It’s normal these days to raise children in broken homes. It’s not ideal, but it is very common. Unfortunately, children are held hostage in our warfare and competitive rants; we lose the focus. We assume in their miniature worlds, this will pass and they will surface completely unaffected by turmoil. There is no bias toward men or women here…just my tale of the exhausted paths I’ve taken to give my daughter a healthier life.
I survived a very treacherous upbringing so I grew an invisible cape to give my child a peaceful existence. I would first try the traditional approach by staying with him, despite his selfishness. It was a dysfunctional home; broken from the start. She’ll be fine. She won’t be affected; she’s too young. The arguing, infidelity, excessive partying and financial carelessness he plagued us with. The varying issues he contributed to our life were too selfish; too much maintenance. She was to be a priority; his indiscretions were not. My attempts at normalcy had failed. She is merely a few months old and I knew I had to leave; we deserved better. Correction…SHE deserved better then this. I let him go of his responsibilities both biologically and financially. “He wasn’t ready to be a father”, he said. I turned around and he wasn’t arguing my decision. I had no idea what lay before me; the risky path I was about to venture down. As an independent woman, I’m confident I can take care of her without his assistance. Was it easy? No. Did I make feeble attempts at his presence in her life? Yes. Did I try asking him to help me? Sure… Did any of this work consistently and benefit my daughter? No.
Fast forward to her second birthday…he is finally ready to be a full-time dad. A few conversations entailing visitation and child support; he is now ready to be a father. No more sporadic attempts every couple weeks or months…for a couple hours here and there. This gave me hope she would have what she needed growing up. How awesome that my daughter will have her daddy as a permanent role model in her life. What I didn’t anticipate was his lifestyle versus mine. The home I built didn’t parallel his life choices; didn’t meet my standards for our child. She was emotionally healthy, geographically secure and very content with me. A small jog in time and his reckless behavior surfaces once again. He’s now expecting a new child and getting married he says; he’s found a woman who mirrors his bad habits. They’ve moved again he says. Drugs are still a priority. He can’t hold a job or maintain a stable home environment. Never enough money for rent as there was always a party to attend. Our conversations rapidly became jaded and vulgar.
Many people have asked the same questions…why not take him to court first? Being a single mother you don’t always know what you’re doing. I allowed him to come back around. I didn’t agree to his enthusiasm of being a father to lure him in for child support. I was guided by emotion; the guilt of a broken home…my daughter without her father and the disappointment that I failed her. My view was focused on giving her the customary life she deserved; one I never had. It seemed ideal and sounded like an awesome plan, but I forgot who I was dealing with. Our intentions as parents were definitely not the same. After years of much reflection I discovered my first mistake; forgetting why our home fell apart. The lapse in time from separation to reconciliation was much like a tattoo…you forget the sting of the experience, and when it’s over, you have a permanent addition in your life. In this case it was our daughter. While I gave him the freedom of no legal consequences, he chose to develop his new family and my daughter was forgotten. She was now an accessory in his life. I still didn’t take legal action to instigate boundaries for our daughter. Through our many hateful conversations, his stubborn attitude would dictate his actions towards me. His way no longer included me in the decisions for our child. This wasn’t a genuine love for his daughter, this was spiteful and competitive. Unfortunately, I was blind to his devious objectives and I almost lost her completely.
One Friday afternoon I end my work day and to my surprise my child isn’t where I left her at the sitters this morning. “He picked her up already”, they said. My reaction revealed he lied and panic set in. Where is she? How long has she been with him? Where does he live? My attempts to make contact with him were ignored repeatedly. The police are summoned. After two very exhausting days without my little girl, she is returned; safe and in my clutches. The tears I held back burned inside my body. Seeing him in front of me had my imagination slaughtering him 7 different ways. My focus quickly turns to my child who has no idea what just happened. She looks dirty and tired. I don’t know where she’s been and I don’t care. I would later find out his attempt at being a “good parent” was to enroll her in school, across state lines. He and his new wife signed off as her “parents” the social worker reports. This would allow them another dependent during tax season. They would gain more benefits. This was the moment of clarity. My vision is now sharpened with his deceitful intentions. A short time passes and I am now enrolled in the ‘University of Child Custody Courtroom Hell 101’.
Repetitive court appointments dictate my daughter’s life going forward. A judge declares he didn’t kidnap her. He apologizes publicly in the courtroom that he didn’t communicate his taking her for the weekend. He is now legally her father; I have to let him take her on his visitation. How could this be happening? He is now given the chance to be “a good father”. I lost the control to say when and where my daughter could go with him. The ironic part is where my intentions began and where they ended. The motivator was my guilt, which sank into accepting he is no good for her and now, I legally had to allow him to take her. This was the start of a very exhausting battle that yielded my daughter psychologically.
A small fraction in time, child support is set and visitation commences. Slowly, the visits become farther apart and fewer. ”I have to work” he said. She is now learning the days of the week. We made a “daddy chart” so she can count down the days. “I can’t make it today honey” he would tell her. Insert hours of sobbing. The weekends he does take her, she comes home disappointed, looks exhausted and malnourished. “I have a new bedroom again mommy, my toys are in storage again” she says. He can’t afford a place to live; it’s her fault she’s too expensive. I discover relatives are watching her instead of him. Repeated excuses of why he can’t see her. In time, he is proven to be a liar. She sees him “at work” drinking at a family function. She returns to me with daily episodes of crying and vomiting; a very distraught 3 year old.
She is withdrawn and quiet when she is in my care. She seems happy when distracted with her family, but at home I noticed some disturbing behavior surfacing. She doesn’t want to play outside, has trouble eating and sleeping. A mental breakdown reveals what he’s been putting her through; issues she suffers while under his care. I reassure her she’s not in trouble if she tells me. “Don’t tell mommy where we live” he says to her. ”It’s okay if you babysit your brothers; it’s what big sisters do”. A couple diaper changing sessions and now she’s a glorified babysitter. I keep my calm. The stories over time became even more heartbreaking. “I don’t like it when daddy rolls the papers and blows the smoke on me”. ”I have to get dressed in a dark room in a basement”, followed by “They don’t let us upstairs at daddy’s or we get in trouble”. Again he won’t tell me where he lives. Since I receive a weekly check I’m not entitled to know the details. All of this is a lot for a child to endure. She harbored these feelings and became physically and psychologically ill. Insert one kidney infection at Age 4. Counselors would later determine this stems from major anxiety. Anxiety can challenge your health on so many levels, which I already knew. I just wasn’t prepared for how much it affected my child. Of course I called her father to rush to her side. He shows up for an entire 10 minutes and leaves. Not only is she crying from the pain of the IV’s and enema’s; she cries for him. Again I keep my calm.
During those couple days in the hospital, you have nothing but time to think. Will she remember all he’s put her through? How do I erase this going forward, make it better? Can she still have a good childhood or is too late? Late one night, my worst fear is realized. Her tantrums became self harming. 3:00 in the morning…slamming her head into the wall. Repeat again every evening for the next few months. Relatives were frightened for her well being. Counselors are trying their hardest. Loss of sleep, turmoil and guilt is on the menu for me. This is my fault. Why do I let him take her? Have her at his disposal? The only solace I can offer is to hold her while she screams and violently punches the air; my face and chest take a good pounding. “I’m so stupid!” “Why does no one like me?” “How come he doesn’t love me, Mama?” The tears saturate her cheeks; a monsoon soaks her pajamas; eyes swollen with frustration…her heart permanently broken. She feels abandoned and alone. I sit in silence with the motherly whisper…”sh sh sh, its okay baby, Mommy’s here”. She catches her breath, convulses while taking in gasps of air and slowly lets me hold her. We spend the next few hours talking. Sometimes we skim through various photos as a reminder of all who love her. Who cares if it’s 11:30 on a week night; my baby girl is hurting…she needs me, needs to be heard; needs to feel loved. I’ll sleep later. Damn the schedule when she battles these premature issues. This is much more imperative then a bed time.
Sunday, March 1st, 2009, would mark the last day my daughter had her father in her life. Once again he wouldn’t tell me his location and wouldn’t return her to me…another day of turmoil. The authorities say he didn’t kidnap her. It isn’t a missing person unless 24 hours passes. Oh-kay…you throw up, clean house and remain composed. Up the driveway he comes…phew, 3 p.m. here she is. The welcome wagon her father brings is a collage of attitude and profanity with a grand finale of screeching tires down my long driveway. He doesn’t return again after that day.
I had to take a leap once again, determine if my daughter’s emotional state was more important than a weekly child support check. At what cost do you keep trying if your child’s well-being is compromised? My purpose had now shifted; I had to undo all of this. It wasn’t him I was tired of dealing with. I was watching my daughter emotionally deteriorate. Do I chase him down or do I let him go? Time would prove what I needed to know; a couple checks later in the mail and nothing. The money and visits just stopped. He never fought for her again after that; he didn’t try. He texted a few times to apologize…had a surprise visit with her, made some empty promises and then he was gone. There were other complications I will not elaborate on for legal reasons. The courts later deemed he had abandoned her and she is legally mine now.
It’s so easy to point the finger; put others at the center of your blame. I didn’t do that. I started out with a mission…to give my child a good life. The intention was genuine, but my vision was very self-seeking. I didn’t focus on what truly mattered; her emotional state. I’ve struggled with the preservation of her innocence and what all this has done to her. Where I could have kept him away in the very beginning. The amount of guilt can be overwhelming. In time, you get a clearer picture of what’s really important. More money can always be made. Avenues can be taken. Help can assist you if you allow it to. How do I know? I’ve held multiple jobs, which kept me away from her for days. Visiting food pantries, thrift shops, Goodwill and dollar stores. I dumped my pride to accept hand-outs and hand-me-downs from close friends and family. My tax return is now my child support. No family vacation this year and Christmas shopping begins in September. Always four steps ahead to make sure she is taken care of. It’s all survival for us so she can have what I set out to do all along; give her a normal life. I now realize our situation isn’t normal by any means, but at least it’s stable for her sake.
I know I’ll never have redemption for what I put her through. I have been learning to forgive myself through this long process. I used to ponder if I was doing right by her; pray for a sign. The hugs I get where “I am her world”, she says. That is where the reward is for me. It isn’t important now how far we’ve come, what matters is peace for my child; her nights of blissful dreams without turmoil. I know because I’ve sat up and watched her dream. We have those emotional talks about her father all the time. It helps her to get through each phase of her life; gives her reassurance through my support. There’s a hole I can never replace or repair. He is responsible for that; not me. I’m there for her through all the emotions…when she can’t breathe and feels worthless inside. Every girl’s first love is their daddy. They have the ability to break or mold their little worlds into something. I once told him…”you are losing the chance to be something special to her” and I believe he already knows he has.
There’s always a blessing in everything…..she’s had a father in her life through all of this. Since she was 2 years old he has been there in the trenches with us. She’s rejected his efforts at being a father figure and later leaned on him when she needed a friend. She now calls him Daddy. She chose to and smiles when she does. He has been more than I could have ever wanted for her. Of all the times I tried to get her real father involved, he chose not to be and that’s okay. He missed out. The dad she has always known has given her the important stuff; those innocent childhood firsts. He’s taught her everything from riding a bike to fishing…present on the first day of school and many milestones in between. He emotionally adopted her; calls her “His daughter” and does it proudly. His family supports him and adores her as one of their own. She feels loved every single day. He may not be the real thing to her, but he is the only one she’s ever truly known.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer to everyone’s struggles. What matters are the lessons in the journey and the outcome. The 9 ½ years of memories I’ve made with my child have changed me. I watch her grow more beautiful every single day. We communicate our problems, talk like best friends and fight like sisters. She is excellent at Reading, loves Math and Science and as her teacher says, “she is the best helper in the class”. I look on my desk and find a note hidden on my keyboard…”I love you Mom”… I hug her and know in our little world, we aren’t perfect…we are perfectly happy.
My activities at the moment are both business and pleasure depending on the acquaintance. I am a free-lance artist specializing in Murals, Portraits and Abstract Art. I am also working on many articles that will hopefully become a compilation of my life lessons and one day become a self-help read for others. I currently am finishing up my Associates Degree in Psychology through on-line courses. I have the ambition to complete this degree within the next year, if my schedule permits being a full-time employee and mother. My goal in life is to be heard from my travels of misfortune. To help others who are just as lost as I once was in my path to self realization. I have been told I can not only relate well to others, but offer up very realistic advice to those who are willing to listen. I also aspire to never spoil my children, but to love them. To guide them through their failures and cherish their accomplishments no matter the size. And whomever they choose to be in life, always be the driving force that encourages them to be inspirational human beings that remain true to themselves. My philosophy in life is: “We Are What Have Learned, Nothing More and Nothing Less. To get better as we get older and to love ourselves as we do our own children. Without this mentality you will settle for anything and expect nothing. It is only with the help of those who know the worst of you and love you regardless that you learn to love yourself. We cannot conquer world peace, but we can bring peace to the world within ourselves."