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The Journey of One
When her husband left her with two boys to raise, life became an endless struggle to survive. A single mom shares her story.

My first days of single parenting are a blurred memory, for they were also the first days when reality hit that my husband had left and I was alone with two sons, then ten and eight. Adam, Carter and I watched in horror as he got in the car with a load of luggage and drove off to his new apartment. They cried and cried. I held them and we cried together. They needed me more than ever and it was my job to be there for them – not an easy task, as I felt weighed down by my own grief and terror.

The increased responsibility was overwhelming. What had seemed like a good partnership with an effective division of labour suddenly was gone. I was now on my own paying the bills, organizing the mail and tax papers, maintaining the car, and tending the yard, on top of the usual cooking, cleaning, and shopping.

There was no one to help, take a turn, or ease the load. No one to say, “Don’t treat your mother like that.” No one to drive one child to a lesson while the other parent stayed home with a sick one. No one to help open a jar of pickles.

The faith community steps in

So how did I manage? Quite simply, I survived because of my church community. People would often tell me they were praying and I knew it was true. How else could I get through a day of teaching or counselling?

The church also offered practical support. In those early days, they asked me to prepare a list of tasks with which I needed help and then distributed it. People quickly signed up. Some came over and did minor repairs on the house, some planted flowerbeds, and some installed a bathroom in my basement so I could take in boarders. Others made sandwiches and cookies, wrapped them up for school lunches, and brought them over every week. A couple of brave friends came over and helped me bail water in the basement the night the sewer backed up – all night long.

Helen, a woman for whom anxiety and depression had essentially confined her to her home, declared that she would take care of my housecleaning so I’d be free to take care of my children. A single mom herself, Helen understood what I was facing. Through sheer determination she left her house, took the bus, and came over every Thursday.

Tending to my sons’ needs

Being a therapist, I realized that my sons had no control over their dad leaving our home, and was acutely aware of how much they needed stability and comfort in those early days. So the first summer, while everything in me wanted to curl up under the covers in a dark corner of a basement, the boys and I did just about everything together. We biked to parks, went to tennis courts, had friends over, and adjusted to being a new little family of three.

While I was very aware of my own grief, terror, and anger, Adam and Carter were less aware of their own, but no less affected. While they couldn’t put it into words, their turmoil was expressed through increased fighting with each other, anxiety, and tantrums – all needing to be handled by a mom who was barely sleeping and eating.

A never-ending task

Over the months, we gradually became not just “a single parent family” but “a family,” where we went about our days as regular folk. However, nearly every hour of every day has become strange and busier now that I’m on my own, seeking to raise my children.

God planned for children to have two parents for a reason. They’re meant to trade off, and help and support each other. Parenting is a busy task for two parents, but for one, a never-ending one.

These past years have been filled with lawyer’s appointments, reorganizing financial and business affairs, and working out a safe and effective way of communicating with the children’s father – someone who is both strangely familiar and yet very much a stranger. All of this while helping my children practice their music lessons, find their mittens, and mind their manners, fixing the roof, shovelling the snow, and cheering at basketball games.

Relentless. That’s the word I’d use to sum up the life of a single parent. It never stops. While I might have a target or goal to get to a certain point, there is little relief on arrival. For the goal is just a bend in the road, and the relentless tasks continue beyond. When my kids are with me, my focus is them. I drive them to practices or games, make supper, and help with homework. When the boys are with their dad, those hours are spent getting things done that get neglected when they’re home – extra hours at the office or quickly doing a week’s worth of errands on a Saturday.

Relentless, yes. But I recognize that I need to take breaks. Single parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Wednesday morning finds me at Starbucks for an hour of sharing with a friend, laughing, crying, complaining, and celebrating our lives as we seek the face of God together.

My children make it clear they don’t like it when mom is always working, so I make sure to put aside my laptop or my dishcloth and enjoy life with them. On Sunday nights, we have a ritual of eating a simple supper together while watching America’s Funniest Videos. We talk and laugh and enjoy each other before the week’s routine begins. The joy of life is enduring and I’m grateful that my children’s happiness and their desire to have me share in it make life delightfully rich.

Relentless. It’s also the mark of a caring community. The church rallied around me again this year as I sold my house. People helped wash, paint, pack, fix, and move. Several people in the church have a special bond with my sons and serve as mentors to them. Helen doesn’t clean my house anymore – the healing that began for both of us enabled her to acquire a full-time job – but we remain friends. We get hand-me-down or hand-me-over clothes from family and friends. People invite me to sit with them in church so I’m not alone. Or they help with parenting when I have responsibility in the worship service. A gift card appears in my mailbox. And the life-sustaining and life-giving prayers for my family and me continue.

Relentless. That’s the word I’d use to describe Jesus’ love. The year before my husband left, I was in a small group that studied Brennan Manning’s book, The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus. The enduring presence of God puts into perspective the awesome task of parenting alone. The following quote from Manning’s book was part of our family’s Christmas letter that first anxious year of adjustment:

Sshh! Be still. All is well. I am here. Do not be afraid. The world is no longer in the hands of the Evil One but in the arms of a loving Shepherd. In the end everything will be all right. Nothing can harm you permanently. No suffering is irrevocable, no loss is lasting; no defeat is more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive. Nothing can ever separate us – not troubles, worries, persecutions, not lack of food or clothes, not attacks, or invasions. There is absolutely nothing in life or death that will ever come between you and the love of God made visible before your eyes in this manger tonight.

After I became a single mom, it was time to stop wearing a wedding ring on my left hand – the vow was broken. I began to wear a “ring of commitment.” It’s a simple gold band with the engraving “Adam Carter Hosea 2:19–20.” It signifies my unending commitment to my children and God’s eternal commitment to me – commitments that would not and could not be broken.

I know I don’t have to walk alone through life with my children. God is relentlessly present with me.

Carolyn O. Bergen is a single mom of two incredible sons and enthusiastic spectator of numerous sports. She is also a therapist and educator.

Originally published in the Mennonite Brethren Herald, February, 2008.

 

 
 
 
 

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