By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

I got divorced close to two years ago, and my ex has moved on with his life. He almost never sees the kids, and in fact has remarried and seems to be starting over with little thought of the family he left behind. I rarely receive the very minimal child support he is supposed to give me.

It’s been a horrific struggle for me. Each day I am overwhelmed with fear over how I will manage that particular day. If it weren’t for the help I receive from my parents and a few organizations that help out in certain ways, I literally would be on the streets right now. I worry all the time about my two children, who are ages five and three. Thank G-d, I have wonderful friends who have been there for me. But in all honesty, I’m really not a very good mother right now. Besides the material things I’m unable to buy or do for my kids, I’m always anxious and yelling and I’m sure I’m very unpleasant to be around. At this point, as young as my children are, I notice that they are also becoming very anxious and unhappy, constantly fighting with one another.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important it is for me to become financially secure, to have a really good job. It wouldn’t solve all my problems, to say the least, but at least I could feel independent and not have to rely on anyone else for help. So I made up my mind recently to go back to school and get a degree in the field of my dreams. I dropped out of school when I got married, and regret that move. I’ve always wanted to be a professional.

As I try to figure out how I could make this happen, I go over the logistics in my head constantly to see if it is even possible. I don’t want to let anything stand in my way, and I have been going back and forth in my mind about whether or not I am willing to endure a few extremely difficult years for a more secure future.

My parents, who live about a four-hour drive from me, have always been as supportive as can be. They are very good people and I know they would do anything for me within their ability. Last week, as I was trying to figure out how I could possibly commit to several years of school, my mother suggested that my children could come live with them during that time. At first, I thought she was out of her mind to make such a suggestion. How could I possibly agree to see my kids so infrequently? It’s not like they would be a five-minute drive away and I could just jump in my car to visit daily. And I’m not even so sure I could get there every weekend, depending on my schedule.

But the more I considered it, the more I thought that maybe it’s my only option to secure a better future for my children and me. So my question to you is the following: Are my children better off staying with me, their mother who, honestly, is not a very terrific mother right now, with no hope of changing my situation, or living with loving grandparents for a number of years (obviously excluding summers and hopefully being together for holidays)? I cringe at the thought of saying goodbye to them for weeks on end, but can’t think of any other option. Will they hate me for abandoning them now — and maybe even more so when they get older? Will I be able to tolerate the loneliness of being without them? I can’t figure out if this is a selfish move or a selfless move.

I’d like you to please weigh in.

Desperate

Dear Desperate,

Sadly, there are so many women in your shoes, dealing with the very desperate issues that you are dealing with. Men take off, and women are left with the burden of caring every which way for their children, with little hope in sight. Small crumbs of relief help a bit, but the hopelessness of the situation can feel unbearable. Kudos to you for trying to figure a way out of the maze you presently find yourself stuck in. And lucky for you that you have such supportive parents who are willing to go back to the drawing board of parenting all over again, with only the best intentions in mind. This combination of variables can very likely be your ticket out!

I understand how torn you are feeling right now over the prospect of turning your children over to your parents, essentially allowing them to become the primary caregivers of your children. It’s certainly not the natural order of things and may somehow, on the surface, feel really “off.” So before we explore those feelings, I wonder whether you might consider moving closer to your parents during this period of your life, and even consider, if there is room, moving in with your parents with your children while you are in school. It would obviously create the best of all possible worlds. But I hear that you have good friends where you live now and they could possibly be the lifeline that has sustained you during the past few years, which I don’t take lightly. I also can’t just assume that your parents have room for all of you in their home or that the dynamic of living with them is necessarily a good one. But it’s something to consider.

Most good things in life require huge efforts to achieve. Sometimes we have to sacrifice one thing to get another. Going back to school to claim your independence will come with some sacrifice. But in the scheme of things, the payout will be so worthwhile. Temporarily, it may be confusing to your children and they may act out initially. However, rest assured that once they are old enough to understand the sacrifice you had to make primarily for their sake, they will not only forgive you for what you did, but admire your sacrifice, commitment, and fortitude. After all, it’s not like you are throwing them to the wolves. You are temporarily entrusting them to your loving parents’ care.

Let me take this opportunity to give a shout-out to grandparents in general. These days, more than ever, grandparents often play a pivotal role in their grandchildren’s lives. They are more involved in a very hands-on fashion and play meaningful roles in the lives of their grandchildren, often serving as the true “influencers” of our time. They pack a powerful punch with their unconditional love and support. So though you may be raising the stakes on the living arrangement between your parents and children, the end result remains typical of our times.

In the meantime, thank goodness we all have access to Zoom, FaceTime, and other modes of communication that can enable you to feel in touch with and connected to your children during these times. Of course, you will miss your children, as they will miss you, but your commitment to school will probably be a great distraction. And together with your parents, you will be creative and resourceful in figuring out how to get together as much as possible.

Finally, though I know this is not the motivation, bringing down the anxiety level in everyone’s lives right now will be a huge bonus that will benefit all. So again, I applaud you on your resourcefulness and encourage you to keep your eye on your long-term goal. Though it seems like a really long time, it’s amazing how quickly time flies — especially when you’re working toward your goal.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals, couples, and families. Esther is presently offering phone, Zoom, and FaceTime sessions. She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295. 

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