At My Wit’s End!

Being an only parent is really hard right now. My oldest is 13 years old and I’m dealing with a lot of teenage issues for the very first time in my own home. I say, “in my own home,” because I’ve been a middle school and high school counselor for over 9 years so teenage drama is not new to me. It’s a very different story to live with it though!

I’ve spent the past few days grounding, talking, yelling, and reasoning with my son who seems as if he’s gone crazy at times. I’m sure it doesn’t help that he has ADHD but combine that with his hormones, and I am losing my mind! The worst part of it, though, is not having another parent to take over when I am at my wit’s end. I spend my days issuing consequences and then second-guessing my decisions because there’s no one here to tell me that it’s the right thing to do. Am I being too hard on him? Are my expectations too high? Am I being too lenient? Am I letting him get away with too much?

I remember the very first time that I spanked my son on the hand. He was about 2 years old and he wouldn’t stay out of the dog’s water dish. I smacked his hand and firmly told him, “No.” Then, I went into the other room and cried! Steve was the one who told me that it was the right thing to do; that we didn’t want to raise our son without boundaries and that he had to learn to stay out of the dog’s water! The next day, I heard Steve say to him, “I’m going to spank your butt and I’m not going to feel bad about it!” That day has always stuck in my mind because it was striking how different we were when it came to discipline. I knew my son needed the discipline but it broke my heart when my child was hurting. His father, however, was not nearly as soft-hearted and issued discipline swiftly to correct behavior.

Now don’t get me wrong, we did not spank our child frequently. All of my children could probably count on one hand the number of times they’ve actually been spanked. In fact, I’m not a big proponent of spanking. Time out was implemented as soon as my children were old enough to comprehend it. As they’ve gotten older, I try to use discipline to actually teach them something. Just yesterday, the arguing between my son and daughter was ridiculous. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I took away their I-Pods and told them that in order to get them back, they each had to write down ten reasons why they loved the other one. They were so mad at me! They complained and said they couldn’t think of ten things but they did it. It’s times like these, though, that make me wonder what Steve would do if he were here. Am I being too lenient on them? Am I teaching them the skills they need to succeed in future relationships?

My son has always been a good student but school does not come easy to him. When he made the A-B Honor Roll in 6th grade for the first time EVER, he was thrilled! He continued to be on the Honor Roll that entire year. In 7th grade, he was moved into a more advanced Science class and struggled to pass it. He was really upset that he wasn’t making the Honor Roll because of that one class. This year (8th grade), however, his whole attitude toward school seems to have changed. Instead of striving for A’s and B’s, he’s content to just pass his classes. He’s doing the minimum amount of work needed instead of working hard and doing his best. I’ve issued consequences (by taking away video games, cell phone, etc), I’ve offered incentives as a way to motivate him (if he gets a project done, I’ll take him to get the video game he’s been saving his money to buy), I’ve reasoned with him (if you want to go to college, you have to do your work), and I’m at my wit’s end! Would he be acting this way if his dad were here?

I know that I’m a good mom and I’m doing the best I can do on my own. It’s just hard to stop second-guessing my decisions when there’s no one here to reassure me. In any case, I’ll keep on keeping on and hope these children that God has blessed me with turn out ok 🙂

Still Here With Us….

I’m amazed at how much my children resemble their father. As a counselor, I have read many studies on the whole nature vs. nurture argument. If I looked solely at my children, however, I would say that nature is the dominating force in a child’s personality.

My oldest son, Cameron, was only 6 years old when his father was killed; he is now 13 years old. Steve was 15 years old when we met each other. It’s striking for me to look at Cameron and think that he’s just two years younger than his dad was when I met him. Not only does Cameron LOOK more like his dad the older he gets, but his personality is SO MUCH like him too! My son has a quirky sense of humor and is constantly making me laugh. He is a free spirited boy who doesn’t care what others think of him. He has his own sense of style and isn’t interested in what’s popular. These are all the same things that drew me to Steve when I was just a teenager myself (I was in the ninth grade when I met him). I can only think that these similarities are due to genetics since Steve hasn’t been here to influence Cameron as his personality has developed. It makes me smile every time he does something that reminds me of his dad because it’s as if Steve is still here with us.

My daughter, Caitlin, was only 3 years when her father died. She is now 10 years old and, although she looks more like me, she has a lot of her dad’s personality characteristics too. Caitlin has always been a fearless child. When she was little, she would scare me to death as she headed straight for the deep end of the pool! Now, as a competitive gymnast, she fearlessly does flips, jumps and various skills on the floor, beam and bars. As an 8 year old, she came home from our local amusement park to proudly announce that she had ridden all of the roller coasters (even some that are too scary for me)! These are exactly the kind of things that her father used to do. He loved roller coasters and anything else that would give him a thrill. For our fifth wedding anniversary, I surprised him with a ride in an open cockpit bi-plane. He loved it! Just like with Cameron, I can only attribute her personality to nature because her dad hasn’t been here to nurture her since she was a baby.

My little guy, Connor, is just developing his personality. Since he’s only 6 years old, it’s hard for me to see the resemblances between him and his dad. His grandparents, however, see many things in Connor that remind them of Steve. Connor loves to dress up as superheroes and his favorite toys are action figures. Cameron never dressed up and he played with legos and other building blocks, so he doesn’t get this from his big brother. According to Steve’s parents, however, Steve always dressed up as Batman and Superman when he was Connor’s age. They said his favorite pajamas were superhero and he would make them tie a blanket around his neck as a cape. Connor was born after Steve died so I think it’s pretty great that he likes the same things that his dad liked at his age.

My children are such a wonderful blend of me and Steve. I love how they all remind me of their dad, but in different ways. I look forward to seeing which personality characteristics they’ve inherited from him as they get older too. I know that he lives on in them and it always makes me smile.

The Waves of Grief

The one thing I’ve learned on this grief journey of mine, is that there are always good days and bad days. Fortunately, the bad days are fewer with more time in between them. When Steve first died, I thought I would never feel good again. Every part of my body ached with a physical longing that felt a lot like the flu. My chest hurt when I breathed as if there was a weight sitting on top of me. I had to force myself to eat because I felt nauseous and food was tasteless. Showering took an enormous amount of strength and I would feel like laying down to sleep after exerting so much energy.

Now, seven years later, I have more good days than bad. When I have a true “grief day,” it catches me by surprise. It’s usually a holiday or anniversary of some sort (the last one was on Steve’s birthday in September) and my grief can render me useless. It’s as if he just died all over again. I am unable to stop crying, don’t feel like eating and it takes all of my energy to get out of bed. I am always surprised by the amount of pain I feel on these grief days, although you would think I’d be used to it by now.

I’ve learned to be gentle with myself and to allow the waves of grief to hit me every once in a while. When I do, I am able to recover from them faster and the grief doesn’t seem to linger past a day or two. If I fight the grief, and don’t allow myself to feel it, the bad feelings last much longer. It’s as if I need to cry it all out so that I can keep moving forward and feeling good. If I don’t let it out, then my body just holds onto the grief.

Sometimes, when I know that a particularly rough anniversary is coming, I will purposely plan something that will put me into a better frame of mind. I will allow myself to be sad without being swallowed up inside the wave of grief. For Father’s Day, I focus on my children and our tradition of sending balloons up to Heaven. Each of us write a letter to Steve (or draws a picture) and we put them into the balloons before we let them go. It is healing for me to write to him and then watch that letter ascend into the sky. I always feel sad on Father’s Day but our ritual allows me to honor him and then move on with my day. I try to make Father’s Day about my children, not about missing their dad. Writing the letter keeps me from stuffing my feelings so that I am able to keep moving forward.

 I went to a funeral service today for a friend of mine. When his widow spoke about her love and how he was her best friend, I was taken back to that awful day in October of 2004 as I said goodbye to Steve at his funeral. I was sobbing today and I’m sure some people thought I was crazy since I wasn’t that close to the man who died! It was a wave of grief that came over me because I saw myself in that widow.

The good news is that I was able to recover from the wave and move on with the rest of my day. Seven years ago, that wave would have completely immobilized me. Perhaps I am healing after all?

Only vs. Single Parent

I love my children. I wouldn’t trade being their mother for anything in the world. In my darkest days, they were the reason I could get out of bed.

With that being said, one of the hardest things about being widowed is never having a night “off.” I miss the times when I could leave them with their dad and know that I could enjoy myself without being worried about them. This is one way that being an “only parent” is significantly different than being a “single parent.”  For most of the single parents I know, they can plan nights out on those weekends when they do not have their children. There is something comforting about knowing that your children are with their other parent and you don’t have to worry about them. Leaving your children with a babysitter, no matter how good he/she is, does not provide the same sense of ease. No matter who is taking care of my children, if it’s not me, then it’s not their parent.

When Cameron was four years old, I was a graduate student who took classes at night. This one night, my neighbor was watching Cameron and Caitlin for us because Steve was working and I had school. My cell phone battery was low so I turned the phone off while I was in class. I didn’t worry about doing this because Steve was still here with us. My children had two parents so their safety didn’t hinge solely upon me.

As I was driving home from class, I remembered that my phone was turned off. When I turned it on, I had several messages from Steve and my neighbor. Cameron had fallen off a trampoline and broke his arm! By the time I got the messages, Steve was with him at the ER and his arm had already been set. I felt terrible but his Daddy was there so Cameron was fine. Since that day, my phone is never far from me if my children are not with me. I can even be a bit paranoid about checking it!

I’m sure all parents worry about their children. I know I’m not unique in that way. It’s just the constant responsibility that is exhausting and can become overwhelming at times. When I decided to have these children, I did so within a happy marriage and with the understanding that I would have someone helping me. I sometimes just wish for a night off from the responsibility. I’m envious of my friends who are “kidless” because their children are with the other parent. I think everyone needs a break sometimes and it can be healthy for all parents.

Do not misunderstand me: I am not complaining about my children. I have great friends and excellent babysitters. I have even gone out of town without my children thanks to the loving people in our lives. I am simply saying that being an only parent is very different than being a single parent. No matter where I am (near or far), I am worried about my children in a way that I wouldn’t be if I had left them with their father. I take my responsibility as their only parent very seriously. I am never out of touch from those who are caring for my children, for fear that something will happen and I will need to be reached. I love my children and I honestly don’t know what I’d do without them.

A Magical Season

My favorite part of the holiday season is the magic and wonder that I see in my children’s faces. I just love their excitement when our Elf on a Shelf shows up on Thanksgiving. They start talking to him and telling him what they want Santa to bring them. They’ve named our Elf, Bob. Funny name for an Elf but he’s all theirs and they love him.

Then there’s this thing called “Portable North Pole” that sends video messages from Santa to the children too. My kids love it and wait excitedly for theirs to arrive. My oldest son doesn’t believe in Santa anymore but he still enjoys his video. My daughter (10 years old) figured out that the Easter Bunny wasn’t real but, even though we had the “Santa talk,” she still believes in Santa. I’m pretty sure this will be my last year for her to believe so I’m going to enjoy every minute of it! My six year old believes in all the magic and wonder of this season.

Steve always enjoyed the holidays. He would hang lights on our house and scare me to death by climbing on the roof to do it! This is the one time of the year (okay, second time if you include their birthdays!) when I don’t worry about spoiling my children. I have tried very hard to raise them with the same values and morals as I would have had he been here with me, but it’s been hard not to indulge them when I know they are missing out on having a father. My two oldest, the ones that knew him, have spent so many days and nights crying for their Daddy that I just want to see them smile. Sometimes, that means giving in and getting them something they’ve asked me to buy them. It’s been a real struggle for me to keep that urge in check and remember that raising them to be thoughtful, caring and generous people means that I have to say no when I really want to say yes.

Steve and I were Christians and active in our church. This is a magical season in the church because we celebrate the birth of Jesus. I’ve continued to keep Jesus in our holiday and it makes me feel even closer to Steve because of it. This is a time of year when I can miss him but really feel that I know where he is. He is in Heaven because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. It helps me to celebrate the birth of Christ and it keeps my children focused on the true meaning of Christmas too. I love it that my daughter uses her own money to buy toys for kids in need and my son is active in his church youth group. My little guy is just now beginning to understand that not everyone has the money to buy what they need or want. I will take him shopping with me this year when I buy gifts for our church Angel Tree so that he can see how we give back to others during the holidays.

This is such a bittersweet time of year for our family. We miss having Steve here with us but I can feel him smiling down on our home. It is filled with Christian faith, love, tradition and generosity; all the things he would have helped me instill in our children. I am proud of how I am raising them and I will enjoy every minute of them during this magical season!

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