Raising three children as a single parent has many challenges, successes and adventures. These challenges, successes and adventures also change year after year. Depending on the ages of the children and the circumstances we found ourselves in. Facing some of the hardest issues head on I was able to successfully navigate my little ones into adulthood.
One cold, sunny, winter afternoon I was driving my kids to rent some movies. My youngest daughter wanted something about animals, my older daughter wanted a princess movie and my son was hoping for a Scooby Doo movie he hadn’t already seen more than three times. There was the usual he touched me and she won’t scoot over whining going on and then suddenly the car went silent. Some how I had missed the THREE protesters standing on the corner of the Planned Parenthood building. Some how I was distracted for just a few seconds and missed the AWFUL posters my children, all under the age of 11, were now staring at. One of them asked a question of what are they doing, why are they holding posters with dead babies on them, why mom, why? I asked them not to look and then explained abortion to their young minds and hearts. My heart was broken for their lost innocence. Thank you Planned Parenthood Protesters for helping me teach my children about the ugliness that is in this world, and yes that includes the posters you were so kind to share with them.
Flash forward a couple of years and to another drive. This time it was on the way to school after a rushed morning of finding shoes, fixing wiggly socks and finding our other missing book. The kids pilled into the car and off we went. The previous day they had spent some time with their father. I don’t ask a lot of questions when they come home, really just did you have fun and are you hungry. So I never really know what they were doing during those visits. I now know where they stopped because one of them asked me about a building we drive by every day. A building that is in a commercial/industrial part of town. A small building with covered windows, nondescript door and only one sign perpendicular to the roof that says XXX. Apparently their top notch father stopped here the day before. He just needed to run a movie in, and they all waited in the car for a few minutes. More innocence robbed from my children thanks to a thoughtless adult.
Apologies on the other hand are something they have been learning about their whole lives. They have also learned the art of how to accept an apology versus just forgiving someone because it is the right thing to do. Just because you accept an apology does not mean you forgive the person that did you wrong. It also means if you hurt someone else and need to offer an apology that your apology may or many not be what helps. Don’t apologize because I said so instead apologize because you feel it is the right thing to do to make the current situation better. Don’t apologize because someone else has a different view point than you. Instead remind them that it is ok to be different.
Raising my children to adulthood has been my biggest challenge and the biggest reward as well. I look forward each day to see how they manage and succeed in adulthood and use the skills they learned growing up.
Imagine being a hyper active three year old child running around, talking a mile a minute, playing with your older siblings, loving on your stuffies every chance you get and in general being a happy go lucky little person. Then you start preschool and so ends your carefree life. Apparently your family hates you so much they send you off to spend the day with people you don’t know and quite frankly don’t want to know. Your world becomes dark and cold with very little light shinning on your face. There is no where for you to turn for help and no where for you to escape.
Fast forward to Kindergarten and we start year 3 of NO talking in school. This year we have a fool proof plan. We hand picked your teacher, your older sister had her first, you know her so we think that you will be ok. Yet you still won’t talk. We take your security blanket to school and give it to your teacher, when you talk you get to bring your blanket home. Still nothing after two weeks and for you that is a LONG time without your blanket. Next we take Ord, your rat. Your teacher is not happy about this. She doesn’t like his tail. We promise to come in and take care of him so she doesn’t have to. Still nothing little girl, you are holding out. I have no idea why you need to have such control over your voice. Why are you so unwilling to talk to anyone that you haven’t had a three year relationship with? At this point we are at two and a half years of no words coming out of your mouth in a school setting. The next call from the teacher was asking me what she should do, you need to go to the bathroom yet you still won’t ask. I am tired and at my wits end. It is so hard to be a single mom raising three kids all with three different sets of needs, wants and desires. I failed in this moment and I am sorry for that. My response was simple if she doesn’t ask then she doesn’t leave the room. You came home in different clothes that day. Now the teacher and I are both distraught. As luck would have it one final person stepped into our equation. The school psychologist came in to observe you in class one day and within five minutes said give her back her things and talk to her doctor about Selective Mutism.
The diagnosis was simple. We went to your doctor who then referred us to the psychologist. The psychologist also did an observation that we were unaware of. After ten minutes of observation he took us back to his office and asked some questions. He determined that you did indeed have Selective Mutism and provided us with some treatment options. Then he told us he would forward all his notes to our regular doctor and we would work with her on the continuing treatment. Together we have learned so much over the past twelve years since your diagnosis. I wish we would have had answers when you were three instead of five. Perhaps had we known what we were dealing with your life would have been less scary.
Selective mutism is characterized by a consistent failure to speak in specific social situations in which there is an expectation for speaking. Children with selective mutism have the ability to both speak and understand language, but fail to use this ability as a result of what we would consider to be social anxiety in adults. Most children with selective mutism function normally in other areas of their lives.
Is it better to spend more time, quantity, with your children or is it better to spend better time, quality, with them? How many parents ask themselves this question? How many professionals have answered this question? Does it matter? Do the kids even care? I would say yes both matter and the kids do care.
My son told me awhile back this story of how when ever he has something important to share or something he is excited or unsure about he calls his best friend. That when he is fighting with his best friend it is very hard for him to fully accept what is happening to him if he is unable to share with his best friend. It turns out I am his best friend. I was touched and honored to make this status with my oldest child. Growing up he and I had a lot of struggles finding a balance that worked for our communication styles and his medical issues. My son suffers from ADHD, Oppositional Behavior Disorder and recently diagnosed with PTSD. He also had some scary anger issues growing up as well and became violent on a few occasions. I believe that I achieved this honored status by both quantity and quality time spent with him and his younger sisters.
I was never one of those lucky parents who had access to unlimited childcare. My family watched my children whenever I needed to work and occasionally so I could go out but never for silly things like shopping or house cleaning. Those times I had to take my little ones along with me. We spent a lot of quantity time together when they were very young. Running here, doing that, driving them across town to my parents so I could go to work and then back again at the end of the day. During those times my children learned a lot of things. How to push my buttons was a great one and then they learned when mom says no don’t ask again.
We also did spend quality time together. My children had a very extensive collection of board games and movies. We would spend my time away from work doing nights of dinner and a movie where they would pick what we ate and what we watched. For holidays especially we had many years of no TV and had to spend our time doing other things like playing games and hanging out together. Some of my favorite quality times are when they allowed me to read to them. For years I read to them every night before they went to bed and if they didn’t fall asleep while I was reading I would lay with them and talk about their days, their hopes and dreams and occasionally tell them stories.
Finding your own balance between quantity and quality is the key. Today it seems I get very little of either considering my children are moving fast into adulthood or are already there. My favorite compliment when the kids were growing up was from another single mom who told me she admired how much time I spent with my children because it seemed like we were always together and almost always laughing and have fun.
The path of a parent often reflects on the child. Where you work, how you interact within the community and your personal image all reflect back to your child. You might be the super cool parent that everyone wants to hang out with or you might be the parent that everyone avoids. Either way that reflects on your child.
When you make the choice to be a parent you should consider your power over your child’s world. At first you will make all the decisions and help mold your child’s mind, values and morals. Then when you are not looking, BAM, their friends and other peers take over. Did you make a good impact on their mind? Did you show them a path worth living?
What if you live for yourself? What if you use your child as a pawn in your game of lies and deceit? What if you run from the privilege of raising your child to raise another’s child? What happens when you discover your past actions directly impact your child’s decisions about their future? How do you feel when you face the reality that you are the reason your child struggled through school and in society because of your negative reputation?
Your son started talking about a name change when he was 16. He was tired of the questions and stories he heard when anyone discovered you where his dad. I discussed his options and persuaded him to wait and he waited, until he was 18. The age of adulthood and yet you still blame me. Silly man child, I raised your son to think for himself and make his own decisions. When the judge asked your son he told him the truth, you have given the last name a bad reputation and he didn’t want to be held back by obstacles he did not create. Yes he took my maiden name but not because I asked him to as I kept yours for my own reasons. Your daughters decided against going through the name change process, they both plan to marry someday.
The one small glimpse of sunshine while it is pouring rain. A tuft of green grass poking out beneath the snow covered ground. A chance for more to come. Hope. During my darkest hours I try to hold on to hope, at least the hope that this shall pass and I can move on. My hope today is that I can have even less contact with the person who helped create my children. I hope that my children overcome the dysfunction that their parents have shown them. I hope that my children make better choices than I did at their ages. I hope that time will soften the harsh memories for all of us.
My son called me tonight. That in itself is not unusual, we talk…… a lot. We live in the same city but do not see each other daily, some times not even weekly. He is a young married man and I work full time and still have my youngest daughter I am helping guide through life and my older daughter is a college student living at home as well. We are all busy. Tonight my son and his spouse had a conversation about their childhoods. My son realized how different they grew up. They are from different financial and family backgrounds.
He called to tell me he didn’t realize the sacrifices I made for him and his sisters until tonight. He made a list of the things I “gave” up for them. The list in his eyes was a long one. He made references to me eating “less then” quality food so they could have the “good” stuff and others about how “much” I worked when they were younger.
I was silent for most of this phone call. I didn’t know how to respond to what he said. I have never felt like I sacrificed for my children. Not the way my son feels I did. I made the choice, sort of, to have children. I didn’t choose to do it alone but that is what happened. I believe in supporting my children and helping guide them through the world. Yes it is true they did not have the name brand clothes or all of the newest toys but they did have love and family. My memories are full of the four of us doing stuff together. Playing board games, watching movies, cooking and eating together. Didn’t matter what we did as long as we were together. We made lots of free day adventure trips to the public library and to the park to feed the ducks.
I tried to explain to him I didn’t feel like I sacrificed. What I feel is I made the choice to be present in their lives and give them the best of what I had to give them and fortunately for them time is FREE. I also told him that all these “sacrifices” I made also provided me with feelings of gladness because I provided something for my children. They are my greatest joy, forever and always. It has been my privilege to be part of their lives, especially during those “difficult” teenage years. Considering my kids are great communicators we really did not have a lot of the teenage problems that some families deal with. I think it helped that I was one of those AWFUL teenagers and I knew what to watch for. It also helped that my children are very close in age and very close emotionally to each other. That translates to “Don’t make me mad or I am telling!”.
My son sounded sad throughout the whole phone call. Nothing I said seemed to convince him that I had no regrets. Well not many regrets. I do feel had I not tried more than once to make it work with their father their lives would have been filled with more love and less dysfunction. If given the chance I would do it all over again, for my three amazingly awesome children. The ones that will make an impact in every life they come in contact with.
I wonder how many times my kids have asked themselves that same question. How many times have they questioned who they are because of some outside force in their life. Have I helped them develop enough skills to be comfortable with who they are? Have I allowed them to fail and lose at enough things that they know it is ok. Do they have the ability to keep their mouth shut and think before they react?
Who I am….. well I am the mother of three awesome young adults. I am passionate about these three humans that I helped create and raised mostly alone. I am a fighter for equality in all things. I am strong, loud, dependable, honest, fair, I have opinions, I have a voice, I like to be heard and I am a listener. I am not very good at waiting and being patient. I struggle with keeping my mouth shut and thinking before I react. I have made too many bad decisions to count and I probably haven’t learned enough from them. I try to keep life in perspective.
Who do I want to be?
I have my days where I wish time would stand still. I would like my young adults to be my smaller children again. To have one last chance to do things right. I made so many mistakes raising their precious souls. I have a few regrets as well. The truth is I am almost 98% sure I wouldn’t change a thing if I was given the chance for a do over. We are who we are because of what we have faced. I want to be the person they look up to. I want to be kind, thoughtful and dependable. I want them to remember me as their personal champion. I want to learn how to be the parent of young adults that are moving away from their momma and going out into the world on their own. I need to rediscover myself. I am not always sure who I am or who I will become.