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Single Mom Slice Of Life: Until You Return Again

Some people live their years from January to December.  Mine starts in July, and ends in the middle of May, thanks to a court order, stating I have to put my kids on a plane to visit their dad for eight weeks each summer.

Deep down, I know they won’t be harmed, they won’t be disillusioned by life, they will still love me and remember me while they’re gone. My head knows it, my heart recognizes it, yet still, starting weeks before I physically put them on the plane, I start to bite my tongue in my sleep and wake up literally sick with the amount of pressure and migraine pain coursing through my head before they leave.

The pain of this past year, the bad grades, the teenage drama, the sibling discord, the hard times, the frustrated lectures, the worse grades, the mutterings under the breath, the rolled eyes… all of it is instantly forgotten as I begin that trek into the introspective hell I live with as a single parent still embroiled in a hostile divorce that technically ended more than ten years ago.

  • Am I a good parent? Have I done the best I can do to teach them the difference between right and wrong?
  • Will they remember their manners, their respect, their values?
  • Have I taught them to believe in themselves?
  • Have I assured them, to the best of my ability, that I love them with all my heart?
  • Will they even want to come home in eight weeks?

Each time I put them on the plane there are tears. There are tight hugs and whispered regrets, and when they come home: instant tears, tight hugs, and promises to never let go.

Obeying the law to the letter, I still smile brightly refusing to cry until they’re on the plane, their lives, security, and happiness entrusted to a stranger with a tight grin in a flight attendant uniform as they fly across country to a family they don’t really know. I assure friends and family I’m fine each time they check on me, despite the fact that the pain is so deep I can’t breathe… and I hold my breath from one phone call to the next, assuring myself that my children are still happy, safe, and sound. I listen and provide excited responses when the tears of missing home, dogs and friends turn to excited stories of vacation, pools, parties, and theme parks. Suddenly them missing me yelling at them to take out the trash, turn off the TV and go to bed, or feed the dogs isn’t worth crying over anymore…

How many times have I been told to find life outside my kids, and how many times do I wish I’d heeded that warning?  It’s so much easier said than done when they are the light that got me through the darkest times in my life. When they are the reasons I barely hold it together from day-to-day and month-to-month.

Still, I somehow survive. Each trip seems longer than the last, and each time I swear I won’t make it and each time I realize I haven’t accomplished anything I wanted to get done because the boys are home already; not that I can ever recall what kept me from accomplishing any of it.

A few summers back, the unthinkable happened – a phone call from the ex-mother-in-law in which she acknowledged that she was aware that all the boys were, and all that they represented was based on what I had accomplished on my own as a parent. That should be enough to get me through two months, right?

Right. Because as much as people will turn and stare at me as I drive home from the airport crying hysterically, I know that the boys can’t live with me forever, and I have to trust in the fact that they know I’m here for them no matter what, no matter when, no matter the distance.

I know that despite the pain it causes me that someone else gets to love on the kids I raise throughout the year, the fact remains, they’re being loved.

I know that as much as I feel like it, and I want to be, in reality, I am not the only family they have and what a bitter pill that is some days.

I know that no matter how many theme parks and dinners out they get, when they move away from home, it was my nagging about dishes and laundry and bathroom cleanings that will help mold them into productive members of society.

I know that as much as I want to take them, run away, change my name, cut my hair, and speak in a British accent, living by example means nothing if the example I set isn’t worth following.

So the first Sunday after school ends, I will smile, remind the boys of the amazing time they’re going to have, promise them that they’re not even going to notice how long eight weeks is, and start counting down the days until I’m crying over how tall they’ve gotten, how much older they look, and how happy I am to have them back home.

Now if only I can remember how to breathe…

Any other divorced, custodial parents out there? Ever experience what I’m talking about and if so, how do you cope?

More from GEM:

Tandem Tantrums: Three Cheers For Mommy!

Time To Let Go, Mom

When Should He Meet My Kids?

Wendy Syler Woodward, 37, has been a single parent for 10 years, with two boys ages 11 and 16. Originally from southern California, Wendy moved her family seven years ago to Phoenix where she manages a law firm for work, writes for fun, and is preparing to go back to college before the end of the year. Follow her on Twitter @WendySyler 


  1. km devers

    March 20, 2012 at 7:33 am

    There is life when your kids go away. It is a great time for spending time to learn about yourself and things that you enjoying doing. Take a photography class, write a book about how much you miss them, take a pottery class. Learn to enjoy yourself with a quiet bubble bath. I do understand you miss them. Make sure you check on them and let them know you miss them. No one understands this more than me. There are timesI have picked my kids up (lol). Take out time for yourself. They will grow up one day and you will something to do besides miss them. Take out time for yourself.

  2. Cathy

    March 20, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Yours is a different world, though I get the pain. I share custody, but my daughter’s father lives 45 minutes away. We split the week; she ends up with me 60% of it. The empty hole of dark despair still hits, weekly, sometimes just for a moment, other times for a full day or more. It never fully goes away. I know it’s damaging me inside every time and if I told anyone who knows me that it still hurts so bad, they’d say get over yourself. It’s been five years. It’s like a tiny death though, you know, watching that little pink jacket disappear into a crowd of her schoolmates, knowing he will be taking her away from me once again that afternoon. I can’t therapy that loss away, though, thank God He has given me so many friends that fill me with love and opportunities to express the gifts He has given me. I seem all together on the outside, but in? Well, you know.

    The whole thing takes good enough to another place, where you try to make up for the pain you feel you caused your child by not being able to make the marriage work. I always feel as though I not only have to be that parent who makes her brush her teeth, do chores, read her Bible, etc. but the one who makes sure she is entertained sufficiently when she is with me, has enough play dates, nice clothes to wear. Constantly trying to make up for deficits from one home to the other.

    Sometimes I envy most the moms whose exes have nothing to do with their kids, but then that’s about me. I suck it up because I know what fatherlessness looks like on a child’s face. Sometimes, those kids are just fine because they don’t have to live with this sense of back and forth, never being able to say, this is my home, this is where I’m planted. But, sometimes, those are the kids at school who are spinning out of control, because they have no idea why someone who is half of who they are seems to want nothing to do with them. That may not be the truth, but what a feeling? So, I live with this.

  3. Angela

    March 20, 2012 at 9:50 am

    Ladies, I totally understand the separation anxiety, but be glad that their fathers are involved and take the time to co-parent with you. I am a divorced mother and if I am lucky their father will pick them up twice a month for 24 hours at a time. It pains me to see how my kids make excuses for their father, he’s traveling, although he did not show he called, etc. Accept the blessing of an active father and honor yourself when they are away by carving out a life of your own. Their father’s involvement does not diminish your role or importance as their mother. Change your perspective on the situation and it will change everything. I am happy when my kids see their father because I know THEY need time with him and I enjoy my time with me.

  4. Cathy

    March 21, 2012 at 2:53 am

    I understand what you are trying to say, Angela. But our experience is not yours and vice versa. I have a very full life when my daughter is with her dad. I am rarely at home, to the point that I think I overdo trying to have a life. But I still miss her. It still hurts. One really can’t tell another person how they should feel, and meanwhile I think I gave ample empathy for your situation in my post.

  5. lilkunta

    March 22, 2012 at 7:12 am

    Im confused. Rene did dyou write this or did Wendy?

  6. Rene Syler

    March 22, 2012 at 7:14 am

    @lilkunta: Wendy wrote it. Her bio’s at the bottom

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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