It is the first major holiday as a family of three. The winter holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and New Christmas occupy a special place in my heart. I love cooking and gifts and Christmas music and curling up under a blanket. I have approached this season with a heavy heart. Knowing that it was this time last year that my my ex began a journey that would lead to him walking out of our lives, has made me rethink every moment of last year’s holiday season. So, as today is the day we pause and reflect on what we are Thankful for, my thankfulness is often through the fog of tears.
Oddly, I am thankful that the decision to divorce was not left up to me. I am now able to see with clarity that I probably would have never left my marriage, no matter how insignificant I became. And due to the circumstance of how it all went down, the custody battle was non-existent, for which I am grateful.
I am thankful that despite everything, the boys and I were able to keep things somewhat normal. We stayed in our home and they have the same schools and sports teams. We kept our dogs, and even one of the cats made a strange journey back to us.
I am so very blessed that God knew what my heart needed and basically dropped a group of friends and an amazing church community into my lap when I needed it the most. I remember crying out in prayer that there was no way I could stay here because I felt so alone and disconnected from my community. It was like God stepped in and met one of my greatest needs
Lastly, I am thankful for the gift of my sons. The journey to learn how to parent them alone has been hard. We are in the middle of a challenging season with the combination of teen boy hormones, grief, and trauma. There are days I don’t think I can or want to parent them. But, guess what, at the end of the day, we are still a family and as hard as it is, they are everything to me and I am grateful for the gift of being their mom.
So, yes, being thankful is hard this year. My grief and joy are strange bedfellows. I am trying to keep my expectations low knowing that we are all very raw this year. But, Bolt, Messi, and I are showing up every day to live, to laugh, to fight, and to love.
I am not a crier. Sure, I will get teary during a moving part in a movie or book, but as for crying about my feelings, it just doesn’t happen much. I am much more likely to lash out in anger over my grief than to cry. However, over the past few months the tears find me during unexpected moments…driving home from the grocery store, seeing that empty seat at church, or trying to open a jar that refuses to budge. Interestingly, I feel like writing has helped me release my anger, but has also left me feeling raw as I lay out my story for my friends (and the world) to read. One unexpected result of this new vulnerability is the effect it has had on my parenting.
I think it would be fascinating to ask the boys to describe me as a parent, but I don’t know that they would be able to describe my parenting personality. Prior to becoming a single parent, I think they would think of me as the facilitator. I am the rule follower and like to have everything done before we have fun and have a tough time relaxing until things are done. I like the dishes done when I get home from work and the house clean before we watch a movie. I also like to be prepared for serious conversations. The past few months have been chaos as I struggle to juggle logistics through grief. Through this process a new mom has emerged.
The boys have seen me cry, and not just silent tears, but my body wracked with sobs, more in the past 5 months than in the prior 8 years combined. It isn’t like I do it on purpose, but sometimes I am just completely overwhelmed and they are sometimes present when that happens. In the past two months or so, I have begun talking with them about it. Sometimes I will come home from work and say, “it has been a really rough day and I need to just go into my room for a little bit”. One night, in particular, something was triggered, and I began crying as I was making dinner. As soon as I finished cooking, I told the boys I needed to go process alone. I came back about 30 minutes later to find them having eaten, and now cooperating to put away dinner and clean up the kitchen.
I have been talking to both boys a lot about giving each other grace. The frequent conversation is something like “we are all grieving in different ways and we need to give each other the grace to have a bad day”. It has been amazing to see them respond to that…. sometimes Bolt will stop picking on Messi or they will clean up without being asked or stop arguing with each other.
Being vulnerable with my sons hasn’t really involved me laying out the specifics of what is on my heart and mind, but rather acknowledging that something is going on that is larger than what they may understand. Sometimes I say, “oh, I got some sad news today” or “I had a phone call that upset me” and that is enough to make them pause. Earlier this week, as I prepared to meet with my new therapist for the first time, I kind of laid out the plans for the night and said that I would be unavailable for an hour and when they pressed me on it, I explained I was seeing a therapist. They asked me why and I didn’t spill the details, but did say “the news about your dad and the baby have upset me and I need to talk to someone about it”. I have been careful to try not to bash their dad in front of them, while still acknowledging that his actions sometimes upset me.
I feel like it is through me being willing to show my emotions and talk about how they are affecting me, that both my sons have responded in a way where they are more willing to talk to me and ask me tough questions. Remember, I do have two middle school boys, so having more serious conversations does somewhat reflect their developmental stage. However, I don’t think they would be as willing to engage in these conversations with me if I was not exhibiting my own vulnerability.
I think there is the tendency as parents to try and be the strong, stable ones for children. There is value in making our kids feel secure and safe. However, I think there needs to be a balance. My kids need to see me working through my own issues and asking the tough questions, so that they understand that this is a normal part of the human experience. They need to see that mom does not have it all figured out, but is striving to keep growing. So, I guess for me, this season is teaching me the value of living authentically and vulnerably, not just for myself, but for my sons.