admit, I had trepidations when I considered asking.
I wondered: How much of the bad stuff does he remember? Would he be willing to talk about it? Has he hidden it away, or hasn’t enough time passed since it was part of his present?
As it turns out, my fears concerning his thoughts were unfounded, at least relative to that discussion. He sees me clearly for my strengths and my flaws, and his recollections are of scrabble, coffee, French bread and chocolate.
He was still so young during many of those years – 10, 11, and even moving into adolescence – and incredibly mature. His staunch and steadfast willingness to be part of the “family team” was so brave, how could I possibly give up hope for very long? How could I allow the fatigue and fighting to keep me down?
His little brother was a more challenging story. He wouldn’t talk about what was bothering him, though he drew out his depression, he painted out his pain, he provided pictures to guide me in guiding him in the ways he needed.
We weren’t so much starting over as we were painting over – dealing with layers of family life as it was before, layers of family life as it was evolving. And if that meant an unintentional blob of acrylic here and a scratch in the canvas there, we were learning to deal. He was teaching me how to deal because he and his brother were the priority.
It’s the time of year when we celebrate mothers. I find myself immeasurably grateful as I look back.
Job loss was simultaneous with the end of my marriage, and finding work during a high-conflict divorce is not a given, even in a thriving economy. The career setbacks after divorce can be significant. Along with the loss of income is the deterioration of self-esteem as a provider. There was also loss of family and home shortly thereafter. The grief and disorientation, at times, felt overwhelming.
Yet my sons remained my true North. Their emotional and physical well-being were my first priority. They gave me the strength and the purpose I needed to keep going – to stay healthy, to look forward, to grow strong.
That joy I mentioned?
Sometimes it comes in a red balloon taped to the ceiling.
Sometimes it comes in a cake baked for no reason.
As I gaze at photographs of the three of us, I realize the road we have travelled – together. How many times did they save me with their good humor, their open hearts, their need for me to be a responsible parent?
I couldn’t give up on them, not for anything, not ever.
And that meant I couldn’t give up on myself.
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