You haven't lived until you've been told by each of your children how much they hate you in a single 24-hour period. I have had that soul-crushing experience and lived to tell the tale. I'm also proud to report that I never once thought of running away with the circus. Well, alright, maybe once.
That day of infamy happened just after the separation from my husband of 17 years. Our four children were confused, but not surprised, having survived far too many heated battles, and even some physical confrontations. They were angry. Because I had sole custody, I was the easy target. This is something that single parents should understand. The parent who has the most responsibility and contact is the one that they naturally tend to blame and despise.
Children become angry, frustrated and are consumed with doubt about their own place in the, now divided, family. They question your love for one another when they were brought into the world. They blame you for breaking up the status quo. Even if it was miserable, it was at least intact.
By the time the last one came to me and expressed her undying hatred, I could only laugh at the absurdity of it all. I gave the same calm and appropriate response that I had to the other three when they shared their contempt for me, "I will always love you no matter how much you think you hate me," but walked away a little more bruised and world-weary.
I loved my children and, fortunately, had studied enough basic psychology to understand that they were just lashing out at the situation and not so much me and my parenting.
That night, after prayers and lights out, each one crept into my room and tearfully apologized for their outburst. This might not have happened had I reacted in a more combative manner. What kept me clinging to the last bare threads of patience?
My love was unconditional
Before they were even conceived, I knew that I wanted them, and that would never change despite the fact I no longer lived with their father. The two have nothing to do with each another and I knew that. My job was to help them understand that.
I journaled and catalogued the joyful moments
I had a journal to remember those moments when I was closest to them. Reading those precious memories when love was lean helped me to remember that they did and do still love me.
We were all mourning
Just as I was suffering the loss of a spouse, they were mourning the radical change of family. Even though this choice was the right one, it hurt. As painful as it was for me, it was more so for my children. They had not been involved in the decision-making process, and the whole demise was much newer for them. What's more, I understood why I had to leave and take them. They did not have all the particulars, nor should they. There were details that didn't need to be shared.
Joy may be eternal, but happiness sometimes comes in small doses and not as often as we might like.Life is tough. There isn't a nice way to say it. Sometimes it just stinks. We have to search and cling to the moments that make it worth living. It is work to make those moments happen when you are the only one stressing about work, bills, and other responsibilities. Find time to set those worries aside and make some magic. Surprise them with a picnic dinner on the living room floor. Throw a party for breakfast with balloons and ice cream. Pack them in the car and go somewhere they've never been or even imagined going. Wake them with a smile and a song and a red rubber nose.
Make a little one-on-one time for each of them
Plan a few activities that aren't in a group. Spend a few moments with each one of them to let them know you care about them individually. Offer to answer questions they may have. Answer them honestly without degrading your ex-spouse, who happens to be their parent.
We love our children and want what's best for them. As a single parent, we have to do twice the quick-thinking, and have twice the patience because we often can't just pass the baton. This challenge is compounded by the fact that we are facing a life without someone to hold us at night and tell us everything is going to be fine. With the love we have for these little human beings we have to fake the joy and make the magic moments that they need to see them through. In return, you will occasionally receive that unconditional love back from them, and when you do, write it in a journal. Drink it in like a camel for the next dry spell. Cherish it and remember it the next time you're counting to 10.