I wasn’t going to write a New Year’s post, but here I am. As I discussed with a friend of mine not too long ago, I feel these last few years have ended with most people not sad to see the year end. There has been a general feeling of “glad that’s over”, but underlying those words is the feeling that maybe all that is behind us. We’ve survived. And with God’s grace we’ll keep surviving. Thriving, even. In this spirit, I’m choosing to focus on the hope that the upcoming year is bound to be better than the last.
If we don’t have hope, we’ve got nothing. There were times these past few months where I felt like I had lost touch with my old friend hope. Dark times. But tonight, by the light of my tree, with my boys sleeping peacefully I am reacquainting myself with her.
I’ve got a lot of intentions for the upcoming year. Shit, I’ve got a lot of intentions for the next few days. Mostly to get through them with a bit of humor and patience and be ready to go back to work with a renewed sense of purpose.
Today, one of my boys presented me with a family portrait he made in school. He portrayed himself and his brother very realistically. He got the cats in there, although he was pretty generous in his rendering of our enormous cat, Golden…perhaps he’s going to lose weight in the new year. Then there was Mom. And Dad.
I wasn’t sure what to say. I was, somewhat embarrassedly, like “who’s that?”
At least we were all smiling in the picture. I’m not sure what is more unrealistic at this point.
It hurt that the one thing my boy so desperately wants is the one thing I really can’t give him.
I did finally ask him what he thought the best part about living with a dad would be. He said having someone there when he got home from school. I pointed out that for the most part, even in families where there are two parents living together, it is not typical to have a parent there when a child comes home from school. At least not in this day and age. Maybe that’s just what I tell myself to make me feel better.
But it did reaffirm for me what I truly want. Especially as the boys get older and need guidance. I want to be there more. I want to be there when they get home from school. I want to help them navigate homework and sports and friends and questions and arguments and everything else. My intention is to figure out how to get there sooner rather than later.
I read something not too long ago about how it may actually be more important for there to be a parent accessible to their teenage children after school hours than for say a young elementary schooler. That there is an added benefit to having that extra supervision, extra accountability for those hours of freedom, extra help choosing how to spend that time.
If I can’t provide the smiling dad in the picture, maybe I can figure out how to be enough. How to be there more. How to be more present than I even am now.
As the boys have grown older, I’ve struggled with balance. I desperately wanted pieces of my life back. Adult pieces that have nothing to do with them. My writing, exercise, my friendships, love, my solitude…and not crammed into the hour between when they go to bed and I do. I wanted those things simultaneously. And I kept thinking– they are 9, 10 years old…they are old enough to take some responsibility for their own activities, time, entertainment. Chores, hygiene, even lunch/snack/sometimes dinner making. I want to raise independent children. They are capable. They don’t need a parent doing everything for them. I can take time for myself and they can deal.
These things are still true. They don’t need a helicopter parent. But they do need a parent who is present, and yes, sometimes present enough for two people. When I became a single parent, I gave up the luxury of being able to just “check out” and let someone else handle it for a while. Fair? Maybe no. But life ain’t fair. I fear I may have swung too far in one direction. Do I have the right to sleep in and let the boys watch TV on the weekend? Yes. But maybe not as often as I do. Maybe they still need mom to sleepily trudge out to the sofa and watch something with them. Or get them involved in something else. Maybe they need a mom who isn’t checking work emails when she gets home or who isn’t so focused on making dinner and getting them to bed so my time can begin that I miss the important stuff.
Every day I strive to be a little better than the day before. That’s all we can do really. But if I were to make a resolution (which I don’t make, but let’s just say) my intention is to let the pendulum swing a little bit back the other way. In their favor. Where my focus is more firmly on them and what they need during this critical time in their lives. God willing, I will have the energy to make the most of the time after they go to bed. If I need to sleep then, well, everything else can wait.
I need to give myself permission to be a mom first. It doesn’t mean I’m not me. I’m there. I’m going to find myself (rather quickly I’m afraid) in a position where these boys are truly going to be independent and out of my grasp. I’m going to have lots of late nights waiting up for them that I can spend as I choose. For now, I need to refocus on them–my babies. I suspect that they may need me just as much now as they did when they were babies and toddlers.
My hope for this new year is that we all feel like we are getting exactly what we need. And that our health and happiness will blossom because of it. I wish that for all of you, too.