When my marriage broke down, I spent several years trying to put it back together. I eventually came to the realization that I couldn’t hold my family together if I wanted to. I knew that I would rather take my kids from a broken home, than live in one with them. My decision to leave didn’t come lightly.
I thought about my own parents tumultuous divorce and how awful that had been, but that once the grand-babies came. my lovely and smart Mum said something to the effect of, ‘I can be civil if your dad can be civil. I don’t want you guys to have two christmas’, two thanksgivings, two birthdays, I don’t want it to be that hard for everyone’. Basically, just like that, all the BS between them was over. (My brother and I were so grateful, it did make growing up with divorced parents so much easier). And I remembered that, and I said to my soon-to-be-ex, “If we are friends, and we love and respect each other and the kids see that, then they will be okay. I can do that, if you can do that”. His response was, “No, I’m not doing that. I’m not going to be your friend”. And with that, all civility was out the window.
In a very short period of time, he started treating the kids like garbage, telling them lies, picking fights with them, playing head games and pulling stunts like dropping them back to me, three hours into a three-day visit, cancelling visits and eventually just not showing up and ignoring them.
Why is this important to my story?
Well, the answer to that is two-fold. Words and actions are powerful. How we treat other people can sometimes make or break them. This is where my kids went from being un-jaded, happy-go-lucky kids, to confused and hurting. While my son was hurting and acting out, my daughter was suffering in silence. I couldn’t see her pain because my son was the squeaky wheel and I was so focused on helping him. I didn’t see my daughter balled up in the cupboard crying her eyes out, but my Mum did.
My son started smoking weed in grade 6, he was skipping school, he was taking off and running away, he was stealing, he was acting out, he was drinking, he was sinking. He was lying, combative, secretive, he was stealing from me left and right. He was messed up and he was miserable. I reached out trying to get help from everyone and anyone. Peel Children’s Centre, Victims Services of Peel, Children’s Aid, private counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, school counsellors and school psychologists. Nothing helped. I had been seeing a private counsellor previously and had ended back up at her door in tears one Thursday night with my daughter. She told me she couldn’t help me, that this was beyond her experience and that I should call a friend of hers. She picked up the phone and dialed, spoke to her friend for a few moments then handed me the phone. On the other end of the line there was a calm voice asking me, “What’s going on?” and then I started telling this faceless person what was happening (on that particular day). She gave me some advice, that sounded ludicrous and then told me that she ran a parent support group and asked me if I would be interested in coming out to the next meeting. I agreed. I had nothing left to lose. I did follow that advice, it wasn’t ludicrous at all!
I went to that first meeting and at the end of it the lady with the ‘calm voice’ asked me, “So what do you think about what we do here?” I remember looking down at my lap and then looking up and asking, “Can I say what I really think?”. She said, with a smile, “Of course!”. I said, “I think the tail is wagging the _______ dog here and I don’t understand how any of this will work.” She then asked me, “So will you be back next week?” I heard myself answering, “Yes”. I wasn’t sure why I had said yes, only now in retrospect, I believe it is because I sensed in this room, a kindness, an understanding and belonging. I didn’t know that until right at this moment.
So, I went back to this group, the next week, the next month and the next year. This was real. These parents had gone through this. They were going through this. Every week I left with a small plan. A plan that would dissipate the disaster, even just a little. A plan to start building the relationship that I had shared with my son before all this. Help in making the connection with my daughter stronger than ever. A plan to start living my life again. Brick by brick, I started putting our lives back together. Or perhaps I should say I started putting my life back together. It was slow and at times painful but more than anything, it was hope (that things were going to get better), it was confidence (that I was capable and even as a single mom that I could do this alone) and it was faith, (that I didn’t have to see the whole staircase, I just had to take the first step
It was hard work. Some weeks were great. Some weeks were tough. But little by little, things did get better, my son wanted to start coming home for dinner, my daughter was laughing again, and my family felt whole again. All I can say is that when I felt I had been everywhere, and there was no hope left in my heart, ASPGO changed everything and the truth is that it has not only changed my relationship with my son and my daughter, it has changed my relationships with family, friends and co-workers. I can honestly say I was a good person, but what I learned at APSGO, has made me a better person. I can honestly say I was a good mother, but what I learned at APSGO, has made me a better mother.
Which brings me to what I mentioned earlier. That the answer to the question was two-fold and this is the second part. I truly believe that the words, actions and treatment of my kids by their ‘father’ was the root cause of this, for lack of a better word, ‘life changing train wreck’. But because of this, I also learned something about myself as a mother. I looked after my kids and out for my kids. I provided a comfortable and nice shelter. I provided meals and clean clothes. I provided a soft place to fall. I spent time with them, and they knew they were important and loved. I did what I always did and I did extra to make up for what their ‘father’ didn’t do. And as good as I was, and with the best intentions, THIS ‘life changing train wreck’ forced me to change things I didn’t know could or should be changed.
So yes, words and actions are powerful and sometimes how we treat other people can make them or break them. But this goes for us well-intentioned parents too. When we think we are helping our kids when we are asking about school and jobs and messy rooms and video games, all we are doing is nagging. When we think we can make them ‘see reason’ (we are dis-illusioned) they are not in the same age bracket and don’t see things as we see them, and all we are doing is nagging. When we go from having conversations to questioning them, all we are doing is nagging. When we start questioning them the minute they walk in the door and fighting with them because we are frustrated at their actions and because we don’t trust them, and when they no longer see us smile when they enter the room because we are angry at the latest ‘f up’, those actions send a strong message to our sons and daughters.
Some of the other things I had to learn was that I didn’t have to fix everything, nor did I have to decide what consequences should be and instead could allow the natural consequences take place. That I could stop carrying around the guilt for their father’s failures and just concentrate on being a strong mom. That I could show my kids by example, what a good life looked like. That I could help them up but didn’t have to help them down. That I didn’t have to focus on their achievements, or lack thereof, but instead started focusing on character. That is was possible to laugh and be happy, even if everything wasn’t great. That who they are today is not who they are going to be tomorrow. That worrying serves no purpose. That it’s ok to change my mind. That it’s ok to stop and ask myself, “Is this the hill I want to die on”. The list is endless.
I consider myself blessed with an amazing family, the loveliest friends, a nice home, a job I love and two awesome kids, who are now young adults. But meeting the lady with the ‘calm voice’, joining APSGO, learning about Choice Theory and meeting some of the most genuine and lovely people I have ever come across…those are blessings in life I never saw coming and I am forever grateful.
D.D. – APSGO ENEWS Feb 2020