The Ex’s Empty Chair is Filled with Friends & Role Models for My Kids
I’ll admit, the fact that I’m a single mom to three kids with an ex who’s rarely around, has worried and terrified the hell out of me – sometimes to the point of tears or hours of depression. Though I’ve tried desperately to make good parenting decisions, to do what’s best by my children, the Doubt Monster and his gang of ‘what if’s’ zoom in for the feast: What if my ex’s absence emotionally damages our kids regardless of my efforts? What if our kids judge our family as ‘bad’ or ‘broken’ because it’s not nuclear? What if they look at the empty seat at the dinner table and long for days past when we were a ’real family?’
I have no family living in town with me. And sometimes I feel guilty for not giving my kids that, too - you know, a monthly family dinner with relatives, the odd Saturday excursion out with Grandma, aunts and uncles sitting in the bleachers during hockey games… Nope. Whether my kids look up from the ice or beside them at the dinner table or during their Saturday excursion, they only get….me.
But over the past few months, I’ve begun noticing something. Something that’s actually quite beautiful. You see, my kids may not have a dad or extended family members around much, but the universe seems to be sending them some wonderful adult role models, both male and female. And I can’t help but wonder if it goes back to that old adage: that you may not get what you want, but you get what you need.
I’ve been so quick to assume that my children are ‘missing out on something’ because of little other family involvement. Even though friends and neighbours have always been around, I always reminded myself, “Oh, but they aren’t family, and kids need CONSISTENT role models, ones that will be there forever and ever.”
But grey-haired Sam across the road from us regularly drops off boxes of bulk-sized ice-cream cones. He and my eldest son sometimes do his yard-work together too. In fact, when ANY of my kids see him pull up in his truck, they rush over to see him and fill him in on what they’re up to.
Then there’s Ron, a married dad friend, whose children often play with my own. My kids jump on him and talk about him and with him as if he’s an uncle. We spent our first Canadian Thanksgiving with his family last month – and my children had a BLAST.
And there are others as well. Like the young couple who live beside us who don’t have kids who sometimes come over for dinner or play soccer with us on the front lawn. My children race to the door every time they see them come home from work; they simply HAVE to scream out ‘hi guys!” They then walk back in the house, faces aglow, sometimes commenting on how lucky we are to have such great neighbors…
What really hit home for me though, was another dinner I hosted last weekend with some close friends. As my girlfriend and I sat together post-dinner, our five kids outside playing road hockey with her husband, I said almost guilty: “I really appreciate Jeff playing hockey with my kids…it means far more to them than he knows.”
And my girlfriend said seriously: “Jeff DOES know, Delaine. That’s why he makes a point of it. In fact, he often says aloud he has THREE boys and TWO girls to look after. He loves your kids like his own.”
And so I take a moment to breathe. And let my heart be filled with gratitude. No - that chair at the end of the table isn’t occupied by daddy anymore. No - out-of-town family doesn’t regularly fill up our dining room chairs. And yes - I still wish I had a new partner or other family members around to act as long term role models for my kids.
But day in, day out, my front door is constantly swung open – whether it’s kids coming to play, neighbors dropping something off or saying hello, or close adult friends taking my kids out to a show or staying over for dinner. My children have the warmth and laughter and joy of friendship of kids AND adults who care. And even if these adults aren’t in my kids’ lives forever, even if they aren’t as involved as REAL family members ‘might’ be - right now, they are giving us all want we all need. And I hold that close to my heart; for it takes a community to raise children. And by taking a moment to stop wracking myself with worry and self-imposed expectations, I realize that the universe has blessed me with helpers.