I can think of a lot of titles to define myself. Geek. Goddess. Intellectual. Editor. Artist. Creative Goober. Perfectionist. But, without a doubt, the most important is Mom.
And holy Hades, parenting is hard.
To be fair, I don’t really have any markers to gauge the degree of difficulty I have parenting. I don’t have any friends who are in the same situation. Let me try to explain who I am without going into any details that would end in a lawsuit. I am a single mom, for just over five years now, to an 8 1/2-year-old son. As the result of a lot of bitter, on both sides, legal custody bickering, Mini-me primarily lives with his father. I see him for a few hours during the week and on every other weekend. It’s not ideal but it’s not permanent either. It’s a work in progress, although that is difficult to explain to a third grader.
With few exceptions, my friends are relatively happily married and have multiple kids. I was the first of my friends to get married, then divorced, then baby-daddied, then un-baby-daddied. I’ve always been ahead of the curve, I guess. But it also means that I have no peers in my situation. I’m happy for them when they reach wedding anniversaries or announce pregnancies but I don’t have a way to relate. Neither can they relate when I explain that my attorney has recommended I settle for terms I don’t agree with and that is somehow a win.
I’ve never been able to relate to traditional moms. I think that’s why I’ve never been a joiner when it comes to mom activities. Around the time Mini-me was 6-months-old, a family member bought us a cycle of Mommy & Me classes. Within 10 minutes of starting the first one, I was sure that I’d found a very particular version of hell that was never going to end. I loved singing to my little bald, sunny baby but doing it in a group was horrifying. It was made worse because my then sister-in-law, whose son is just five weeks older than Mini-Me, seemed to thrive on an environment I found to be artificial, competitive, and cloying. Eight years later, I’m still not a candidate for soccer mom. I’m only slightly sad to say that after a whole season I still don’t know the names of the positions or the exact rules. I cheer when the other parents cheer or when someone scores a goal. I’m pretty sure some of the time I’m cheering on the other team. But they need love too, right? Mini-me loves running back and forth in his uniform and that’s what’s really important. So I support him and try to show interest in an honest way.
That, I suppose, is the crux of my parenting style. Honesty. When he asks questions about why his father and I don’t get along, I do my best to answer honestly but in a way that won’t leave permanent scars. I suppose a therapist or teacher would term it age-appropriateness. I’m also pretty honest with him about his behavior. I should preface this by saying that Mini-me has some challenging behaviors. Some would call it depression and anxiety, some would say it’s high-functioning autism. It’s definitely ADHD. And, without a doubt, it’s dual levels of high intelligence and high sensitivity. His behavior can range from curious questioner to downright pain-in-the-bum hypersensitivity. He’s a complicated, amazing kid. When he has his worst days, I mostly feel badly for him. He turns all his frustrated feelings that his brain just isn’t mature enough to interpret back in on himself. It’s frustrating to see your child in pain. It feels helpless to not be able to do anything other than be the lighthouse they choose to ignore or steer their ship toward.
My tact is to help Mini-me identify his behavior, figure out where it’s coming from, and find a healthier way to redirect it. That’s most often easier said than done. But I try. And I’m pretty sure he tries. Most of the time.
I don’t think Mini-me’s challenges make him all that different than any other child. I see challenging behaviors from all my friend’s children. I know better than to point them out, of course. I like having friends. But it is interesting to catalog how they deal with the behaviors, and I’ve seen the gamut from swearing and tantrums, to blatant disrespect, to violence against pets, siblings, and themselves. The only difference between the behaviors I handle with Mini-Me and what you see from the snotty kid at the laundromat is which parenting book you buy to hopefully find solutions.
And this is where I cycle back to my original statement. Parenting is hard. No matter what kind of child you give birth to or acquire, none of them come with manuals or warranties. They all should. It’s hard to maintain patience in the face of a category 3 melt down with a whiny thunderstorm on the horizon. It gets even harder when you have a cold. Or a UTI. Or a boss who makes taking work home mandatory. Or any of the other millions of minor and major headaches that happen all day, every day. I suppose there are a few parents out there who claim to have it nailed. They lie.
And this is the point where I’m supposed to say that the slate is wiped clean when the little angel does something for the first time or says something adorable. My terminal realism isn’t going to let me make that statement. For me, the slate gets wiped clean when Mini-me goes to bed. Besides giving me a moment to breathe in quiet, it reminds me that he is still growing. The person he’s growing up to be is going to, in part, be based on how I handled him when he was this age. My behavior is teaching him how to be a caring friend, a loving spouse, and a patient parent.
All that and I love him like mad. I love him so much that I will drive 1 1/2 hours to sit through soccer games I don’t understand; and give him the angry mom face when he talks sass even though it might make him cry; and encourage him to get a sweet treat even though I can’t eat sugar and will, quite literally, grind my teeth while he eats it.
I love him like mad and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.