Sink or Swim

Divorce, break-ups, endings. They’re hard. They’re messy. Even in the most simple, mutual of ways, they’ve left their mark. Emotions are felt differently by each person involved. And even on the parts of those who aren’t, but are more than happy to share their viewpoint (requested or not). When you join your life with someone’s, whether it’s 2 months or 20 years, there’s a connection, a dent left behind in your armor that will leave you either respecting it as getting through or focusing on the damage incurred. There’s never a right or wrong way. Endings can come about in so many different ways; anger, changes, growth that doesn’t match, fear, hatred, realizations, death…..

At some point you have to move forward though, no matter what side you were on. You’re entitled to all of the emotions you encounter, but sometimes they’re overwhelming. Smothering, almost. You rise to the surface for air or you push it to that last minute where you’ve got to catch your breath to save yourself. Moving forward means new encounters, which can make some uncomfortable; can cause others immense fear and in others encourage curious excitement. But truth be told, moving forward involves something new. Finding a fit and a place. Understanding who we are on our own, as opposed to being someone associated directly with another. And depending on how much of yourself you’ve either held on to, or lost along the way, the path can be muddy and dirty and tiring or a cakewalk. Somewhere in between is where more probably go.

If you’re the introspective type, song lyrics suddenly mean more; if you’re the impulsive type, you indulge in momentarily soothing behaviors typically bordering on self-destructive. Those who can ignore their feelings simply land on the next day and don’t look back. Not to say they aren’t blindsided by the acceptance of the situation down the road, but some just see the constant rotation a way of life or what they deserve.

The addition of children to the equation is the hardest part. And that’s how this started. Becoming a single parent, whether you are solely single, as in permanent custody or a co-parenting situation, it’s really effing hard. I respect any single parent who maintains their sanity, even if that means pizza and two hours of Curious George to get stuff done for an hour, only to get those five minutes to sit down before someone needs water. Or food. Or can’t put their pants on. Life’s not fair, we all know that one. But this was a situation created by one or both parties and you can’t rest on the negatives of it. It’s life. It’s the present. You suck it up for the benefit of the kids. Especially because you have to explain to them that life isn’t fair when they use the phrase on you.

Everything is more complicated. Scheduling, dating, planning, identifying your new chapter; all while remembering it has to be as smooth as possible for the children who are involved. One parent brings someone new into their life and that new person goes, you have to address the idea of loss more than once with children. (Break-ups are losses, so that counts any situation). One parent brings more than one person into the children’s life through impulsivity and searching for air in a situation where they feel they’re drowning. Excitement can be that person’s air, and the balance between that, being a good parent and mental health is a potentially combustible moment. A parent decides to move; it creates more change. More upheaval. No matter your age, adult or child, those types of changes have effects. The parents fight and the children are in the middle and the kids absorb that regardless of age. That’s not to say all parenting situations are bad. Some of those aren’t necessarily bad, depending on how the parents handle it individually and with or without a united parenting understanding.

Having a bad day? Suck it up. Those kids need you. You might be lucky enough to have a co-parent who will change the schedule to allow you the time you need to decompress. Yet you also have to understand that you are the parent at that time and you can’t expect another person who has been removed to be that understanding or flexible, given that you now have separate lives, especially if they have brought someone else into their new path. (I hate using the word path. But it’s really the best description. Road? Trip? Go with it.)

You have to understand what you can do in your alone time and what can cross over. The mistakes you make, the losses you experience, those are all a part of their lives and if the children are young, explaining can be difficult and if they’re older, the ability to comprehend the situation without explanation will mold some part of that child’s future. You can have a bad day with the kids, but then you also may get the whole next day off (for lack of a better word) and know that while you’re dwelling on other life moments and feeling sorry for yourself, that parent may be having the same rough day. While having to solely monitor, watch, feed, give permission to, drive to events; etc.

Being alone is hard, no matter how strong you are. No matter how used to it you are. Being with kids alone can be incredibly trying and also incredibly rewarding. You manage to keep a roof over their heads, food in their stomach and clothes to wear and some days, that’s what you have to pat yourself on the back for and be okay. There are days where you have to leave the room and that’s okay. There are days when you don’t have the kids and be okay with that and not feel guilty. If you’re the sole caregiver, you don’t have to feel guilt for relying on a support system, or feeling burdened by the lack of one. We all just do our best, even if our best can suck, subjectively.

As usual, I’ve strayed from place to place. My end implication is always the same. Life is hard. Tricky. Either handed to us or earned. It’s what we do with it. Some choices will be right, some will hurt, some will leave marks and some will be in a gray area. If you want the less sunny description of life, you could compare it to a swimming instructor. Life is either going to teach you by keeping on the arm floaties or standing on the sidelines, yelling “Sink or swim, bitches!”

You can hate yourself for mistakes, feelings, emotions and reactions or you can face them and then make your next choices accordingly. I’ve contradicted myself in the last statement, and I acknowledge that. That’s kind of life, though, isn’t it.