Being a single dad can be very challenging all on its own. With added problems, parenting and life in general can get even more interesting.
Becoming a father is one of the greatest things that ever happened to me, but sadly, his mother and I weren’t meant to be together and split shortly before his 2nd birthday.
At the time, I counted myself lucky that we weren’t legally bound in matrimony, getting away with a “clean break” to a small studio home that was just big enough for me and my son. And seeing how he was still an infant, he literally grew up not knowing any different.
Over time, I began dating again, but nothing too serious, until I met the happiest, most bubbly lady I ever met. At the time, I knew that she smoked marijuana recreationally and I didn’t think much of it, but I had no idea that it was a means of escaping something much more sinister and painful: post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from past abusive relationships.
Her father was a verbally and physically abusive drug addict as was her previous husband, from whom she’d been divorced from for 3 years by the time we met each other. During the course of our 5 year relationship and marriage that fell just shy of 2 years, she would quit and relapse, succumbing to crippling anxiety. After she began attending Narcotics Anonymous, we both grimly understood that our relationship may not last through her journey to sobriety as painful memories came to light.
As a last ditch effort, we even attempted marriage counseling to curb the apparent death spiral of our relationship. In the end, with her facing decades-old problems, my own growing frustration at being unable to bridge the growing gap between us and my poor son bearing painful witness to it all, I ultimately had no choice but to ask for a divorce. Where some may view this as counterproductive and even damaging, it made the most sense for us, if anything for her to focus solely on her sobriety, and for my son and me to work on our own relationship.
After 7 years, my son and now ex-wife had grown very close, and he was understandably very upset. Even with it being 5 months later, he still finds himself missing her from time to time. My own loneliness can feel crushing at times, but if there’s one thing I have control over as an adult and a parent is the type of environment that I raise my son in.
To this end, I decided to do something that not even my own parents were willing to do: maintain an open dialogue. Where my parents would be hush-hush about certain subjects (including each other), I decided to simply let my son talk about what he wanted and in return, I’d be candid and truthful in my responses. As hard as it was at times to emotionally remove myself before responding, I feel that it was an important step in re-establishing myself as a parental figure that he can rely on to be strong in his time of need.
Of course, in order for me to be that strong parent he needs, I have to make my own well-being a priority. This includes maintaining a healthy work-life balance, pursuing my hobbies and of course, having some fellow adults to talk to. Another approach that my parents took when I was growing up was taking the role of the martyr, and for my own son, I didn’t see the benefit of acting like I didn’t have needs of my own, like alone time or an adult social life.
So how do I stay positive during these difficult times? Simple. I stay busy and let my son tell me exactly what’s on his mind without “shushing” him. I went in telling myself that if we’re going to suffer, we’re going to do it together, but through it, we give each other strength and every day feels a little easier than the one before it.