Reflecting on Parenthood

The past couple of weeks have been a bit difficult. My mom had a serious medical emergency (she is fine now), and that brought out a lot of old family dynamics. Navigating friendships is still a voyage into the unknown for me. Work has become highly stressful due to recent legislative actions, and the joy is being sucked out of what I do. There were unexpected expenses after my son decided to play basketball with his face – the list is pretty long. It took me a week to realize that I have been having anxiety attacks and not heart problems.

These are the reasons that this post is coming out on Tuesday morning, instead of last Saturday morning as it should have. They are also the reasons that I am bringing back an old post from February, rather than writing something completely new. It was a good, thoughtful article, and I think it deserves to be resurrected.

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I would like to believe that every mother starts her family with the same kind of dream: a nice home, a dad who would come home from work to help out around the house and dote on the children, kids who would be kind and respectful…

Yes, I know exactly how unrealistic the dream is, even under the best of circumstances.

My circumstances were less than ideal. I left my husband when my kids were 4, 2, and 2 months. I filed for divorce. From that moment, everything that my ex-husband did confirmed to me that I was now his worst enemy and that he would stop at nothing to destroy me. He would take me down, even if he had to use the kids to do it.

Fast forward about 10 years. I had to call the police on my oldest daughter (they had already been involved in many other incidences involving my family). The end result was that she was arrested. At her request, she went to live with her dad. Two or three years later, my second daughter was being treated at a behavioral health facility, and they decided that they would only release her to my ex-husband.

I found out later they also wrote a letter accusing me of abusing that daughter so badly that she was suffering a fairly extreme form of PTSD from living in my home. (Strangely, if they reported it to children’s services, the paperwork already on file convinced that department that this was another trumped up claim. I have been investigated so many times that I finally lost count.) My second child is now living with her father. The third child lives with me.

As I was examining the fallout and trying to get some sort of visitation with my children that my ex-husband would actually honor, he threatened me with supervised visitation. After a moment of outrage, I felt God’s inspiration that this was the move I needed to make. It’s expensive, and it was difficult at first, but it has turned out to be the best thing that could have happened for my family.

The first few visits were a nightmare. The girls wanted revenge, and they were ready with every emotional weapon they could find. I left the visit angry and frustrated. Six months later, I see the visitation supervisor as a professional ally, and I take her suggestions seriously. Reflecting on my imperfections as a parent has not been easy — I’ve had to be willing to admit that I have been blind to some of my failings because I’ve been in defensive mode for over a decade. I’m learning to let go of the anger and hurt, and I’m having to learn to go more than halfway to prove to my kids that I really do love them.

It has helped that I have felt my Savior walking beside me. I have turned my ex-husband over to Him. My hope and wish is that someday, he will see that he has caused a lot of hurt, feel Godly remorse, and be ready to repent. If he does, I have been healed enough to accept his change — the desire for revenge has been lifted from my heart. Sadly, I fear that he will not make the changes, and that he will suffer the consequences when it is his turn for judgment day.

A couple of weeks ago, I came home from visiting my girls and felt very frustrated. I cried out to Heavenly Father that, as long as my ex-husband was going to interfere with my relationship with my kids, there was nothing I could do. Then a quiet, gentle feeling washed over my mind and heart and told me that I was right. There was nothing that I could do, but, if I were willing to bend to His will, He could handle this.

At my last visit with my children, the supervisor pulled me aside at the end and we discussed what had occurred. I still have changes to make — including being mindful of how my comments will be received in light of the past that we share. I need to focus on being a conduit of God’s love to my children, and trust that they know where I stand on issues. Perhaps trying so hard to convince them was not the way to help them love what I love. Loving them even when I can’t agree with them just might bring them back.

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Since I wrote this blog entry back in February, I have passed the year mark in the supervised visitation program. It isn’t easy. There haven’t been any earth-shaking miracles. Sometimes, the visits will be wonderful, and I see glimpses of the relationships I used to share with my girls. Sometimes, I wonder why I don’t quit.

In the end, I have come to realize that parenting is a long-term experiment of faith. Heavenly Father has endowed every one of His children (including mine) with the gift of agency – free will and the ability to choose. I can teach, guide, correct, encourage, and love them, but trying to force them into my way of doing things will result only in disaster. I have to use my agency to choose to believe the promises that I have been given in God’s word. I have to trust that, if I am seeking to parent in His way, that Heavenly Father will send the inspiration and impressions that I need to reach my children. I have to trust that, even when it looks like things are going wrong, God is watching over my children and will shape their experiences into learning opportunities – just as He has repeatedly done in my life.

I find myself fighting fear sometimes – I have relied a lot on my own strength and wisdom in my life. However, I am testing my faith and finding (again) that Heavenly Father is always faithful and keeps His promises, so I believe that I will again enjoy the companionship of my daughters.