Two weeks ago today, I put my oldest daughter on a plane to return home to her dad. That morning, I put the following as my Facebook status.
When Tommy was born, he was very sick. When it was time for me to be discharged from the hospital one of my doctors came to see me in the NICU, as I was only in my room when I was not allowed at his bedside. She told me that while I would be back in 3 hours, leaving him would feel like I was cutting my own arm off with a saw and leaving it at the hospital as I returned home.
She was right.
But what I didn’t realize that day was that a few months later my older 2 kids would be moving away against my wishes and that it would be her words that got me through every departure.
Just because it feels like my arm is missing, it is not. Just because my heart aches and my arms are empty, I am still a mother. Even though this hurts so very much and I want to collapse, I have children that need me to go on. God will strengthen me, and I can do the goodbyes and pretending to be strong even when I am not. I will do it again in 3 weeks when the other leaves. I will continue the distracting for the entire family the next 46 weeks and all the many cries from younger siblings to “please just bring them back” when I wish I could.
My arm is still here. I am still their mom. I will (try to) stay strong, and in June these arms and my heart will be full again. But today, I’m crying. A lot.
A week from today, my oldest son will be heading home. (He came down a little later than his sister.) The shock that August is really here already is not settling well in our home. We all feel as though the anticipation for summer was just a few days ago. I keep asking my husband to slow down time or reverse it, as if he had the ability. Time flies when you’re having fun.
I have learned over the last few years just what to expect in the coming weeks: All of us will cry. There will be a lot of prayer and hugging. Some of us will be cranky for a few days. Johnny Ben, my son with severe autism, will walk about the house looking for his brother and sister. He will want to sleep where they slept for a while. (He’s been sleeping in his big sister’s spot since she left.) We will look through photos and videos while we reminisce. Almost immediately we will begin a countdown to next summer.
I will distract… and I will distract my family as much as possible. It’s not that we are not coping with our feelings. It is that this is how our life is, and it can be really painful. So to lessen the stinging and gnawing pain, we have to look away for a bit sometimes. Kinda like how someone might look away when getting a shot of antibiotics. We will talk to the kids in another state on the phone and in messages and we will discuss the situation we are in. But staying busy at the end of summer, I have found, has been the answer to rationing the tears. We will dive into a new year of homeschooling, go on a few fun adventures, I will attempt some craft and sewing projects, we’ll have a few long movie nights, science projects, and, hopefully, a lot of laughter.
It still hurts. We still feel a deep emptiness. We talk about our feelings very openly and pray together. But staying busy is better than wallowing in misery and allowing the pain to suck every bit of joy out of our lives. I may be a non-custodial mother to two of my children, but that does not mean that I have to walk around crying every minute of every day.
I don’t expect anyone who has not been in my shoes to understand how this feels. I do know that just as much as homeschooling parents are tired of the “Oh, I could never do that.” comments, I’m tired of hearing about it in reference to not seeing my children every day. I’m not stronger than anyone. I’m not a fragile mess because my kids are not with me either. This is not something that while I held my two oldest babies for the first time that I thought would ever happen. But it did, and I somehow managed to miraculously survive those first few years. I would never wish it on my worst enemy.
I do know that I am blessed to still have them at all. How can I complain when mothers on the other side of the planet are burying their children because of famine or faith?
There have been times I have not handled these situations the best way, and I will be the first to admit that. Thankfully, God finally got through my hard head and I realized the best way to deal with my feelings.
During my Jr. High and High School years, I became fascinated with Philippians 4. I read it over and over. Judye even placed a plaque with Philippians 4:13 over my desk when I was her pupil in High School and it was drilled into my heart. Years later, I understood why. The first time I felt any kind of peace was when I had said to someone that I just didn’t know if I could be strong enough for this. Without even thinking, in the next breath I stated Philippians 4:13, which has been my favorite scripture for many years.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13
Whenever I feel like I just can’t do this again, I remember that Christ has me in the palm of His hand and He will give me the strength I need.
There is no one that can relate to my heart like He can. No one.
That is where I find my peace, in Christ.
I take the pain that could do me in and instead of self-destructing I use the creativity God has given me and I recycle the darkness into some, um, interesting creations. Ha! Okay, some of them are pretty good. Others? Well, let’s just say that a good friend and I have a running joke about my attempts at cake pops. I could fill a whole other website with all of my Pinterest fails. But hey, even they bring laughter. 😉 Laughter is good!
If you are a non-custodial parent reading this, I pray that God would comfort your heart. That He would calm your spirit and help you to cope in a way better than anything else can offer. There are healthy ways to handle the pain, and there are the options that sometimes may just seem easier. Remember that even when your children are not with you, they still need you. They need you to be healthy and whole physically, mentally, and spiritually. When you feel like collapsing, reach out to Jesus and let Him hold you. I have learned that He’s always there and will always catch you if you let Him. Feel free to leave a comment below if you would like us to pray for you.
I don’t want to be a hypocrite, so I’m going to be upfront and tell you right off the bat that getting along with my ex is something that takes a lot of work from me. Even after 10 years, I still make mistakes and have to tell myself to calm down and shut up at times. There is nothing about being a non-custodial mom that is easy, but this is one of the most difficult things that comes along with not having my children in my care.
Maybe your children are not with your ex, but with a family member or someone else. Even so, there are always emotions, assumptions, and accusations flying around. Everyone believes that they know more than the other one and no one wants to back off or (GASP!) admit that they could be wrong. All of these things need to be reined into control and dealt with, because as long as they are able to run wild our children will be living on the frontline of a battlefield where they are unfairly placed.
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As I said above, the first problem that comes with learning to get along with the custodial parent is that of emotions. We miss our children, we usually have a history with the person caring for our children, the people raising our children might be doing so in a way different from we would, and the list goes on and on…
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When I finally had a light bulb go off in my head causing me to realize that how I interact with my children’s father has an impact on my children, whether they know about our interactions or not, I was able to bring myself into grasp of reality more than I ever had. Oh sure, I had been saying for years that we were a team, co-parenting, and we’ll always have to deal with each other, but I never actually realized that even what my kids do not know about has an effect on them. They can sense tension and know more than we give them credit for. Once again, I admit that a few months ago I got rather emotional and did not handle a situation the way that I should have, but usually I try to shut off emotions and only deal with facts when discussing matters about my children with their father.
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Assumptions can be so damaging, and we all know the phrase about assumptions… even if it is gross… It was during a phone conversation with my ex-husband (rare, as we agreed many years ago that talking on the phone is not a good thing for us to do… instead most of our contact if via text or email.) that as I was repeating over and over that I am not the person I was when I was married to him and to stop assuming so that it dawned on me that he is not that same person either. Why had I always thought that I could change and he could not? If we sit and just jump to conclusions as to what the other person’s intentions or thoughts are, things will never change. It is not the fault of our children that things are the way they are now, so why must we constantly treat the situation as though it is about the parents and not the kids? Any interaction you have with the custodial parent is about your child and no one else. Not even you. Treat it that way, and trust me, everyone will be a lot happier. Even if you are the only one acting appropriately.
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There are also times that we should just not even entertain the conversation. If talking to the custodial party that day is not going to have any benefit, then end it. A few months ago I was messaging with a friend who is new to being a non-custodial parent on Facebook. He said the best advice I gave him was, “you won’t come out on top of this unless you take it breath by breath… Warriors wouldn’t be respected were it not for the battle. Know when to stop and bandage your wounds and when to fight. When you second guess, pray. Being a non-custodial parent has been the worst thing to happen to me. I know it is for you too.” The only thing I would change about what I wrote to him is that I always try to remember to pray before any interaction with my ex. Sometimes it catches me off guard, and being that I am human I fly off the seat of my pants and things get messy really fast. Don’t do that, trust me. It never ends well.
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More important than anything I’ve written above is keeping in tune with Jesus. As long as I’m close to Him, I am able to keep a better reign on all of those emotions, assumptions, and everything else involved. When I spend time daily in prayer, and pray FOR my ex and his happiness, things go much smoother. Staying in the Word and repeating scripture when upset makes a world of difference. I remind myself that satan is the author of confusion and that he would love nothing more than to cause more anguish for the family that he was already allowed to rip apart, to see me fall, and to have my children’s wounds rubbed with salt. Some scriptures that help me in these situations are Ephesians 6:12, 2 Corinthians 10: 3-6, Isaiah 59:19, Philippians 4:8, and 2 Timothy 1:7 among many others. If it would help you, put these scriptures or others on index cards and place them in an area that can be of help in times of stress.
Today is the day! After many long months of wait, the day has finally arrived for my 2 oldest children to visit for their summer break. While I love Christmas, summertime is truly the most wonderful time of the year for me. (I guarantee that I will even sing that line a few times today.) Today is my Christmas, and at the first sight of those kids I will feel like a 6-year-old girl waking up to the gifts under the tree and dashing for them.
Obviously, every other day between August and June is not like this. When they first leave the house is too quiet. The younger kids cry a lot, as do I. My husband even has a difficult time as he loves those kids just like he does his 3 biological children. Holidays never seem right. When the kid’s birthdays come and go my heart breaks in two all over again. There are times that they are sick and I don’t know until after and feel terrible… Or they call me while sick and I can’t do anything. I worry when I don’t find out about something until after the fact, where their morals lie, when I go a week without hearing from them, if they’re needing someone to make them smile, etc. It’s not that I think their dad and stepmom don’t love them or care for them, because I know they do. It’s that when they leave and are not with me it is as if someone has cut off half of my limbs and a huge part of my heart yet I live and have to deal with every bit of the pain.
Being that it is becoming more and more common for mothers to not hold physical custody of their children, I’ve finally felt that it is time to be public with how I manage the pain. Notice I said manage, not numb or deaden. That is impossible. Believe me, I’ve tried it different ways, and it was not a pretty site. It only made things worse.
While writing this I have realized that there is far too much that I would like to share in order for this to be a single post, so I will be making it a series. As I mentioned at the top of this post, my children are visiting, so I am not sure if there will be an exact pattern to when each post in this series will go up nor am I sure that it will ever end. This is a day-to-day process, and I am occasionally surprised with a new aspect to this way of life.
Before I end today’s portion though, I want to say something VERY important:
Non-custodial mothers, and fathers for that matter, are not always deadbeats and/or abusive parents. Sometimes life situations make it so that it is more accommodating, affordable, or the child’s preference to live with one parent over the other. I even know a few parents whose children are not theirs by blood but were stepchildren in a previous marriage that they love as their own. There are many reasons why a child might live with one parent instead of another, and society needs to stop turning their nose up at those who do not have their children all the time.
What I’m trying to say is this: Not all of us have our children ripped out of our arms and dragged out of our homes by CPS for neglect because the mom was so high she couldn’t care for her children. Even so, some moms (and dads) who have been in those situations have turned their lives around, have regrets, and it is too late to move the children or they simply cannot afford to go to court to get their children back. Are all non-custodial parents this way? No. But with the high rate of divorce these days, it is to be expected that many children of divorced parents live with one parent more than the other.
Not having our children with us does not mean that we don’t love them, or love them less than the children that do live with us. Being a non-custodial parent does not mean that our children are out of sight and out of mind. It means that we are missing out on all the little things and that an extension of our hearts are walking around and we feel lost without it there… trying to make the best that we can of every day.