31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Don't Take Advantage Of A Child's Resilience

Children often bear burdens in single-parent households

Single ...with Children


Publication Date: 09/27/00

The other day I was talking to a friend who told me a story that literally broke my heart. It seems her cousin, recently coming off her second divorce, has been experiencing problems with her 14-year-old son. At least, that's how the story was prefaced. What started out as a story of a 37-year-old-mother dealing with a "troubled" son left me with the impression that it was more a case of a son struggling with a "troubled" mother.

The "mother" in question apparently has been shirking all parental responsibility and embarked on a post divorce mid-life crisis. Her son started exhibiting stress, anger and at one point actually jumped in the car in a quest to retrieve his Mom from a nightclub she had been frequenting with alarming regularity. Subsequently, the mom enrolled her son in a rural reform style school that prohibits contact with anyone on the "outside" and offers very few parental visits.

I guess this story touched a chord with me because I, too, am the mother of a 14-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter. Neither of my two kids have ever given me one ounce of the type of worry that I hear about so often from other parents of teen-agers. I'm blessed, certainly, because even in the best of all possible worlds, problems can and sometimes do arise in families where everything humanly possible is seemingly in place to prevent such occurrences.

That is not, however, the situation in the above mentioned story. As I imagined all the confusion, fear and hopelessness that young man is no doubt finding himself dealing with, I tried my very best to understand how any mother or father could find themselves reeling from disastrous relationships to the point of abandoning the emotional attention that all children, regardless of age, not only require but should be guaranteed.

Perhaps the aforementioned situation is more prevalent in single-parent homes. There's no doubt this mother my friend told me of is going through extreme emotional anguish that is so familiar to all of us who have lived through extinguished long-term relationships. I don't really know the specific circumstances and can only imagine her turmoil, but my heart breaks most of all for the son now "serving time."

There's no such thing as a perfect family or a perfect child. As long as humans are involved, perfection simply doesn't factor into the formula. There are going to be mistakes, miscues, occasional slacking of both parents and kids. And sometimes, unfortunately, there is divorce. For the custodial parent this means switching from team parenting to hyper-vigilant solo parenting. At times there is no one around to pick up the slack regardless of the migraine, the dirty laundry or the 1001 other tasks that have to be managed along with being the relentlessly on-call, 24/7 status that comes with the territory of "single parent in charge." Certainly some dental appointments are going to have to be rescheduled, and the occasional soccer game or school play might accidentally get missed. Those things are unfortunate but certainly not life-altering or unforgivable.

Sadly, for this young man in question, the events that have conspired to land him in reform school are, regrettably, not only unfortunate, but preventable and unacceptable. As I pondered the fate of this 14-year-old, I realized that all of our children are truly at the MERCY OF OUR MISTAKES. Every now and then the mistakes can color the future of a child which is all the more tragic.

Even though we, as single mothers and fathers, may be pulling more weight, keeping more balls in the air and teetering on the edge of exhaustion now and again, we have to work even harder at not losing focus of the goal and the reason for the juggling act in the first place. Our children.

We bring our children into the world with, hopefully, the very best of intentions, highest of dreams and a desire to see that they get the very best we have to offer. The clean slate the baby starts with will bear the marks of our decision-making and choices. There will hopefully be evidence of the fact that we did the very best we were capable of which, at times, brings out not only the best in our children, but never fails to bring out the best in ourselves. We strive for a balance sheet where the right guidance and decisions will outweigh the times we faltered, we weren't as vigilant as we should have been or we dropped the ball for a few moments.

As I consider the situation of my friend's cousin, I can't help but hope and pray that it's not too late to right the current wrongs that have colored the immediate future of this young man. Fourteen is certainly not the ideal time to start from scratch in erasing all the angst and bad decision making that have lead to his current reality. However, perhaps with a renewed sense of commitment, focus and desperately needed attention from his mother, something wonderful can still happen.

Sometimes when I hear people talk of the "resiliency of children" I wince, always wondering just how far we think our kids can stretch and still maintain their original form. In this particular case, I dearly hope this young man can still bounce back and move toward a more positive future and that a family can still be saved. Just like rubberbands, hope, too, "springs" eternal.

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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