Jack is 10, for as long as he can remember his Dad and I have lived separately. He was just over 2 years old when we entered the wonderful world of parenting plans, visitation schedules and child support agreements. We’ve had patches of great co-parenting, where I’ve felt really lucky we were able to put our son first and our differences aside. I would plan birthday parties and his Dad would attend, Jack would get to have both of his parents on his special day, and that was important to me. We’ve attended school functions & sporting events together (actually sitting together), sometimes we would grab dinner before or after, a short time where Jack didn’t have to miss anyone. We even managed to share some holidays together. My goal is to always work FOR Jack and not against his Dad but life happens. Sharing the biggest part of your heart is no easy task.
So, the not so sunny side to co-parenting, we’ve also had our rough patches, very rough, some of which I didn’t think I would ever be able to move past, let alone forgive. I won’t get into details, choices are made in life and sometimes our children end up paying for their parents’ “choices”. Some of these choices led Jack’s Dad in a different direction than us, a direction eight hours away. This kind of change would rock any boat, but for us it was completely unexpected and offered no notice. Within a week we went from an every other weekend schedule to his Dad living eight hours away. Jack had no idea when he would see his Dad again. I cannot imagine what that kind of uncertainty must have felt like for an eight year old. My son had already experienced a tremendous loss five months prior, (see previous blogs for back story) and I was so angry, just devastated that he had more heartache in front of him.
In an effort to make a very long story short, I’ll just say it was a tough year. Jack’s Dad was gone for one year almost exactly. Jack missed his Dad! He missed every other weekends, he missed the routine they had established together, he missed his Dad just being around. Jack would remind me when it was supposed to be his Dad’s weekend. The first couple of months were brutal, filled with stories of things he and his Dad used to do or where they used to go. Of course I would offer to do those things with him and to take him to those places but some were simply reserved for his Dad. Some days I could only say “I know you miss your Dad” or “I’m sorry he’s not here”. I couldn’t fix this for him. I filled the gaps where I could, but I am not his Dad, and I couldn’t pretend that I could fill that role. I had to learn, I grew to understand that I could not be both, I could do the work of two, I could be the best parent I knew how to be, but I could not be both. His Dad was absent, there was a void, and I couldn’t ignore that void or fill it with distractions.
I will admit, on our worst days, I broke all the rules just to make him smile. I distracted him with ice cream before dinner, sure you can stay up 30 minutes later, I spoiled him with extra “stuff”, some nights we would order a pizza and eat it right out of the box (this was a big deal). “No plates?” One day I even let him say a “bad” word. Questionable parenting call, I know. I remember the look on his face when I told him he could say a bad word, he couldn’t decide if this was a trick, if I had lost my mind or if I was the coolest mom ever. I think that’s a memory he’ll hold onto and I don’t regret it. Luckily, even his “bad word” was fairly tame. I remember thinking to myself “don’t say the f word, don’t say the f word.” He did not say the f word.
I think it’s human nature to unintentionally diminish people’s feelings or belittle the severity of their situation because we simply want them to be happy. I didn’t want to do that to Jack because he deserved to feel the way he felt. The strongest thing I did during that year was let him feel. In order to do that, I had to acknowledge that his life wasn’t perfect, and I couldn’t make it so. Letting him acknowledge he missed his Dad, that something was missing, didn’t take anything away from me. I was still his Mom, his life wasn’t perfect but it was good and we were going to get through this, through anything, together.
While we were getting through this year, Jack and I made a rule, we were allowed to have sad moments, mad moments but we still had to find good in everyday. We would have “bad moments”, not bad days, that was our deal. I had to make it okay for Jack to miss his Dad. Jack is protective, an extremely intuitive kid! I know there were times he felt he needed to be on “my side”. I really had to give him permission to miss his Dad. He didn’t want to hurt my feelings or make me feel like I wasn’t enough by expressing to me how much he missed his Dad. I had to make it okay for him to miss someone he knew I was angry with. My son loves unconditionally, he is so forgiving and he taught me a lot that year.
Fast forward to where we are now. Jack’s Dad has been back for almost six months and I think we’re getting back on track. I’ll admit I am someone who tends to hold onto things, I have a hard time forgiving people or “letting go” when someone has hurt me, or worse, hurt someone I love. Forgiving Jack’s Dad after that year is a strength I didn’t know I possessed. A strength I learned from watching Jack. While I am cautiously optimistic, I am optimistic. I do for Jack what I often times cannot do for myself. For Jack, I found the strength to “let go” of the past, I am working towards the future and towards forgiveness.
Jackson has handled life with so much grace. I hope when I grow up, I can be a little more like him.