My 14 year old daughter, Morgan, and I got into a huge argument a few nights ago. She accused me of being an endless nag. I accused her of being a self-entitled, spoiled, ungrateful child. And it just went downhill from there. Until she started sobbing, “Mom, I just want a dad. I miss my dad so much. It hurts.” And it was that gut-wrenching sob that no mom ever likes to hear.
My heart shattered into a million tiny pieces. Does anything hurt a divorced mom more than those words? I’m not sure anything quickly comes to mind. I started crying. I talked her into sleeping with me that night and she did. We stayed up way too late talking, and this was good.
“You have no idea how badly I wish things were different, honey. I wish I could change it but I can’t. I wish I had made a better choice when picking men. I am so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault. I just miss him,” she said.
I know. I see it in her eyes. It’s been really intense lately, those memories of Daddy. While she saw the horrific fights and felt the effects of living in in an alcoholic home, Daddy was the fun one. He expected nothing of substance from any of the children, like doing homework and chores around the house. He was always about fun, going fishing and to Sea World, staying up late, and throwing family parties.
Morgan has many framed photos next to her bed of those bygone times and she has started reminiscing about them more recently. She laughs about them and gets “that look” in her eyes. She has had no contact with Daddy in well over a year. The last time she saw him, she said she cried for two solid days. Saying goodbye was so painful that she was afraid to see him again. But I know this fear is ebbing and she is ready. She wants to talk, to see, to reconnect. And when that happens? Will he answer her calls? Will he be open to re-establishing any kind of relationship? And either way, how will that impact her? I am sick about it all.
Recently I found Morgan a therapist, Sarah, and I know they talk about her dad often. It worries me, because I see a profound sense of sadness and wistfulness that is new. And with her teen years in full gear, I worry about how it is all really impacting her.
“I’m sorry Daddy failed you,” I said as we were lying in bed. “I’m sorry he picked alcohol over family and children. I’m sorry you’re in pain.” What could I say? We both cried and she eventually fell asleep. I stayed up later, worrying. I looked at my sleeping child, so innocent. I just wanted to hug her and protect her, to make all those sad feelings go away. I wondered how will my ex’s choices impact Morgan for the rest of her life? Will she seek unhealthy relationships with men, looking to replace what she lost? Will she fear men? Have abandonment issues? Have a hard time connecting and loving? Or loving too quickly?
Many months ago, I got a text from my ex’s sister. It was so heartless and bitchy. “You just need to move on. Maybe you’ll heal faster.” What the fuck was that supposed to mean? That I should stop writing about my experiences and maybe my cancer would heal faster? Seriously, there were no words.
But as I thought about that text more, the answer to the sister is this: No, I will not “move on” while my children are in deep emotional pain over the actions of her brother. Two children are not simply “moving on.” They aren’t just “healing” and forgetting. They will live with the affects and trauma of alcoholism for the rest of their lives. And while my children are in pain, I don’t get to “move on” so I suppose my cancer will just have to play its course out and will hopefully heal anyway. No, we victims move forward in the best way we can. Simply walking away and pretending none of it happened isn’t an option we moms get when our children are suffering. And, to be honest, I don’t want to “move on” when my children can’t. What would that say about me? While my children are in pain, so am I. While my children struggle and try to make sense of it all, so do I. While they cry, I cry with them. Actually, while they eventually sleep, I cry long after.
So how to help my daughter come to terms with her pain and disappointment. Can my love and support be enough? Is counseling enough? Is anything enough?
And so I simply pray and hope. And love my children as intensely and purely as I know how.