31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Allow Children The Guilt-Free Gift Of Celebrating Special Occasions With Your Former Spouse

Single with Children: Give children of divorce chance to celebrate Father's Day guilt-free

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 06/13/01

The other day I ran across a shoebox in my closet. This wasn't just any shoebox, it was a "treasure'' shoebox. The kind of shoebox that one peeks into from time to time to reconnect with things that touched them deeply. Notes. Old pressed flowers. Maybe a menu from a special evening. And, of course, cards. Some of the cards I looked at were handmade, lettered in that most sentimental of scripts by young hands clutching jumbo crayons. It was easy to chart the ages of my kids by the transition from large capital letters to carefully written, lovingly penned cursive. I felt that familiar lump form in my throat as I read the verses through eyes on the brink of tears.

I cherish all of the cards I've kept over the years, but I think it's the Mother's Day cards that touch me most. I've always felt so unbelievably blessed to have a reason to celebrate that special day. Before I had children, I used to imagine what it must involve to really be someone's Mom.

Even with my best imaginings, I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me. It entails a range of emotions that I couldn't have begun to understand. There's absolutely no denying it's been the best and most important experience in my life, and I don't expect anything could come close to eclipsing what having children has meant to me.

Single parents. We're everywhere! For the first time ever, the number of children raised in America in a traditional home with a married mother and father has fallen below 50 percent. It is a fact of life that although children have two parents, they most likely live with one and have "visits'' with the other. The schedule of visitation varies from family to family, and much of the time it somehow seems to all fall in place, but it requires a certain amount of adjustment from everyone concerned. Holidays are divided up. School and sporting events are sometimes attended by both, and the sky doesn't even fall. Thankfully, human beings are equipped with an amazing resiliency that serves those of us living in this situation very well.

There are, however, two days on the calendar that can bring a certain amount of angst to divorced families, and one of them is coming up in just a few days. Father's Day. Even though the marital partners might have found it necessary to end the union, the parent/child bond is not extinguished. This creates the need, at times, to swallow a little bit of pride and allow our children to celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day freely and without a hint of guilt. This shouldn't be viewed as "elective'' and although many of us may still be nursing some pain from our splits, that pain should not impede our children from selecting cards and yes, even gifts, to present to their Mothers and Fathers when their special day rolls around.

Growing up is an imposing proposition. It starts before birth, and, if we're lucky, it doesn't end until that last breath is taken. I can attest to the fact that it certainly doesn't end at the age of 18 or even 21. There is not a day that goes by that I don't learn something new and, hopefully, grow from that knowledge. When children are reared in single parent families, they have to couple growing up with managing a new family situation and dynamics.

Sometimes, they even feel as if they have to walk on eggshells, lest they hurt the two people who mean the most in their lives. There are things that we, as single parents, can do to lighten the load our children carry. Is it required? No. Is it worth biting our lips now and again to create a "guilt-free'' day and the opportunity to fully embrace honoring Mom and Dad when those holidays roll around, regardless of what might have gone on in the past during the course of the marriage? That's the question we have to ask ourselves. Hopefully, we can come up with an affirmative "yes'' and make them feel safe in creating or buying something special as the holiday dictates.

Being a parent is all about doing the very best we can for our children. There are a thousand and one different things we may disagree with our ex-spouses about, but usually doing the right thing for our children is the one tie that will forever bind us. With a little give and take from both sides of the parental fence (and even if the give and take has to be from only one side) whatever we can do to make these holidays memorable for our kids is one of the kindest gifts we can give them. If the concept of helping a child to shop for the "other'' parent gives one pause, simply think of it as indirectly giving your child the present of a stress-free, guiltless day.

This weekend, I hope that many in our ranks find it in their hearts to introduce the idea that it's absolutely OK to select something special for Dad. Whether Dad lives around the block or on the other side of the country, it's an effort worth making and a positive contribution to the emotional development of our children. A little kindness goes a long way toward healing. In the grand scheme of things, making a little extra effort doesn't really require a lot from us. In the life of a child learning to live with parents no longer together, it can mean the world. And isn't it really, after all, about the children?

Readers can e-mail Susie 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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