It was six months ago this evening that my ex walked out of the door of our home for the last time. It was six months ago that I embarked on the oft lonely journey of single parenthood. At the time, I frequently said that I figured the first six months would be the hardest…and now how I wish that were true. Maybe things will surprise me, but if the past few weeks is any indication, it will likely get harder before it gets easier. I foolishly compared this situation to other times of transition such as the move across the country or adopting the boys. However, I now realize that I spent three months running on adrenaline, and it wasn’t until the boys settled back into school that I began to understand the routine of single parenthood.
Being a single parent means I am the first one up in the morning and the last one up at night. I am responsible for making sure my sons are up and ready for their first glimpses of morning and that the doors are locked, and the lights turned out, ushering them into sleep. It is sometimes a wonder and a privilege to have such great responsibility for the two young men asleep in their bed. When there are two parents present, it is easy to pass the buck, so to speak. Now it is just me. That isn’t to say that I take full responsibility for the men they become, but rather, I take full responsibility for what I teach them over the next few years.
So, how are my sons doing? There are days, I feel like I have a good understanding, but the reality is that this transition is complicated by the own transition their bodies are experiencing. I have two middle school boys, in the throngs of puberty, and it is hard to tell where the trauma of the past few months ends, and the puberty begins. Probably, a lot of the challenges of the past few months are a combination of both.
Bolt has been a challenge to me from day one. When he was finally diagnosed with autism, four years ago, it did provide some clarity to some of the issues that were so challenging, but it didn’t provide any solutions. With autism, routine and structure are something that makes Bolt feel safe. His own trauma has also made him extremely in need to have control over things in times of transition. I feel like the past few months, he has latched onto one thing after another that he can control. His latest fixation is hand hygiene for anyone preparing his food (which is me), so therefore he stalks me through the kitchen to snap at me the second he perceives that I have gone too long between hand washings (which means like every two minutes). It helps to remind myself of the why behind the what, but let me just say that at six in the morning, I don’t want to be yelled at because he didn’t hear the water running.
Messi is in such an odd place and I am really struggling to figure out what is just typical teen angst and what is his own trauma. He started middle school this fall and loves it. I am getting the usual glowing reports from his teachers and peers. At home is another story. He is downright rude and condescending to me more often than not. He is very inpatient and critical of most things I do. However, the second he wants something, he turns on the charm. It actually reminds me a lot of the interactions I have had with my ex over the past year or two, so some of me wonders if he is just mimicking him. At school and sports he is social, but at home he is withdrawn. I routinely find him under his bed listening to music, with a dog curled at his side. He won’t talk about what has transpired over the past few months and he says everything is wonderful between him and his dad, but…
So, those are some of the areas that are hard and I don’t have a magic wand to make it all better. At the same time, there is some real freedom in being a single parent. The decisions that are made are mine alone. I also feel like because I have been forced to take on the role of only present parent, I have also had to learn to be both “good cop” and “bad cop”. I can be the fun one and spontaneous. Just tonight, I agreed to let the boys go see the new “Thor” by themselves (gave me an opportunity to study). I try and surprise them with pizza some nights or some special treat from the grocery store. I also feel like I really know my sons better. I know what will make them angry or frustrated, but I also know ways to make them smile. Often when two parents are around, each parent takes on a different role to their children.
So, while initially, I thought the first six months would be the hardest, I now think it will probably be the first year, at minimum. We are sitting on the ledge of the holiday season, after all. We have not done Thanksgiving without dad. I haven’t been without my sons at Christmas. We have a vacation planned for February…one that was originally planned as a family of four. The next six months will be full of more milestones as we begin to rebuild our lives as a family of three. For now, all I can do is take it one milestone, and one day at a time.