It’s been the best of times. It’s been the worst of times.
Sometimes, there’s just not enough of you to go around. The kids (whatever their ages) want your attention. Your partner (whatever your status), likewise.
And there are conflicts. Painful, joyful, conundrum-inducing collisions in wants and needs and priorities.
You remind yourself there is only one of you. You sigh heavily (again) that there are only 24 hours in a day. You concede that the migraines come from stress, that the body needs some amount of sleep, and that you can’t possibly please everyone all the time, much less take care of yourself.
But the conflicts between partnering and parenting are pulling you apart.
Sometimes life trots out a surprise when you least expect, and for me, that surprise is a good man, a good relationship, and good timing – at last. This very Nice Guy dropped in on my life at the tail end of a decade of solo parenting. Had we met even six months earlier, I doubt he would have stuck around.
I couldn’t have participated in building the relationship we share. I wouldn’t have had the focus or energy.
Finding Time for Relationships
Dating after divorce is time-consuming and challenging. Developing a relationship? Even more so.
As to bringing a partner into your family sphere? A new person means a changing dynamic. And nothing about the process is a given.
My kids were teenagers, but suddenly they weren’t the only “men” around the house, or at the table, or in my heart.
Kids Take Everything, and Then Some
If we left it to them, kids would drain us of every ounce of mental and physical energy we have. I believe we allow this. I believe it is partly our current cultural propensity in which the pendulum has swung too far toward some theoretical “perfect parenting” – which is neither possible nor advisable.
I also believe that children put incredible strain on marriage. But that discussion is for another day.
And for the single or solo parent?
There’s guilt, guilt, guilt. Guilt that we weren’t able to save the marriage. Guilt that we aren’t spending enough quality time. Guilt that we haven’t the money to allow them to do what their friends are doing, or simply order a large pizza for dinner because it isn’t in the budget. It’s single parent guilt that drives us to be more permissive. And solo parent exhaustion, that grinds us down.
Habitual Parenting Worries
My sons are a treasure, an enigma, and an ongoing source of concern. (Just like your kids?)
I worry about them less actively when they’re at college, perhaps because I know there’s nothing I can do to help them through their days, except hope they exercise good (learned) judgment.
I also recall my own college years. I was more than capable of taking care of myself.
Kids – Do I Know You?
Naturally, as my boys grow into men, they’re more independent and more private. I know less and less about them, and what’s happening in their lives. I ask a few questions, and take what I can get by way of answers.
But sometimes they actually want to talk, and it isn’t always at a convenient moment. I’m due to be somewhere else. I’m writing. I’m working. I’m about to leave and meet my man.
And I’m conflicted.
Some delightful dinners in the past weeks have created new memories, sparked old ones, and spotlighted significant regrets. So many years were spent trying to keep the household afloat, there was less “me” to spend on chatty meals or other assembled family time. I was too worn, too stressed, too busy working, or all of the above.
Ironically, a man around the house seems to encourage more social activity for us as a foursome. Yet it also creates exactly the increased pressures and expectations that I’m feeling now, and addressing here.
Everyone Wants a Piece of Me (And Not)
Cue these recent weeks, and another weekend in which the Good Man wanted to see me, and all I wanted – to be alone.
Reading or sleeping. Nursing my headache. Writing a little.
I took the same “just say no” approach with him as I did with the kids, trying to restore a little calm and control by setting limits. Rather than spending an entire weekend together, we enjoyed one evening and the following day – and it was lovely.
When I needed to write, he was still chatting and I felt torn, and guilty. When I insisted on a pocket of quiet and didn’t get it, I blew a fuse, and felt guiltier. When I was talking with him, I sensed more pull for my attention from one of my sons. This isn’t the first time and it’s all quite subtle, but the result is that I’m frazzled, frustrated, and feel like a failure at tending to anyone’s needs, much less my own.
Older, Wiser, And So?
Lately I feel my patience, my perspective, and my ability to see anything clearly being tested.
Last evening, after a nice dinner with my nice man, I sent him home and settled into my room – desperate for absolute quiet. I was crawling into bed with a book when my younger son popped in and said “Hey Mom, how about we order a pizza and watch a movie?”
I was stunned. And torn.
And got out of bed.
Dinner and a Movie
I grabbed an organic pesto and cheese from the freezer (in budget and healthier), popped it in the oven, and 20 minutes later my son was propped on my bed, remote in hand, munching on pizza from a tray, and zapping. He found a film on cable. We watched together until after midnight.
It was relaxing and comforting. But why last night? Why that moment?
Self-Flagellation with a Side of Bread and Water
Was my son bored? Was he feeling neglected? Did he sense something in me that desired a connection with him – and one which I enjoyed, despite being tired? Or was it a whim, a spontaneous gesture, and I should leave it at that?
This morning I have some much needed “alone time” and lists of tasks that have been interrupted at every turn since mid-December. Critical tasks. Try as I might, I’m struggling with the stamina and emotional fortitude to give my sons what they need when they’re here (now rare) and simultaneously, give a good man what he needs.
Conflicts and Conclusions
I’m doing a wretched job of it. Of being “enough” for my sons in the small window of time we have together, and in seeing and hearing who they are becoming. I’m distracted. I’m off my game. I’m conflicted.
Soon, both boys will head back (and forward) into their respective new worlds. But I’m no less saddened by what I consider a mediocre maternal performance, and the sense of missed opportunities not only these past few weeks, but in recent years.
And yet, I don’t know what I could have done differently.