31 January 2005

Single...With Chidlren: You Know More Than You May Think

Single with Children: Parenting doesn't get easier, just less scary

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 10/22/03

A few days ago, my daughter, Katie, found some "mystery" rolls of film. In other words, we had no idea what was on them. She dropped them off at the drugstore and about an hour later brought them home. We were surprised to find two sets of prints taken about five years ago.

As each of us looked at the photos, we studied the images and laughed at how much had changed in a few short years. Justin was now nearly a foot taller than when those pictures were snapped. Katie had blossomed from a small, serious-looking freshman into a confidant young woman who lives in her own apartment.

My mind went back to that time in our lives. I remembered tiny details that could never be captured on a roll of film. Back then, my son was in the middle of middle school, not an easy age for anyone. I vividly recalled wondering if I was doing OK as a fairly "green" single parent. The task before me felt huge. It's a good thing I hadn't looked ahead and wondered how I'd handle his driving. Sometimes it's a good thing to stay in the present and not project.

What stood out most for me was how young and innocent my son looked. I remembered worrying that I might let him down at some pivotal developmental point that could quite possibly send him into years of therapy. I also remembered how much I regretted buying him, at a particularly weak moment, that pair of pet chinchillas.

Last night, after everyone had turned in, I sat down with a huge mug of tea and looked at those prints again. I contrasted where we had been back then with where we are today. All the feelings and emotions intertwined with the corresponding memories came flooding back. The fun, the fear of giving consent when it should be declined (and vice versa), and juggling the responsibilities that confront us at every single turn on any given day. I found myself wishing that Justin could still be completely amused by a pair of soft, fuzzy rodents instead of the car he is either driving or washing. Five years ago, my biggest decisions involved things like whether to allow my son to buy a BB gun, give the OK for him to invite five of his favorite friends for a sleepover or upgrading his game system. These days, even though he's infinitely more independent, the stakes feel much higher.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a friend who had just reached her one-year mark of being the parent-in-charge. Though her kids aren't yet teenagers, the challenges she wrote about were instantly recognizable. She spoke of how some of the initial terror had eased but confessed to feeling more confused than not most of the time. "Does it ever get easier?" she asked.

When I sat down to reply, I thought about those precious photographs that surfaced yesterday. Of course, I told her it sounded as if she was doing a great job, because it really did. As for feeling confused, well, if anyone has the answer to that one, let me know.

The question of "Does it ever get any easier?" is one I mulled over and probably wrote six replies to before being brave enough to hit the "send" button. I still firmly believe that parenting is best done as a pair. I'm pretty sure it was designed to work that way. In reality, however, statistics show 52 percent of all American households are headed by single parents.

Several years into being a single parent, I can't honestly say that it necessarily gets "easier," but I have noticed that it's not quite as terrifying as it used to feel. I've discovered it's OK to celebrate the times I've been blessed enough to "get it right," to learn lessons from the times I didn't and to move forward without beating myself up as much as I used to. Since we're going to make mistakes from time to time, it only makes sense to use them to our advantage and turn them into stepping stones.

In almost all of the photos I looked at from five years ago, both of my kids appeared happy. As I looked at Katie and Justin, sitting at the table yesterday, so much more grown up and mature, they were still grinning and laughing. There are many yardsticks to measure growth and success, but for me, last night, those smiles were the finest measurement I could imagine.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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