Parenting in Absentia

As I write this, my teenagers are on vacation with my ex-husband, which means that I have seven child-free days. Some people would say that makes me lucky, but I disagree. My daughter has come down with an awful virus. She sounds terrible, she feels terrible, and she is in another state, twelve hours away.

This is one of the tragedies of divorce: sometimes your kids need you, and you’re not there. Sometimes your kids need you and not only is it “not your night” but you can’t get to them. When my ex-husband and I first split, our children were little, and I worried a lot about them when they weren’t with me. What if they awaken terrified after a nightmare or they get bullied at school and come home crying, and I’m not there to comfort them? What if my daughter has an asthma attack or my son breaks a bone, and no one can reach me?

Divorce forces a premature parental loss of control. Suddenly, a significant portion of the time your children are sleeping somewhere else, eating somewhere else, and someone else is taking them to school, birthday parties, and doctor visits. You’re afraid of what you’re missing, and whether or not they will be traumatized by it. You can’t control what the other parent does, the way they treat your children, what they feed your children or how they speak to your children, and you’re not there to correct this behavior if there is a problem.

I miss my children when we are separated, and I know that they miss me, too – this broke my heart after my divorce, and it still does. The hardest part of the divorce was not the end of my marriage; it was the end of my spending every day with my children. It is painful to think about all the days, the memories, and the milestones that I’ve missed. The vacations they’ve gone on without me, the firsts that I wasn’t there for, the sporting and school events that I could not attend because I’m a single mother and I had to work. It hurt then, and it hurts now, and even though the kids are older and less fragile than they used to be, I still want to be there for the best and worst moments of their lives.

Since I am not in control of this situation, I try to focus on the positive and make the best of what I can control. I have free time – something many moms would give anything for – so I try to use it wisely, which is why I started writing again a few years ago. Now when my kids are with their dad, I write, I revise, promote my work, and manage my social media. But I also cry, worry, and wonder how they are doing; I ask myself if they are as okay as they say they are, or if they’re trying to be brave for me.

This week after work, I will go home and write. I will try to keep busy and be productive. But eventually, after working all day at my full-time job and then working a few hours at home, I will need a break. I will call my kids and listen carefully to what is unsaid, and then I will hang up and say a prayer that they are really alright. This is the conclusion that I have come to: control was always an illusion. I’ve just learned this sooner than most parents because I’m divorced. I can do my best to love, protect, and comfort my kids, but even if I’m the world’s most fantastic mother, I am not omnipotent. I can’t always protect them, heal them, or make them happy. So, every day, I pray that God will watch over them when I can’t, and surround them with people who will treat them the way that I want them to be treated. I ask Him to heal their pain, and then I ask Him to heal me, too, because it is unnatural to be separated from one’s children prematurely, and it hurts.

But in the real world, you couldn’t really just split a family down the middle, mom on one side, dad the other, with the child equally divided between. It was like when you ripped a piece of paper into two: no matter how you tried, the seams never fit exactly right again. It was what you couldn't see, those tiniest of pieces, that were lost in the severing, and their absence kept everything from being complete. – Sarah Dessen,  What Happened to Goodbye

But in the real world, you couldn’t really just split a family down the middle, mom on one side, dad the other, with the child equally divided between. It was like when you ripped a piece of paper into two: no matter how you tried, the seams never fit exactly right again. It was what you couldn't see, those tiniest of pieces, that were lost in the severing, and their absence kept everything from being complete. – Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

Amanda RoweComment