Friday, November 6, 2009

In response...

My friend (may I call you my friend, William?) William writes a blog called Will for Words. I most recall him from the fifth grade, when he used to wear very high waisted pants and horizontal striped shirts and had really neat hair, perfectly feathered every day. I do not think he liked me very much then but I forgive him his gross lack of judgment.. I was kind of a mess that year.

William recently wrote a reactionary blog about relationships and parenting and other things that made me want to call him up and start talking and explaining and sighing. Instead.. I wrote down all the things his blog made me think and with his permission I am reprinting his post along with my interjections, here.

Over the last few days the posts, real and virtual, of various friends has left me thinking. From many different backgrounds and widely varying circumstances we come, but one thread connects us all. We all are divorced. We all have children we happily devote our lives to. And to a person, not one of us has found the new relationship that we have sought and expected since taking our first new steps out into the world, newly single.

I’m not pessimistic by nature, but after almost as many years divorced as I was married, my perspective has evolved somewhat. My own experience has showed me that either the person I’m with may have trouble understanding their role (or lack thereof) in my children’s lives, or I may not be willing to give enough of myself to them. See, to give yourself to another person, another adult, at least in my mind, means you have to hold something in reserve from your children. They can’t have everything you have to give if you’re giving it to someone else. I’m not referring to some kind of codependent relationship between parents and children, either. All of the people I know—myself included—have healthy, well-developed personalities and independent aspects to the self, separate from their role and self-image as parents and caregivers to their children (don’t try the Dr. Phil junk here, I’ve got a degree in this—literally).

I disagree with the idea that to give yourself to another person is too with hold something from your children. Sadly, I am coming to realize I may be in the minority here.. and everywhere. I left my husband in 2000. Nearly 10 years ago. While our divorce took 6 years to be finalized I have been single for nearly 10 years. I dated here and there but I did not dip my toe into the pool of commitment because I thought, like William and many others do, that to do so was to take something away from my children.

In the past year I have come to realize that I was wrong and, in fact, was not only wrong but my romantic avoidance was more harmful to my children then beneficial. I did not give my children ‘my all’ because I was not the best person I could have been. I was lonely, I lacked support, I had no one to turn to at the end of the day and say “You will never guess what happened today”. I probably, by default, leaned on my children to be that person far too often. Anyone who has met my oldest son can see that he is a mature responsible young man and while that is a great thing.. sometimes I wonder if he has missed out. By focusing too much on them.. did I rob them of their chance to see a healthy relationship? Did I steal away a more carefree childhood? What family dynamic will they have as Fathers when they have no examples to draw from. From the men who have been in their lives and mine they have known divorce, deceit and disappointment. Is this really what is best?

For the record.. I do believe kids need a father figure and I am aware my children mostly lack one and that too has to play a part in my romantic life. Everyone is potentially their role model.

Sometimes it’s not you, though. Sometimes it’s them. In that case I find friends with partners (and I use that term loosely, in some cases) who are unwilling or unable to act in an adult manner becoming of a parent. It’s not always their fault. Being a parent is no easy task, and many people (most?) are ill-equipped for it. If you happen to be in a relationship with a partner who has children, you even lack the benefit of having been there from the beginning. It’s a hard road to walk. Of course, some of you just make crappy choices in partners and it is their fault. But let’s not cast aspersions.

With this I do agree. Have you ever been told what a great parent you are? You smile and blush but inside you feel like a fraud. You know you shouted at your kids over breakfast and you secretly wished for a moment that you were not there, not a parent, not responsible for the dishes, the homework, the bills. Parents have such a hard time being less then perfect but.. does perfect parenting really benefit our children? Are we setting up impossible examples? Why is it wrong to want to get the hell out of dodge now and then? Why is it so wrong to want adult companionship and to want to share your life and your children with a partner? Why can’t we just forgive ourselves for our choices? Why do we punish ourselves and then say it's good for our children? Since when are unhappy, sad parents good for anyone?

As a parent dating is a whole new ball game. It is no longer enough for a guy to be cute and charming. I need to know facts. I need to know if he has a good job, if he is reliable, if he is short tempered, if he likes Saturday morning soccer games and is he patient. Because I have kids that I need to think of. Parents do not get to date for fun like you do before kids.

I think.. I think it is best to be friends with as many people as you can and hope that somewhere among all of your wonderful friends who you already like.. someone clicks. I think I’d like to take the dating equation out of the picture actually. Lets all just.. go about friending and then see if one day someone gives you goose bumps when they walk into a room and you have one of those little moments of.. “oh! Look at the potato masher! I think my hand will fit just right around it’s handle!”

What does all this boil down to? Well, apart from my rambling and inability to structure a clear thought here, it leaves me with the question “is it possible?” Is it possible to start again? Really? I want to believe it is, I really do. I think deep down I do believe it. But I can’t believe it is as easy or as natural or—let’s be honest—as likely as conventional wisdom would have us believe. The Brady Bunch gave everyone of my generation some thoroughly silly ideas about marrying families, and the only time it becomes really clear just how silly that was, is when you look at how twisted all the cast members were and are.

It is possible. People do it all the time but we have to be ready to admit how hard it is and will be. We have to be prepared for the anger, hurt and jealously of our ex’s and our children and.. most damaging, ourselves. You have to be willing to work for it. On the same token we must be more careful, we must consider the repercussions of our actions before we make decisions that will hurt someone and in these situations someone will always get hurt. You have to be ready to be there to hold them and love anthem and work though the hurt together.

I still believe in the fantasy of starting over (at least in my personal relationships) with someone new, reaping the benefit of my knowledge, perspective and experience gleaned from years of work, triumph and failure. At least I want to. But more and more I find myself asking questions about what else I will have to give up, what more sacrifice will be needed to keep the ship afloat and on course. Is there really another chance on the horizon? Or has that opportunity passed me by? Has it passed us all by? I don’t envision a life of solitude and melancholy, and I’m not preparing myself to start a new career as a hermit (right now). I am, however, questioning the dream I have been sold about how second chances will largely resemble first chances but with fewer painful lessons to learn this time around.

We all have those fears. For me personally I was afraid that I would be unable to share myself with another adult after 9 years of carefully not sharing. Even the thimble full of relationships I did have I kept at arms length. While none of what I have written here is directly about my most recent failed attempt at romantic happiness .. I must admit I am glad it happened. I am really glad I went though that (and happily surprised to find myself using a past tense already!) because now I know.. I can share. Now I know that I didn’t lose the ability to care deeply for another adult and still love my children. Now I know that my emotional happiness only added to their lives and took nothing, at all, away from them. Now.. I know.

With any luck, time and fate will prove my fears largely unfounded, and we’ll all find ourselves standing around a lavishly appointed kitchen in expensive clothing, a perfect ethnically diverse group reflecting the precise demographics of the nation, sipping wine and trading bon mots as we cook dinner for our trendy adults-night-in, drowning in our own witty reparté, just like a wine commercial. But at the moment I’m having a little trouble seeing how we’re all supposed to get there.

In my version there is a board game of questionable age and stacks of dusty books and my own clothing, at least, is charmingly second hand but sweet and there will be at least one good natured political argument which will be quickly remedied by another glass of wine and the offering of a well frosted cupcake.


William said...

I don't usually play the cynic, and it's not a role I'm completely comfortable in, a fact that shows through, I think. But on the whole, I think you're dead-on with where I was going (where was I going?) with that. It would be great to hear from more single parents on this. We're a pioneering generation. The Latch-Key generation grown up and parenting on our own.

Also, what was with my pants, anyway? I promise I don't do that anymore. And yes, I was mean in 5th grade, but that was actually because in 4th grade you said you hated me, which happened to be the same time I decided I had a crush on you, soooo, yeah. Cranky kid with stripes.

Reducing in HM said...

Aww William. I want to kiss your 10 year old cheek and apologize for being a snotty little bitch. And I was, I know. You were always so smart that I hated you for it because you were way to smart and cool to hang out with me. ;O)

William said...

No worries — I tended to overreact to stuff when I was a kid. Particularly to girls, who were, by nature, somewhat scary. Pretty girls? So much the worse, hence why you got the maximum defensive reaction ;)

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