The beauty of life, while we cannot undo what is done, we can see it, understand it, learn from it and change so that every new moment is spent not in regret, guilt, fear or anger but in wisdom, understanding, and love.
Single parent or not, I don’t think there is a space that exists that guilt doesn’t somehow find its way into the psyche of your day. We never feel like we are enough on the best of days.
But single parents have a unique extra shoulder that sits on them like the yoke on an Ox because they must be so many people at once. If you need to please your child, your job may suffer. If you need to please your work, your children may suffer. If you need to please yourself, well…that’s a rare occasion and one that usually doesn’t even register on the totem pole of the priorities of your life.
We check off the boxes of the laundry list of chores that need to be done each day. Chores that reflect everything from just waking up to getting breakfast in your children’s tummies, to getting dressed, to checking that their homework is in the backpacks tucked alongside their lunches.
You make sure you are out the door not a minute past 7:20 am or you will hit the swath of traffic on Western Avenue that will slow you down and get you last in line for the drop off to the first of the two schools your kids attend.
As you drive you pray, they get there on time and are not subject to being tardy.
After doing the proverbial school drop-offs, you swing by McDonald’s for your first cup of desperately needed coffee which is also part of the timing game. Get there too late and you sit-in line and then you are late for work.
As you drive to work traversing over the bridges, sipping your cup of Joe, you feel yourself getting reacquainted with a moment of control.
It is only you in the car as you say your positive affirmations to yourself …” I intend on having a calm and confident day!” … “I am successful beyond my wildest dreams!” And so, it is as the day progresses.
You literally feel like you have already lived 6 hours of your day before it has even begun.
What did my children learn from me?
Did they see the guilt I lived with every day?
Did they feel responsible for any of the guilt that I imposed on myself and yet, picked up by them?
As I look at them now at the ages of 24 and 20, I see that indeed some of it has rubbed off on them.
I had written an article earlier about the comments of my children after I had interviewed them about their experiences with divorce. I asked the following question which gave me insight. This was what my son’s answer was.
If you could have any wish now as an adult of a divorced family what would that wish be?
“I wish I handled it better and didn’t manifest resentments or anxieties that should have been addressed earlier. I wish I could have also been more supportive. Even though I was young, there was always more I could have done.”
My son was 4 years old when our marriage ended. What was this little boy thinking he could do? He was a child. There was nothing that was his responsibility.
Yet, he is 24 now and has articulated this. And honestly, I think he still feels this way. So, the answer to my own question would be, yes, they learned that their mom did feel guilt so perhaps they should too. My absence of mind in this was not what my intention was. I just felt what I felt, and they absorbed it.
The job of two is done by one. The job of two is done by
Do We Ever Stop Feeling Guilty?
So, what is this guilt that single moms in general feel?
Why do we feel so obliged to be everything to everyone?
In my case, I felt that because their father didn’t love me anymore and found someone new, it made me feel like I had failed not him… but them. I wasn’t lovable any longer and thus they felt unlovable by him too.
To this day they both will curtail their conversations with him to please him. They will avoid subjects and requests that they feel will displease him because they feel the conditions of that love.
After all, he left his two children and married another woman with two children. This action alone made them feel somewhat invalidated and thus the conditions began. I never went a day in my life that I didn’t feel loved by both my parents and most particularly my father. Because they didn’t get that everyday love that I had experienced, I have spent the greater part of the past 20 years feeling guilt that has at times undone me.
The guilt of feeling like you are a bad mom means that you are a good mom.
So, what have they learned?
What is the imprint this guilt has made on their lives now that they are young adults?
Was it good?
Or was it not so good?
Notice I didn’t say bad. I don’t want to think that anything I did as a single mother was bad for them. I don’t think anything was. I just think there are varying degrees of what a child absorbs simply because their single mom is navigating waters that are uncharted to her.
And in many cases, frightening. Perhaps the bigger question is what have I learned?
Was this guilt manufactured by my need to keep the pity party going? Or was it real and did I just feel profound sorrow? And was I just too overwhelmed? I think all the above.
What happens many times is that children of divorce see what is happening to the parent they are left to live with the most. And in almost all cases, this is with the mother.
I would frequently say out loud things like, “Good Lord, with this stress I will be surprised if I make it to my next birthday!” That was my way of letting off my steam. I never meant it for one day. But they both have commented on how my saying that had affected them. They literally worried that I was going to die. And the very thought of that was horrific to them.
They had already lost their father to another family. The next thought that raced into their young minds was what will happen to them if I die?
They only shared this with me a few months ago and I have never said it again. And if I could take it back all those years ago I would. It breaks my heart to think that I placed this kind of fear in them.
“Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”
I do still feel guilty about a myriad of things. I feel guilty for not being able to give my children the kind of security I felt growing up. I also feel guilty for making them so much of a priority that I didn’t spend time looking for a possible stepdad for them. They never really saw a good relationship between a husband and wife. And for that I am sorry.
My son’s only example was perhaps in my Father with my Mother. My daughter has learned to take care of herself and be strong because as she said, love is never guaranteed. But as Winston Churchill said, it takes courage. Courage to step into the fear. Courage to find the wisdom. And courage to be your true authentic self.
And at the end of the day …yes, I still have guilt. But I also have perspective. My fears of the past created reactions that made me feel hopeless. My courage for the future is how I will navigate this next chapter of my life. And I know they will both be watching me from afar.