I have a confession.
Over the last year, with my husband's absense, my mind has been nearly constantly focused on the fear that his abandonment would "break" my kids and I.
I have always felt that children thrive the best with both parents in their lives. For roughly 10 months, my children, though parents were separated, still had both parents in their lives. Looking back at things, I know that their dad was around in person, but he wasn't really there, and he wasn't consistent and often let them down. Actually, looking at the past few years, I see that he was not consistent even when we were all home as a family under one roof.
This past week, I was speaking with two very dear friends who stopped by to visit the kids and I. Both of my friends at one point had made a comment about how happy my oldest, Spencer, who is nearly five, is nowadays.
I was kind of baffled by it, knowing that he struggles with daddy abandonment issues, and often I find him missing his dad. But I listened to them talk about how he is happier, filled with smiles and laughter, and loves to play with his friends Spencer has become. I reflected after they left about the comments of a few other good friends have made about Spencer and how he's grown so much recently, and really developed his personality, which is warm, loving, and compassionate.
Before I went to bed Sunday night, I laid awake, pondering these comments. Eventually, I had to ask my two friends, "So, you think Spencer really is happy now?" Well, maybe not those exact words, but the sentiment.
I have been told these sorts of things for a few weeks at least, if not a couple months, but for some reason, it's taken me this long to really hear them. Maybe it's because the weekend before last was really tough on him with expressing the loss of his dad. Maybe it's because I've been so focused on issues in my own mind. Either way, I finally, truly heard the words and embraced them.
As my friend explained, Spencer, even a year ago, when things really started to fall apart in our world, was sullen when visitors would come over. Yes, he liked to see them, but he didn't pay them much attention. In fact, he would often withdraw when he realized that it was NOT his dad. I didn't necessarily see it myself, because I was always with him, and always with all three of them, Norah just a tiny infant at the time yet. My friend pointed out that he was always waiting for his dad to come home. His dad lived with us. It was OUR home. He was supposed to be there. But for months he just would not come home consistently. Or he would be there for an hour or so here and there throughout the week, always with excuses of late hours or needing to help at the shop (which I now know is a lie, as he admitted this to me himself last spring). But daily, my son was disappointed that his dad would not show up consistently.
I should have seen this. I tried to incredibly hard to get him to come home. "Just come for supper, and see the kids for a bit, please?" "Can you come help with bath?" "The boys miss you." So forth aned so on. Daily. I tried to bring him for the kids. Sometimes he said he would be right there and hours later, was ignoring my phone calls, then providing stupid excuses to me why he couldn't come see his kids after all. He would come home for parts of the weekend, usually, a year ago, and see them, but he had been disappearing slowly for months.
I was blinded. I was fighting for our marriage and my kids and he was definitely not fighting for them at all. He was fighting to get away, I guess. But, I am ashamed to admit it. I was blinded.
Likely, I was hampering my children's happiness and well-being fighting for this ideal "both parents" scenario. I was getting their hopes up, allowing them to call him, asking him to come home, having him promise to come home, and letting them know daddy was on his way, only to crush their poor little hearts myself telling them he was no longer going to see them. I carry quite a burden of guilt about it now. I feel like I've spent the last year compounding their pain, especially Spencer's, by fighting for what I thought was right.
I sit here writing this as Spencer is at his first official play therapy session. I hear him behind the closed doors laughing as he meets with his new "friend."
Reflecting on my friends' words, one of them commented on how now that we live in our own place, our new place, and Jacob has been absent since the end of June, the expectation that the kids will see him again has dimished significantly. Yes, they still look for him, miss him, and long for him. But, Spencer especially knows that I have tried with all my might to bring his daddy to him, to call him, email him, text him, facebook him, find him... what have you, and his daddy is just not cooperating. He knows. He knows I tried. Sometimes he's angry with me that daddy is missing, but he knows I tried to find him for him. He's mostly stopped asking for daddy. It breaks my heart, but it's likely for the best. Because, as my friends pointed out, he's happy now. He no longer struggles not knowing if daddy is going to follow through and actually call or visit. He no longer gets excited to see him only to be crushed when he doesn't arrive. It sucks, but it's good too, in a way.
Spencer is adjusting. I can see it now. I can see the light in his eyes brighter this week than I could ever before I really embraced my friends' words.
I told my friends, as I stated above, that I was afraid the disappearance of their dad would break them, would break us. It hasn't. Somehow, beauty has come from it.
I have struggled for months not knowing if I was doing good enough. I didn't know or feel like I was being a good enough mom. I didn't think I was able to be all that they needed parent wise. I didn't know if I could provide joy and happiness amidst sorrow. I did not know if my parenting choices were okay. I am often overwhelmed with exhaustion or emotion and I let negative talk seep into my mind and constrict my own heart.
But, I see today that I'm doing okay. I'm an okay mom. Maybe even a good mom? A great mom?
Something is going right with my parenting, somehow. Maybe it's the drive to surround them not only with my love, but the love of others. I let them see that they're not alone. It's not just us. Daddy may be missing, but there's a world out there that still is present. Maybe it's okay that I cry in front of them sometimes, or empathize with their sadness in losing their dad. I miss him too, the man I thought he was, or that he was for a time. I love him still. I get it, and they know I'm not just saying it.
I don't know what it is. But, by the grace of God, my son smiles, lights up with joy when he sees people he cares about walk through our door. He runs to give hugs like he never did a year ago. He opens up his mind and heart and lets us know what he's feeling. He is going to be okay.
This has not broken us. It will not break us.