Single parenting…Living in the moment

As a parent have you ever had sinking feelings? Is it only other single parents who can relate to this feeling? It’s that sinking feeling when your kids tell you something…and you know you are powerless to change things. 

I learnt a long time ago that one of the keys to successfully navigating the transition from parenting as a couple to parenting as a single parent is acceptance.

I’m a better person no longer living with the daily need to avoid walking on egg-shells, able to make my own financial choices and stick to budgets, able to parent in my own way, my own style, my own values and my own…hmmmm, on my own…better than what was, but still not the ideal. I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s the ideal. Yet, it is what it is and I accept that. It is.

Accepting that things are the way they are. Accepting that things have changed. Accepting time away from my own kids is now the new normal. Accepting that there will be other people, including potential (and actual) partners to whom I have no connection, influence or involvement.

I’ve been single parenting, most would say successfully, for over 9 years and I have a great relationship with my 13 & 15 yo sons. I’ve long said I’m a full-time dad with part-time involvement and responsibility. It became the only phrase and description that inadequately expressed my acceptance of the change in my relationship with my sons.

Truth is I’ve been doing it longer than I did the couple-parenting thing…this is an intentional phrase I’ve used for some time to avoid labelling, stigmatising, demarcating or alienating parents who may be other than married.

I can tell you now it hasn’t been easy, in fact at times it’s been bloody difficult, incredibly stressful and most always a stretch.  Life changed forever in much more profound ways than simply divorcing my ex and the mother of my children. But I wouldn’t change it.

This morning was one of those mornings that hit home, hit hard, and hit the heart. My 13yo was tired and sluggish getting set for school this morning. Others who parent teenage kids will understand. It’s the end of the year. There are hormones. They’re growing, and they’re sorting out identity issues. It’s a tough gig. It’s tiring.

It was in this moment my 13yo wanted a hug. I’m sitting eating breakfast and he comes sits on my knee and buries his head into my shoulder. Without thought I casually wrapped one arm around him. My other hand was typing an email on my phone.

My 15yo grunts out if they’re going to their mums tonight; it’s our normal changeover day so I respond yes and remind him to pack his basketball gear for the weekend (he forgets as we later discover in the car). Instantly my 13yo mumbles quietly “Dad, I miss you.”

What does one say at times like this? What have you said? Have you chosen not to speak because you don’t know what to say?

Here’s what I chose:

  • I instantly put my phone down…despite the unfinished email.
  • I wrapped my free other arm around him and squeezed firmly.
  • I intentionally slowed my breathing.
  • I listened to my heart, both the physical rhythmic beat and the feelings present in that moment – mine and my sons.
  • I sought to intentionally feel my heart beat against his as he rested against my body, in much the same way I did when they fitted the length of my forearm…heart to heart.
  • I whispered “I know son, and I miss you too.”
  • I didn’t let go until the moment had passed.
  • We sat still, silent, sharing heart to heart for no more than a few minutes.
  • “Thanks dad. Love you.”

I put the above routine into my parenting practise years ago. It’s one of the reasons I believe I have a great relationship with my sons – I’m mindful and attentive to living in the moment.

It’s all about intentionally putting aside the task and tuning in to the moment.

An hour later my heart remains unsettled, restless, grieving. It’s a feeling I’ve had too many times to count and wish I could forget. It’s one of the hard things about single parenting. There is forever a hole, a gaping, grieving unplug-gable hole. Experience tells me this feeling won’t last. I know feelings don’t last. I know feelings change. The hole remains though it’s intensity lessens, until the next moment. There’s always the next moment.

Only other single parents who deal with regular (whatever your schedule) changeovers and transitions can appreciate the deep, deep sense of loss and the “dirty grief” of being away from your kids. I can rationalise it. I understand it. I’m not depressed by it. I can’t change it. I accept it. I embrace it.

One of the promises I made to myself, and therefore to my sons, was that I’d always be there for them. Truth is as parents we make promises we can’t always keep. Learning to set our selves free from the false guilt for circumstances beyond our control is critical to finding acceptance of a new reality. Acceptance that leads to us truly being able to live in the moment and embrace all that life has to offer.

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