I watched my old friend Doug eat another bite of his hamburger. He sure was intense. "Barbara, we are at opposite ends of the spectrum. You have your kids all the time and I see mine every other weekend and one day during the week. I envy you."
"Isn't life weird, Doug?" I responded. "I envy you sometimes! The fantasy of having a whole weekend to myself sounds so heavenly. To have time for me and the freedom to do what I want when I want ? " Doug rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, try it as a way of life. I feel so detatched from the daily lives of my two kids. I don't have the opportunity to participate in their daily activities, especially school."
As he spoke, I began to see things from his perspective. What would it be like to wake up every weekday morning alone? No children's voices ricocheting down the hallway?"Hey, Noel, get out of the bathroom. I need to do my hair!" Or Nikolas yelling from the kitchen, "Mom, there's no bread for sandwiches! What am I going to eat for lunch?" And what about the magic of the bedtime rituals? "Mom, pleeeaasse just one more story! And don't forget the butterfly kisses, OK?" Wow. There I sat in the restaurant with Doug, and I just lost it!
Through my tears, I asked Doug to help me understand his side of the situation. "My kids burst in the door," he began. "We can't wait to see each other. But there's an awkwardness that's hard to describe. We all need to adjust to being together. The kids have to re-orient themselves to my home: Dad's rules vs. Mom's rules, Dad's food vs. Mom's food, Dad's style of fun vs. Mom's style of fun.
"I've learned over the past several years not to expect too much from them when they arrive. At least, not until our routine, Dad's way of doing things, kicks in. When the kids were younger, I basically followed their lead about how they wanted to spend the weekend. For them, it meant having dinner and doing family activities. Now they like to have their friends around. It's been hard for me to let go of some of my expectations for our weekends. I guess I'm possessive of my time with them."
Doug went on to talk about the holidays and how painfully difficult they were for him. He said, "I know other non-custodial parents who have it worse that me. My ex-wife and I decided to share Christmas the same way every year. I have the children on Christmas Eve with my family, and she has them on Christmas Day with her family. Other parents I know split their entire holiday every other year, leaving one parent without the children. Unless you plan creatively when the kids are gone, it can be very lonely."
Doug became very quiet and looked out the restaurant window. "What's wrong?" I asked.
"Barbara," he said, "the hardest part is knowing that my ex-wife's spiritual values are so different from mine. I'm learning I cannot control what happens at her house. I can talk with the kids about my values and what I believe, but they still get a different message from their mother and I can't do much about it."
Listening to Doug, I couldn't help but think that even though he and I have struggles that are very different, the journey of parenting alone is in many ways the same. We single parents can help each other through our difficulties by talking openly about our own pain and readily listening to the concerns of others. We need each other and shouldn't be afraid to lean on one another. My lunch with Doug showed me that sometimes just talking with someone who's been in my shoes can remind me that I'm not alone. There is hope and healing in the fellowship of other parents.
Each single parent has his or her unique situation, his or her own battles and frustrations. But each of us, no matter what our circumstances, deeply need God's grace to live one day at a time.
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