31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Don't Forget, It's About The Kids

Single with Children: Parents can resolve visitation conflicts if they focus on kids

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 01/23/02

Thanks to everyone who shared their stories with me on the touchy concept of noncustodial visitation. The feedback was important and helpful in illuminating what I always knew to be true; divorced parents can make the very best out of this situation when both parents focus on what's best for the children that will forever connect them. Some of the responses astounded me with the creativity used in ensuring that the children involved received the best of both worlds. It is an emotional issue, but hoping it will disappear is not only unrealistic but exacerbates the stress of a tense situation. I applaud the parents who work to make it work, and I pray that the ones struggling through it will find the best solutions. I welcome more input and look forward to more response on this, or any other, subject.

January has always been a difficult month for me. Winter is only one-third of the way spent, and I confess to being a spring/summer kind of person. I am pining for days filled with warmth and late sunsets. I even miss thunderstorms. I miss the swimming, the green leaves on the trees and, believe it or not, the occasional sunburn and extra freckles.

I think one reason for the "winter doldrums" is that the time inside offers me more time to think, which inevitably lends itself to more things to worry about and obsess over. Hey, it comes with the territory.

I find myself in the middle of plans that don't require my inclusion. My daughter is blissfully looking forward to her first day of college in August. My son is enrolled in driver's education. I'm turning 42 next month. How could the three of us arrive at this stage? If time truly flies, and I'm thinking that it does, I'd love to know how to clip its wings.

I'm the person who supposedly has most of the answers, but sometimes I feel more like the person with the most questions. It seems like just a couple of years ago I was walking the floor with a son who was screaming because of an earache that came on, as most ear infections do, in the middle of the night. In a few short weeks, this "infant" will be asking for the car keys, going on dates. I'll still be walking the floor, only this time I'll be doing it alone.

I don't mean to complain. It is, after all, the natural progression of things. My son is following the path that will allow him to become an independent man in a few years. And I wonder what it will be like packing my daughter up for a university six hours away from home. Again, I knew this would eventually happen; I just didn't realize how fast "eventually" would arrive. Wasn't it just a few years ago that she was grasping jumbo crayons and practicing her alphabet? How can it be she's working on a senior project?

I constantly wonder if I've covered the major points. Have I imparted the right wisdom? Have I demonstrated the importance of compassion and doing the right thing, even when the wrong thing is the easiest route? The dialogue among the three of us runs the gamut. It never fails to entertain and inspire me. We sit around and talk about anything and everything, but I find they don't have as much time for it now that they have the typical teen-age interests. It feels as if the "future" is knocking on my door and I'd love to keep it at bay for at least another 10 years. That's not reasonable or realistic. Life and time marches right now.

The theme these days has to do with one word: Grace. In these action-packed days of high school, I yearn for as much grace as I can find. The dictionary speaks of grace as an "unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification." I'll be the first to admit that I am not close to meriting the grace I seek, but seek it I continue to do.

In looking back on my own parenting experience, and each one is both unique and universal, I have come to realize there are no unimportant parts. Each stage of a child's life requires skills that many of us, as parents, don't even realize we possess. Somehow we accomplish amazing things. As our children grow older and become involved in many activities outside of the home, our opportunities to remain an active, positive force become more brief but even more important because. Like it or not, the stage is being set for our kids to test their new wings of independence.

I wake up every day to try to be someone with sensitive ears and eyes and someone my kids can come to and discuss anything and everything. The best communication is open not only to talking but also to listening. Monologues are for talk show hosts. Dialogues work best for families. Sometimes we agree on issues and sometimes we don't. At times the issues aren't life affecting but at this stage, many of them can become life forming. I want to get it right and sometimes I wish there was someone else I could pass off the hard questions, tough decisions and wisdom requiring answers to, because I'm not always certain that I'm getting it right. That's where the quest for grace comes in and somehow, it works out.

Good communication not only requires dialogue but also requires respect. I work hard not only to merit the respect of my teen-agers, but also to let them know I respect their voices, their opinions and their feelings. I find that a mutual respect keeps the door to dialogue open.

Being a single parent can be a lonely business at times. It was never a situation I aspired to or could have imagined. Grace, constant dialogue and mutual respect make the road a lot less bumpy and the journey much more enjoyable. I accept that I am the point person. I just keep hoping I'm hitting the right points. It's true that parenting isn't for wimps, but I can't imagine anything more important, more rewarding and fulfilling.

Even on those days that I simply don't have all the answers. And perhaps, in fact, that's why God created grace.

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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