The most painful thing about divorce is the sense of belonging lost in the aftermath. I knew when I told my children their father was moving out, the sense of family connection I’d sacrificed for was broken. Also, I knew my children no longer trusted my ex and me completely. Knowing this is terrible, but how my children feel about it is even worse. How do I recreate a sense of belonging for my kids now as a single parent?
When the kids are at their dad’s place, I call them to say goodnight, and he does the same when they’re with me. These brief conversations can be happy and easy, but often are sad, with the kids whimpering, “I love you sooooo much…” What I hear when they say it like this is, “I miss you, I’m uncertain, comfort me.” My heart breaks every time.
Though my ex and I’ve told them a thousand times this isn’t their fault, the kids seem to feel somehow it is. The bedrock of who there were is eroded by circumstances they can’t control, yet feel responsible for. Welcome to the life of children of divorce.
The beauty of a nuclear family is its elegant simplicity. Mom and dad get married, pop out a couple kids, and then work to raise those children. There is strength in this…there are resources. But when one or both parents opt out of the marriage, they break apart the family, and the simple assuredness it brought for the children. What the kids get then are two households with fewer resources and tired parents. Not a great deal for little ones.
But hope is hardy, and I believe my children and I can make something new from something broken. Perhaps like kaleidoscopes, we can change the colors and forms of things, and still life will be beautiful, interesting, and inspiring. The pieces of this family may be changing, but the feeling of belonging and trust can be restored; but for different reasons.
My children belong to me…they are mine. Most every mother understands this. This kind of belonging is instinct and unchanging. Spiritually, there is a cord that binds children to their mothers. A shaman once told me the only spiritual cord un-severable in his practice is the one between a mother and child. For devoted moms, like me, this connection is strengthened by day in, day out care, nurturing, and love of our little ones. My children sense this, and know it.
My kids still feel a deep connection with their father, which he and I have worked to maintain. How this evolves isn’t up to me, and letting go of control has been terribly hard to do. So often, dads bail out in situations like these, but more and more fathers are learning their worth as parents, and choosing to stick around and co-parent with their ex-wives. So far, so good with this angle and I’ve eaten my anger more often than not to help it along; though, I’m far from perfect.
My kids are also part of an extended family, which includes aunties and uncles, grandparents and cousins. Though none of these relationships are in a care taking mode, the emotional support and love offered is priceless. If anything, the hardest part is making time to bring the boys to visit all of their loved ones. But I do the best I can.
The larger community my boys belong to: their schools and neighborhood, also add layers of belonging. This is their hood, and they know it well. A sense of location is important, I feel, when forming childhood memories; we are creatures of habit and we love our nests. My boys have this, and my ex and I work hard to maintain it.
When the threads of my marriage unraveled, I was terrified of going through these months of trauma with the boys…and these months have been traumatic. Their sense of stability and worth were challenged when the man they most admired rented a place across town. But as the circumstance shakes out, I can see many opportunities to remind the boys of all the love, support, and familiarity still here.
Initially, I told my boys we would be one family with two homes, and loosely this is true; perhaps someday we will achieve the New Age, open-door, blended family situation I’ve seen other families master. If this is as good as it gets, I pray, it is still good enough: the boys know they belong with their parents, their family, their friends, and their community. In time, they will learn to trust this belonging again.
With consistency and communication, children will trust love finds us in every situation, and it is love we can count on to get us through.