You get the call from the school nurse one afternoon. Your child has a stomach ache and a temperature. Your instinct has you reaching for your keys to go pick her up, but then you pause. The nurse also called your ex because it’s his day to pick the kids up. “Fair enough,” you think.
So you check in to make sure he’s received the message on his voicemail and learn that he’s asked his wife to go pick up your child. “Right, fair enough,” you think to yourself as your heart takes a hit. “But I want to be there.” You’re reminded of how you don’t get to be there anymore in all the ways you once could.
This is the quiet ache of many divorced parents, moms and dads alike. It’s one that I am all too familiar with–of the ongoing struggle to keep reconciling oneself to the turns that life has taken and the heartache of having to let your children go over and over and over again.
We don’t get to be there whenever our kids are sick. We don’t always get to see them on their birthday. We don’t get to love on our kids whenever they have a stomach ache and take their temperature and ask if they want some chicken soup. It’s an empty-nest syndrome that comes far too early for divorced parents who must grapple with how to feel connected with their children and present even when they are physically in a different place.
A familiar adage comes to mind: children don’t keep. Indeed, they do not. They grow up; they move out; and they build their own lives. For divorced parents sharing custody or without any custody at all, this experience comes too soon. It’s not without saying that I’ve had to redefine for myself what being there for my children means, or else I risk living in a state of perpetual heart sickness.
Being there means always I am with them in spirit. When they’re sick, I’ll always say a prayer. When we’re apart, I will think of them. I will always hold them close at heart. I will give them the best human version of divine love I can, with a promise to love them no matter what–when they’re doing well in school and when they’re not; when they try my patience; when they make me proud; when they disappoint me.
Being there means doing my best to be fully present when they are with me. Being there means I will seek their best even when it comes at a cost to my own heart. This is how I have redefined what “being there” means. And if there is any comfort to be found as I let them go it is that I will always, always, be their mom.