Parenting is hard.
It’s hard when the two parents actively love each other and it gets even harder when they don’t. You can end up doing it all on your own or even worse, working against the parenting style of your ex. Parenting as a single parent can be exhausting on the best of days, a blood bath on the tough days and a sucker punch to the face on the really bad days.
We ALL enter parenthood, single and married parents alike, utterly unequipped for the improbable litany of problems and situations that will eventually cross our paths. Parenting is like going to a knife fight and showing up with a straw. You will get hurt and there will be blood.
If I’ve learned anything, it’s to never go in alone. This parenting thing is hard. As the single primary parent, I had to create a parenting style that would support me but more importantly, I had to establish a fail safe back up system that would automatically turn on in case I went down. I luckily figured out my parenting style while my daughter was still fairly young.
I had left my then 3-year-old in her bedroom while I was making lunch. After a few minutes, she came out, walked right up to me and declared quite matter-of-factly, “they were in my face so I cut them… now they are not in my face.” I couldn’t really argue the logic of her statement since she had cut off almost the entirety of hair from the front of her head.
Which brings me to my fairly simple yet entirely effective parenting style.
Call your Mom and have her deal with it
Calling your mom and having her “deal with it” is an acceptable parenting style. I’ve used it many times when I’ve lost my ability to speak and simply needed another adult brain to help process the situation.
- The cat scratched up your kid’s face and she needs stitches? Call your mom.
- The kid pretended a piece of plastic was a contact lens and it got stuck in her eye? Call your mom.
- She had an allergic reaction to penicillin? Call 911, then call your mom.
It got to the point where my daughter would simply call my mom and ask for punishment or resolution to any number of parenting issues. It was awesome. Everyone knew their role. Everyone knew who was the boss of whom. My daughter was the boss of our cat, I was the boss of my daughter, my mom was the boss of me, therefore; whatever my mom said goes. A workable hierarchy, if you will, was established. My fail safe back up parenting system was in place and it worked perfectly.
And then, 13 years later, I encountered a life altering parenting situation where my usual delegation of power wouldn’t work.
It was a typical Sunday. Nothing memorable. Just my life moving around me while I enjoyed the view. When I listened to that voice mail, my eyes started to widen and my heart started to race and my gut started to ache. It was one thing to get that phone call; the call that takes your breath away and squeezes your insides out. It was quite another to then have to be the bearer of that news to your child.
Which brings me to my sucker punch to the face.
No one teaches you how to break a heart
My daughter’s father, my ex-husband had been rushed into the emergency room and was intubated in a medically induced coma. He was by all rights dying and I had to sum up the courage to tell her something I couldn’t imagine having to say out loud.
I was never given a heads up on how to hold my child’s heart while finding the words that would do the least harm. Words that would break her heart, words that she’d re-play over and over in her mind, forever. I wasn’t prepared for how utterly terrified and alone I would feel in that moment knowing I was going to be the only living parent she had left.
I didn’t know how to do it. I started shivering as I told my partner the news. A chill over took my body and I couldn’t stop shaking. I was in shock. My loving partner reminded me that I didn’t have to do this alone. He listened to me, held me close, lifted my chin, looked me in the eyes and told me quite matter-of-factly, “Babe, you need to take a Xanax.”
Which brings me to an important life lesson.
Xanax makes bad situations better
It was good advice. Very good advice. I highly recommend the Xanax. I couldn’t open that bottle fast enough. Straight up better living through chemistry. Take a pill, wait 15 minutes… and then proceed with your tragedy.
I don’t remember what I said to her as I braided her hair and shattered her world, I only remember that she was brave.
PLOT TWIST. This is where a bad situation gets much worse.
In one of the few moments of conscious living he had left, her father had chosen to have me banned from the ICU. His “hands off” parenting style had evolved into a final act of retaliation against me. When I took her to see him, I was physically barred from taking her in. I wasn’t allowed to be by her side as she said good-bye to her father.
And that made me angry. Epically angry.
Fact: It’s not safe to get in between a mother and her child. And yet, people do.
When he made me fight for my child, I reacted like any mother in her right mind would. I channeled the biggest toughest bad ass I could think of. I manifested all the anger and intensity of Samuel Jackson in “Pulp Fiction” when he starts reciting the famous Ezekiel speech: “And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger”… right, you know the one.
I fully embodied his power and intent when a group of 4 nurses forcibly pulled my daughter from my arms and made her stand in that room by herself. One minute she was sobbing and begging me to come in with her and the next minute she was alone, learning to support herself. It was heartbreaking and I raged on through my tears.
The litany of words I spoke in reaction to this “situation” weren’t as cinematic or poetic as something Tarantino would’ve written but I did do him justice by letting loose a highly inappropriate torrent of profanity, repeated use of my favorite “c” word included, while I wished upon them endless nightmares of MY promised vengeance. Obviously, they called security. Obviously, I denied I was the person they were looking for. (Turns out it isn’t too hard to hide in plain sight.)
In case you’re wondering where my mom was during all this, I have to confess; she was on the other end of the my phone, in my pocket. I hadn’t called her so she could deal with it, I had her on the line as my witness.
Which brings me to my final lesson.
Always bring back up
I’m reiterating my advice from the beginning of the story; never go in alone. You need another set of shoulders to help carry the weight, another voice to deliver your message and someone to be a credible witness when the cops show up. The lawyers like it when you have an alibi.
My daughter remembers only bits and pieces of that night. She was too busy losing her father to notice much else. When I had her read this article, she laughed and remarked that now things in her memory made much more sense. I have tried to help her remember the good and limit the need to dwell on bad. Plus, she likes knowing she comes from a long line of bad ass women.
And then, just like that, we went on living our lives.
I haven’t graduated from the “call you mom and have her deal with it” parenting style. My daughter still calls her to ask for advice and permission, which now that she’s almost 21 is very endearing but would be pretty embarrassing if her friends ever found out.
I know it’s impossible to equip myself against that future litany of problems that will still undoubtedly cross my path which is why I carry Xanax because I know it can make a bad situation better… you just have to wait 15 minutes.
I did learn my lesson about using “Pulp Fiction” as my “go to” for anger management. I’m now channeling Uma Thurman from Tarantino’s “Kill Bill”. More violence, less talk. I don’t however have her sword fighting skills so it’s still just me showing up with a straw to a knife fight.
As for how to break a heart, I don’t recommend it but the longer I live, the more it seems to be a universal lesson we will all learn at one point or another. My only advice is have someone to lean on when you do it.
Always bring back up.