"....... for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust" Psalm 103:14

Suddenly single parenting



I became a single parent, very unexpectedly, over 10 years ago. I say "unexpectedly" with absolute deliberateness, it was so completely out of left field and not something that I had ever considered might happen to me "one day" (one single day).

No sooner had my ex-husband driven out of the garage for the last time, than I was on my own with all that this entailed. The devastating ripples spread throughout the next few weeks and months.

My sons were 16 and 19, both still living at home.

The emotional and the practical
In Australia we have a system of child support that goes some way towards assisting single parents to meet the costs of maintaining family life. The system is inadequate and there are serious limitations that impact many people, both men and women.

My sons continued to live with me, and anyone who knows teenage boys knows that they are not cheap to house and feed. In my distress, fear and abject misery, I succumbed easily to intimidation tactics and didn't claim child support for almost a year, by which time I had plucked up both my courage and my indignation (and consulted a lawyer). My youngest son was, by that stage, only eligible for another 6 months of support. It was better than nothing.

I asked for extra hours at work, tightened our belts, kept to a strict budget, and managed not only to make ends meet but to save for a holiday too. At that point I was pretty sure that financially we would be okay for the time being.

It's all relative
Obviously it's the "singleness" of single parenting that is the hard slog. For single mums or dads with young children and no support, to have that endless, constant parenting, with no reprieve, must be exhausting. I have friends who are in this stage. Beautiful, strong men and women who struggle on a daily basis because they know how much their young sons need fathering, how much their daughters need their daddy, how much their children lack the influence of a mother in the home. They grapple daily with knowing they can no longer provide a model of a healthy marriage to their children.

They have little choice but to try to do everything by themselves, and the endlessness of it all can be soul-destroying, no matter how much they love their children.

As a single mum I never had to contend with many of the things that other single parents deal with. My sons never lived across two homes, there were no battles with my ex-husband over parenting issues such as discipline or bedtimes, never any "custody" issues. He simply absented himself from my life, and maintained his relationship with the boys completely separate from me.

But he did remove himself from our home and family life just when our boys were getting ready to launch. The rug was well and truly pulled out from underneath them at a rather crucial time in their lives.

It hurt.

Boundaries, respect and grief
For me, single mum to two teenage/young adult men, the issues we battled were boundaries, respect, and helping them to find healthy ways to deal with their grief and pain, even as I was struggling with my own. I made mistakes, big and small, and they have so graciously forgiven me and been amazingly tender in their handling of my heart.

They dealt with their own pain quite differently from each other, neither one better or worse than the other, just different. And it was really hard at times to know how to respond, especially when it played out as disrespect and pushing of boundaries. I know they were confused, lost and grieving.
My heart ached for them both, and there were many times that on the inside I was maniacally screaming at my ex-husband for leaving me to cope with these two gorgeous young men who were just trying to find their way in the world as increasingly-independent young adults.

Watching from a distance
My eldest son was working and independently mobile, so I had no idea how much time he spent with his dad, and I found that hard. At the time I wanted so much to know what their relationship was like. And not for positive reasons!! For a long time I resented that they even still had a relationship, I was so hurt and in my heart I wanted to punish my ex-husband. I almost never knew when my son was visiting with his dad, or whether his dad would visit him at work.

My youngest son was still at school, and was home more than his older brother. Often I knew when he was seeing his dad. My ex-husband would park outside our house and send a text message to my son. I would hear the car arriving and my heart would race. My son would appear from his bedroom, give me a hug and say "Dad's here, see you later". He knew how hard it was for me, and I know he was doing his best to keep it as low-key as possible for my sake. It must have torn him to pieces to be in that situation. In the early days it always took me a while to recover from the anxiety of those moments, and I think at that stage I didn't fully relax until I heard my son return from each visit.

When my eldest son turned 21, my ex-husband and his girlfriend-of-the-moment took him out for lunch. That was an incredibly hard day for me. I saw them from my bedroom window, my son went out and got into the car, and they drove away. It was gut-wrenching.

However, one decision I made very early on was that I never wanted to give my sons reason to resent me for using them to gather information about their dad. There were times when it was so incredibly difficult to keep my mouth shut and try to be content with not asking and not knowing, but I knew it was right and by the grace of God I never gave in to the temptation.

And now, years down the track, I am very, very glad.

Not meant to be this way
It can still be hard to think back on this time, the early months and years after my ex-husband left, because the pain was so intense and really, who would want to relive that? But at the same time, it's amazing to recognise the progress we've all made, by God's grace, since then.

I know that despite the mistakes, I did okay as a single mum. I have a good relationship with both my sons, and they are each learning to navigate their way in this troubled world. Single parenting is without doubt a really tough gig, no matter how old the children are. In a sense, even now that I've remarried and my sons do have a stepfather, in many ways I am still a single mum. I no longer parent my sons in partnership with their father (and yes, even as young adults they do still need parenting input), and I think I'll always feel that loss on their behalf as well as for myself.

It simply wasn't meant to be this way.

But forgiveness
Not that it's easy to forgive, and I've found it tempting to want to hold onto bitterness and resentment at times. After all, I never wanted to be a single parent!!

Forgiveness is also not a one-time thing, it's most definitely a process. I'm not sure how I'll know when I get to 100% - when I've fully forgiven my ex-husband for leaving me with no choice but to take on single parenting (and all the other griefs and losses). I may already be there - or, far more likely, I might not get there in this life - but time and circumstances will no doubt reveal more things to forgive.

We haven't yet got to the life stage where our sons are marrying, having babies, we haven't had to collaborate on a wedding or bump into each other at a grandchild's first birthday. All of that is yet to come.

I'm thankful that I read something early on in this journey that helped me to understand the benefits of forgiveness. It's about NOT letting my ex-husband "live rent-free in my head" (I loved that phrase, it really worked for me!!).

The release, the lifting of the burden, the unchaining of the heart that forgiveness brings, is actually for ME. Forgiveness means I AM FREE.

And so, as a single parent of two adult sons, I continue to pursue it.

18 comments

  1. I can't imagine how hard it must be to go through, to manage through and still parent responsibly. I can't imagine how hard it must have been for your sons as well. Your post is thoughtfully written and well balanced but you're absolutely right - forgivenesss is not a one time thing, it is, for want of a better word, a journey. Thanks for linking up this week #teamlovinlife

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looking back it's hard for me to grasp sometimes too Jo, that I did go through all that and came out the other end without making too big a mess of things!! I still wonder what the legacy is for my sons in many ways, and they may not even fully know themselves yet. I suspect becoming fathers down the track might bring up a thing or two for them, and I hope they'll be able to talk about it and process it in healthy ways.
      Thanks for your kind comment xx

      Delete
  2. I take my hat off to you Sue. It would have been very hard single parenting two teenage boys when you are in shock and grieving. Having recently helped my sister through a nasty divorce I am more aware of the difficulties in the process. She is lucky as she is reasonably financially secure and he makes his payments etc, but she still struggles emotionally to come to terms to the change in her life circumstances. #TeamLovinLife

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's certainly a huge life change Min. I'm glad for your sister that she's had your support. I really missed having family close by during that time. They were as supportive as they could possibly be from across the other side of the country, but there were many times it would have been so nice just to be able to stop in for a cuppa, a bit of encouragement, and a good cry!!!

      Delete
  3. "Forgiveness is also not a one-time thing"

    That is such a good reminder. I wonder why we assume it is!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Forgiveness is definitely an interesting process, that's for sure Vanessa. I find that just when I think I'm pretty much there, something will crop up that puts my theory to the test, and I realise there is more to be processed and more forgiveness to be given!! Thanks for reading and commenting xx

      Delete
  4. Gosh, that must have been tough. Really tough. I could feel the pain through your post. Thanks so much for sharing. Much love to you and your sons. xoxo #teamlovinlife

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a really tough time Leanne, but sometimes feels a bit surreal to think back on it now. I know it happened and it was really hard, but it almost seems like it was someone else's life!! Until I'm reminded that my children are still, and will always be, children of divorce, even if both their parents are now remarried. Thanks for your kindness xx

      Delete
  5. Forgiveness is a really tough gig Sue and I think you're doing an admirable job. I think it also helps that you have a lovely man to support you and to help affirm you. So many single parents are left alone for the rest of their lives, or experience unfulfilling encounters that fizzle out in the end - that would be another sorrow to bear.
    Marriage is hard work, but going it alone (especially when it's not your choice to do so) is a much harder road to walk.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely Leanne, suddenly parenting alone when you've done so as a team for the whole of your children's lives, is really hard. I am very grateful to have aforementioned lovely man who is a really good sounding board, encourager and reminder of God's truth and wisdom when the single parent moments come up, as they still do from time to time! Thanks for your kind comment as always xx

      Delete
  6. Wow. Thank you for sharing and this is my introduction to your blog as well. I have seen my grandchildren go through this but at much earlier ages and for me, mum to both of the "kids" who left their marriages, it was SO HARD to watch and not be able to do anything...other than continue to love them and to love their children. This has become "easier" for us as grandparents over the years but it is also better in so many ways to see "our kids" now in a better place emotionally. We have been married for over 47 years and are grateful for this in our case. Lovely to find you here! I have been blogging since 2011 and the Aussie blogging community is a good one! Denyse

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Denyse, it must have been heart-wrenching for you as grandparents, I can only imagine. I know my family often said they wished they were closer so that they could be of practical support but also just to "be there" for me and the boys at that time. They would often say over the phone "I'd just love to be able to give you a hug" (and that would have been soooo good for me too)!! But as you say, as parents and grandparents you can continue to provide that constant love and care for your children and grandchildren, even if you feel helpless to change the situation.
      I so admire you and your husband - 47 years is a wonderful achievement (and no mean feat, I'm sure). There's still time for us to get there, if we live to 100, lol.
      Thank you for visiting, and I'm glad to be a part of the Aussie blogging community too xx

      Delete
  7. Sue, thank you for this post and the goal of not having exes live rent free in your mind. I'm around 5 years in and living mostly in the light of freedom and took great comfort from your post.

    Be well.

    SSG xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey SSG, I'm glad that reading about my experience was helpful for you. I found it so important to know that what I was going through was not "new" (just new to me), and that I wasn't alone in it. The only way that could happen was because others shared their own experiences with me. So, be assured you are not alone!!! Bless you as you journey on towards forgiveness and freedom xx

      Delete
  8. This is an unimaginably hard road, and you have handled it with grace. Your boys are blessed to have you in their life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Michele, I definitely haven't always handled it with grace, but thank you for seeing that first!!! Might I add, I love your blog, but unfortunately for some reason WordPress won't allow me to comment on your posts without logging in to some account I no longer have.......!!! I hope to solve that one soon somehow xx

      Delete
  9. I have a few friends who are single parents and some with partners who are a bit involved to those who aren't at all. It must be so challenging. (As an aside, I'm gobsmacked at how young you took to have had kids in the mid-late teens ten years ago!) #teamlovinlife

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, if only looks weren't so deceptive Deborah!! My "baby" is turning 30 next month, and somehow that really makes me feel my age!
      I think it can be hard often to see the struggle of single parenting, because most of it happens in the home rather than publicly, and it can also be hard to admit the struggle, but that doesn't make it any less real. I often longed just to be able to share the load even a little - not so much the practical load, but the emotional load, especially with teenagers. I'm thankful I had some close friends (and my faraway family) who were wonderful sounding boards for me at that time, even though they couldn't necessarily be right there to ease the burden of the everyday grind.
      Thanks for visiting xx

      Delete

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this post. Please feel free to leave a comment!