I have this recurring dream. It’s variations on a theme - the theme of my ex and I getting back together.
In the dream, it’s just the two of us, and he is looking at me in that way, with great love in his eyes. We have sex.
“I missed you,” I say, crying.
“I missed you too,” he says, and all of the pain and suffering of the past four years is erased and we are back together again, our little family.
Except, my mind said in the dream, he has this new wife, and a baby. That is going to be weird.
And then I woke up, sad and aroused, still remembering what it felt like to kiss him.
I don’t know if my single mom friends understand where I am coming from. They were the ones who ended their marriages (with good reason). Or the end of the marriage was mutually-agreed upon. Not so with me. Just a few months before the divorce was final, I was on the phone begging him for another chance. I can still feel the humiliation of his rejection. He was already with his now-wife, the mother-to-be of his new baby daughter. And I had long since been erased from his heart.
Sometimes I wonder if he ever dreams of me, ever thinks of me, ever misses me like I miss him.
A few days ago, I met with a parenting coach from the Parent Encouragement Program. This is a wonderful program that provides classes for parents in positive discipline. I took the class when S was 2.5; since then I have to admit I had forgotten a lot, and realized that I badly needed a refresher. The dynamic between S and me had started to get combative and ugly. Here I was, facing off on a daily basis with a very angry four year-old. Who do you think won again and again in such battles? There are no winners in power struggles with a small child.
I know it doesn’t need to be like this, not all the time, anyways. I am the one who must change, who must try harder to be the person, and the parent, I aspire to be.
The parenting coach and I talked about many things; one of them is to try to help build up S’s confidence and self-esteem by encouraging him to do more on his own. As a single Jewish (s)mother, I do tend to over-do for him - mainly out of convenience, but also because I have control freak tendencies. Yes he is still little, but he can put his own waffle in the toaster, or help to prepare his lunch for the next day. He can wash himself and dry himself. He can brush his own teeth. The kid can do a lot of stuff on his own now. I have to let go just a little and let him take more responsibility for his life. The parenting coach suggested I tell him that he is “competent” and “responsible” and use big words so he feels powerful. And he is!
He has been so happy and delighted with himself since I started encouraging him to get more involved in the tasks of daily life. He was so proud when I let him slice the tops off the strawberries with a knife (with close supervision, of course) and feed veggies into the food processor. I have really seen a difference in the closeness of our connection just in the few days since I have been implementing these small changes.
The other thing we discussed was helping S to feel more comfortable with trying new things and with making mistakes. He can be a really fearful, easily discouraged little dude. I see that I have begun to pass my perfectionistic tendencies down to him a bit. I can be too critical sometimes, too quick to point out when he is doing something wrong. I need to replace every bit of that criticism with encouragement. It is what was done to me - I was raised by a walking stereotype, the hypercritical Jewish grandma - and I need not become her. The awareness is half the battle. I am working hard to catch myself when I am being discouraging and to apologize and turn it around immediately.
In just a few short days, my patience has increased exponentially and he is responding so well to my calmer vibe! I know it will not always be like this, and we will be at loggerheads about something or other at some point. Yet, I can sense that as long as I help him to feel his own power and strength on a daily basis, he will not feel the need to challenge me as much on the little things.
Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with my son, and I have hope that it is not too late to turn around some of the funky dynamics that have been occurring between us.
“Point out every time you make a mistake,” said the parenting coach, “and explain to him that ‘mistakes are just opportunities to learn.’ Say this to him every day, and soon it will be ingrained in his head that it’s OK to be imperfect.”
I need to ingrain this in my own head as much as his. I have never been very comfortable with making mistakes. Usually, I tend to beat myself up over it, and to feel ashamed and guilty as hell. I am still filled with regret at the mistakes I made in my marriage, some of which my ex could never find it in his heart to forgive me for. Though I would have done anything to earn his forgiveness, to hang on to his love, it was not meant to be.
So I say, “oops, mommy made a mistake,” and “mistakes are just opportunities to learn,” and I slowly practice being OK with my deep, deep imperfection. My flawed and wounded self. And like I encourage S, I must encourage myself, validate my strengths and note what a good job I am doing every day. Life is not easy, and yet I get out of bed and I do it daily. I challenge and push myself and go outside of my comfort zone all the damn time.
Somehow, I need to learn to forgive myself for my mistakes, and to remember that all of them, every single one, was just an opportunity to learn. I must find a way to let go of toxic shame, to awaken from dreams that can never be, and to stare life in the face, unafraid, ready to dream the dreams that have an actual chance of coming true. I need to raise myself as I would like to raise my son - to be happy, confident, self-assured, and independent. Today I have some faith that this is possible.
Welcome to this blog - my chronicle of the illuminating, character-building path of single parenthood. I'm making this up as I go along. My life is my practice, and my five year-old son is my greatest teacher.