Last Sunday I was in the kitchen working on meal prep for the week. I was slicing melons, plucking grapes from vines, and baking chicken breasts when an unexpected thing happened.
It was just my daughters and I home for the afternoon and they had both gravitated to the kitchen (probably the scent of chili-lime flavored chicken wafting through the house had something to do with it.) Before long we had found ourselves deep in conversation; about what, I couldn’t say now, but somehow we came to this:
My sixteen year old looked at me and said, “Mom, you are the strongest person I know. I look at everything you have gone through, picking yourself up after the divorce, being a single mom to two daughters, having to work hard to support us… You showed us not to settle for less than what we deserve. I don’t think you realize how much we look up to you.”
Naturally, I teared up and if my soul could sigh, it would have done so at that exact moment.
We’ve been through a lot in these seven years post-divorce. There have been countless arguments, tears, hugs, and laughter. The girls are now twenty and sixteen, and while there was no DIY manual on how to cope when the man in your life walks out, somehow we have gotten here: blubbering in the kitchen over how proud we are to have survived together.
It’s been such a rough road for us three. The road started out pretty normal, freshly tarred to make for smooth sailing. Eventually, that perfect road experienced some pretty major frost heaves, frost heaves that popped us right out of the minivan of life and dragged us behind it for a spell; resulting in three pretty severe cases of road rash. Road rash hurts, both real and metaphorical. It hurts real bad.
One day I got tired of the frost heaves causing so much pain, so I put the brakes on, dusted everyone off, slapped some bag balm on the road rash and turned that minivan down a new road. This road had potholes, too, no road is perfect, but we were wiser this time, and we had the scars from the road rash to remind us to slow down and avoid the bad road if we could. So eventually we learned to see the signs of a road in need of repair and we began to detour whenever possible.
It seems like for the past year the road has been a bit more travel-friendly, and for that I am thankful.
There was a time when I didn’t know if my relationship with my girls would ever return to what it was before. Were the scars from the road rash just too much to fully recover from? It felt like it at times. Times when I couldn’t say or do anything right. Times when they judged me and resented me for choices I made and for things that were out of my control. I’m not talking about normal everyday adolescent squabbles with my children, it was something far beyond that.
I’ve read a lot of books, articles, and blogs about life after divorce, but I’m not sure any of us dare to truly delve into the ugly truth of single parenting. Even now, I only dance around the subject matter of co-parenting with a narcissist. The truth was knowing that anything that was said and done at my house could and would be used against me by the other side. For years I felt like I was being held captive in my own life and that my world could come crashing down at any moment due to crafty manipulation techniques.
Even when the efforts failed I felt the effects from my children. They would treat me differently until finally things would settle down and we could get back to our normal. It wasn’t their fault, they were children, and it certainly wasn’t fair for them to be caught in the middle of someone else’s sick games.
I struggled during those years. I struggled with my reality vs. the reality I longed for. I wanted simplicity and an honest life with my children. I resisted and pushed back when drama and lies crept in from the other side.
It wasn’t easy having a foot in two separate worlds; the world I had lived in with my children and the world I wanted to live in with them.
I kept on. I stayed true to my course. There were days when I wanted to scream and yell, and there were days when I did exactly that.
They said it will get better. They said, “Keep doing what you are doing because you are doing it right.”
And after looking into the eyes of my sixteen-year-old when she said, “Mom, you are my hero. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for everything we went through.”
I finally believe they were right.
For all the struggling mamas out there acting as mom and dad while trying not to lose yourself in the process, it does get better. There is hope for a happier, more peaceful existence with your kids, just don’t give up. Even more importantly, don’t give in to the dark side. Listen to your heart, trust your gut, and love those little cherubs of yours with everything you have.
I have no false pretenses on perfectly paved roads of the future, in fact, I am well aware that at any moment I could get bucked right out of the minivan again and suffer a fresh case of the rash. The knowledge that at any moment we are one incident away from turmoil, and I could be cast back into the role of the villain always resides in the back of my mind. But the older they get, the wiser they are becoming and I keep praying that they always see truth above everything else.
At the end of the day, at least now I know with certainty that underneath all of the muck and mire resides a strong foundation of truth and integrity that we built together. And as for that road rash… it gave us some pretty beautiful scars that only the three of us can see. It taught us more than I can even begin to quantify with words.
As we stood around the kitchen that afternoon we shared memories of one horrible summer that we all now agree has become one of our favorite summers together. I never would have guessed all those years ago that some of the worst days of our lives could have bonded my girls and I so closely that we could turn it into such a positive and sacred memory.
Never underestimate the power of the road rash and the beauty of its scars.