This is not to say I am a sympathizer of dead beat parents or that I excuse and condone their behavior in any way, shape or form.
But I can certainly relate.
My life changed the moment I gave birth to my two beautiful children. Everything I wanted for myself, evolved into what I wanted for them. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t sacrifice to offer them the best opportunities I could possibly provide.
When my kids were little their dad and I lived paycheck to paycheck. There were many occasions the money didn’t last the two weeks in between. When my son was 18 months old, I took him shopping with me to Ross, because I needed to buy some bras and I couldn’t afford Victoria Secret. I couldn’t even afford Ross items at full price.
I found two somewhat suitable options off of the clearance rack and as I carried them to the check stand, Austin and I wandered by the toy aisle. “Mama Mama!” he exclaimed as he pulled a large box off of the shelf. The box was thin, but wide and long. It contained approximately 20 matchbox cars, and Austin had never seen anything like it. He couldn’t talk, but he pointed to each of the cars with excitement. He and I sat in the aisle for several minutes looking at the cars, until I put the box back onto the shelf. I knew full well it was not within my budget.
We walked away from the toys and continued making our way up to the counter. I had taken my eyes off of Austin for a few moments, and when I turned around he was wobbling up to me dragging that large container of matchbox cars behind him.
I put my bras back on the rack and bought him the cars. To this day, my boobs and I have no regrets. He played with those cars for hours on end, many days until falling asleep on the floor. Those cars were a favorite toy for years to come.
When I divorced their dad, the kids and I lived in Redmond and their dad lived in Renton. Logistically this meant I did most the shuttling to and from the bus stop, school activities and doctors’ appointments. Some days I was so tired when stopped at a red light, I would ask Austin and Ryanne to tell me when the light turned green. I needed to rest my eyes even for the briefest of moments.
Today, the kids and I laugh about this, because it is still a habit for them to tell me “Mom, the light’s green!”
From the moment they were born I was there for every dirty diaper, sleepless night, stomach flu clean up, parent teacher conference, baseball game, piano recital, temper tantrum, school pick up, home run, swim lesson, talent show solo and first day of school. I worked full time and did my best as a single mother to balance it all. None of this was a sacrifice. It was where I wanted to be…every single part of it.
When my 14 year old daughter told me she wanted to move out of my home and move in with her dad, my heart broke into a million pieces. Every rational part of me knew this was not a rejection of me. A fourteen year old child is not rejecting their parent, they are choosing something for themselves. Many days I applauded and respected her ability to advocate for her own needs. I recognized with admiration it was a statement of her strength.
But every emotional and vulnerable part of me felt like this was biggest rejection I had ever suffered. Maybe if I had been a better mother she never would have wanted to leave? After everything I have done…why??
For over a year, I cried every time I dropped her back off at her dads. Every time I said goodbye the wound would rip back open and invite an immense amount of hurt, pain and rejection.
I feel the sting every time a stranger or a new acquaintance asks me where my daughter goes to school. There’s an awkward exchange as I explain she doesn’t live with me. I can see the questions and judgement pass through their eyes, asking the same kind of question I asked myself for months. What kind of mother are you?
The hardest part of not being the primary parent for my daughter, is feeling like I am parenting from the back seat. I feel like I'm not a part of the big decisions in her life. I’m only an observer.
I do my best to involve myself and spend as much time with her as I can. Many miles and hours are spent in my car driving back and forth between Renton, Redmond and Seattle. My weekends and days with her are sacred. But it never feels like enough.
The pain of inadequacy. The pain of dropping off and picking up. The pain of parenting from the sidelines. I imagine there are dead beat parents everywhere who feel this pain, and for many of them they succumb. In order to not feel, they ignore what is a reminder of their hurt.
I would be lying if I said it has never been a temptation to hide under the covers and not face what makes me feel.
I’m not a great mom because I suffer through the pain for the sake of my daughter. I’m not a great mom because I traded a bra and saggy boobs for a set of matchbox cars. I’m no different than many moms and dads out there who make the choices, big and little, every darn day to put their kiddos first.
It’s not always easy. It’s not without suffering. It’s not without sacrifice.
But I believe one day it will be worth it.
I’m certain….it will always be without regret.