Absence and a mama’s heart

by Kristin on October 19, 2009

in Love, family & community

Photo by Jason Berg

Jason and I just spent a weekend at home without our three girls. This is, in fact, how we spend every other weekend, and it’s always bittersweet—sweet because we get to eat and sleep and go out when we please, but bitter because there are always moments in every weekend that feel empty and tinged with sadness because our kids aren’t there to share them.

I’m gradually getting more used to this give and take, the all or nothing rhythm of post-divorce parenting. It’s not easy, in so many ways, but there are some aspects of two-household parenting that I’m beginning to recognize as a gift—one I wouldn’t get in quite this same way if my kids lived with me every day. (Yes, I’m definitely doing the silver lining thing here.)

Keeping in touch

The first gift comes to me in the form of emails, voicemails and phone calls from the girls. Last Thursday afternoon, for instance, this email arrived in my inbox:

Dear mama,
I figured out my Halloween costume!!! I can be a detective!
I’ve attached a picture of me, I love you soooo much.

It’s true, I wasn’t the one who was there brainstorming costume ideas with Q, but receiving her email really made my day and created a bond between us in a different sort of way.

S, who is nine, prefers the phone to email. If I’m not able to pick up and talk, she leaves me long, detailed voicemail messages that end up being a fully-formed, one-way conversation, packed with news and personality. She always closes her calls and voicemails with a loud, smoochy kiss sound, followed by a sound that, in her mind, represents big, strenuous bear hugging (and also sounds a bit like someone trying to bench press more than they should).

Rich reunions

The other thing that I’ve been noticing about this parenting situation we’re in, is how distinctly different our sense of “reunion” is with our girls. After days with just the two of us, suddenly Jason and I are pulling more chairs up to the table, setting more places, cooking more food, and reveling in the buzz that comes with more personalities, bodies and voices in the house. Just think of the “How was your day?” question many families ask daily after school or over dinner. Now multiply the responses by four or five (the number of days the girls have been away), and add in a bit of a party atmosphere, complete with the intensity of love that accompanies reunions.

Last night at dinner, we asked the girls about their weekends, and asked if there was anything exciting or stressful about the week ahead. We touched on some issues that had clearly been waiting to come out, and they did. Some tears needed to come out, too, and we were glad there was a place for that to happen.

More than a silver lining

Maybe it’s bad when something that’s on our kids’ minds gets put on hold until they see us again, but maybe it’s good. Maybe it builds just enough that they actually reach the point of communicating it, rather than brushing it, crumb by crumb, under the rug.

Divorce is pretty much always viewed as something bad, especially for kids. But what I’m realizing is that there’s lots of good and bad wrapped up in sharing custody of your kids. People see what they want. We also have the power to make the realities we want—to turn less-than-perfect situations into something good.

I never imagined that my life as a mother would look like this, and I would never say I would choose this setup for my kids. But there is something to the whole “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” There’s something powerful in missing each other, and wanting to share something enough to call or send an email. There’s something poignant about reunions, and that time spent together after a time apart.

And somehow that seems like more than a just a silver lining, or a glass-half-full way of seeing things. It’s very much a beautiful reality in my life.

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  • http://thealchemistblog.wordpress.com Gen

    Wow, what a great, unexpected benefit. I never would have thought of that one on my own, without you telling me all about it.


  • Kris

    I think this is definitely the exception. Not because divorce is inherently bad, but because many parents aren’t this close to their kids, whether or not they’re living under the same roof at all times. Good for you (plural).

  • Trina

    My heart sings for you and yours Kristin. You all have created, through choice, a great post divorce reality. A shining example of what can be.

  • http://hollyhousestudio.blogspot.com Jen

    Perfect way to end my day, reading this. My sister’s husband signed the papers today after months of wrangling. Funny what we’re all feeling. Plan to send her the link so she can see at least one good thing to look forward to.

  • http://hollyhousestudio.blogspot.com Jen

    Passed it along to my sister, and while she falls in line with the rest of my family in never leaving comments on a blog, even the amazing one written by their relative, she had this to say (permission to share granted). Read it – I often shamefully feel like co-parenting in separate homes isn’t quite good at times. Even tho I’m single and bearing the largest load, I love it and I have a lot more free time then I had when I was married. Sounds wrong, but, feels right.

  • http://www.roseyposeyconfections.blogspot.com Cheryl Ensom

    Teary. That is beautiful. And so my experience lately. It helps me to “hear” the same kind of issues but with older kids…kind of a window into the future. Thank you, as always, for your tender, truthful telling of real stuff, Kristin.

  • Joi T.

    I loved reading this (and seeing the picture); and as Grandma I can’t begin to express how my heart fills with thanksgiving over and over because of every once-unimaginable way that God has created “beauty from ashes” all the way around in your family. Your blog continues to be a testimony of this amazing truth.

  • Tara Bradshaw

    After saying goodbye to my stepdaughter again for longer than I’d like it really helped reading this! We are constantly trying to find the silver linings in life. I love to see how excited my younger kids always are to see their “sissy” when she comes home, it’s always so exciting!! We deal with guilt over her being shuffled between homes but there’s nothing we can do to change the situation so we try to focus some of the benefits, like her favorites are multiple birthday & christmas celebrations.

  • Tara Bradshaw

    Ps, I love your articles Kristen & am thankful you share them with us!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Gen, I love hearing about things from other perspectives, too. Even if someone else’s situation doesn’t line up with mine, their viewpoint can broaden mine in unexpected ways.

    Kris, sadly, you’re probably right. I wonder, though, if some of our connection to our kids emerges from the very situation we’re in—not being able to be with our kids every day, and therefore responding to how much we’ve missed them. We also get breaks, so we have more energy for the kids when they’re here. Of course, many other factors are involved, too. It’s complicated (like most things).

    Trina, thank you! I’m amazed, again and again, to find myself here. We’ve come so far.

    Jen, WHEW! I know this has been a struggle for you and the whole family. So many different emotions get tangled up. Thanks for sharing the link with your sister, and for sharing her thoughts with us. In the months and years following my divorce, I’ve often had that “sounds wrong, but, feels right” sense of things. Tell her to trust her feelings and instincts more than the clamor of the world.

    Cheryl, I was going to mention in the post that much of this development in our relationship with our girls has come with them getting older. It’s a whole new world once they all have their own email addresses! And now our two oldest girls are texting us, as well. Anyway, I’m so glad you’re already getting glimpses of these silver linings in your own relationship with your kids. That’s a very good sign. :)

    Joi (Mom), it’s “beauty from the ashes,” indeed! There’s no way I could have imagined this life and these blessings, a mere five years ago.

    Tara, I’m so glad the timing of this really spoke to you! Yes, guilt is a monster that can take over if you let it, even in situations we can’t ultimately change. Focusing on the good things, as you pointed out, is the only way to overcome the not-so-good. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • http://happyhealthyhip.wordpress.com hipm0m77

    I love the Silver Lining. I completely agree that the reunions are that much more amazing. Ironically, I’m involved in a long-distance relationship right now and it helps me understand the feelings my son goes through – always missing his dad when he’s with me and missing me when he’s with his dad.

    He’s learning a lot from this experience, but I have a feeling I’m learning much more from him!

  • http://www.jenx67.com jen

    i so understand this, kristin. i’m jut not brave enough to write about it. before i had more children in my second marriage, my life literally went on hold during the weekends i didn’t have my daughter. i’ve been saying this for 10 years: it doesn’t get easier, i just get better at saying goodbye. you inspire me. sorry i’ve been away so long. just so much to do.

  • Kristin T.

    hipm0m77, that’s definitely one of the hardest things for me to hear my girls say, that they miss me when they’re with their dad and miss him when they’re with me. I really feel for them, and I think it’s huge that you can empathize with your son and even learn from him. That’s what will matter most to him in the end.

    Jen, sometimes it just feels good to admit that some aspect of your life is hard and probably always will be, doesn’t it? It also feels good to know others out there are going through some of the same things. Your honesty and presence here mean a lot to me! 

  • http://www.cadryskitchen.com Cadry

    Our lives take all of us in ways we never anticipated. This is a perspective I’d never thought about before, and you gave light to it beautifully.