My two daughters have been through the wringer. A few months before quarantine disrupted our reality, their dad and I had separated and filed for divorce. Our beloved library was closed. Our favorite parks were covered in yellow tape and encircled by tall, looming fences. We were no longer seeing friends or having playdates and we were left in the Arizona heat without a splash pad or a pool. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “schools will reopen in the fall of 2020.” And some did. But not where we live.
We live near the heart of Phoenix’s downtown in a vulnerable community and thus the schools have remained closed. My oldest had been talking about kindergarten for what felt like forever. She asked about her future teacher, her school bus, and would she get to eat lunch with her sister?! But even kindergarten was taken away … along with her family unit that lived in the white house with the blue door and a huge backyard. We moved from our beautiful home on a quiet street to the heart of downtown, her dad keeping the dog and me keeping the cat.
While their dad and I are good friends outside of our ended marriage, we recognize we quite literally blew up their sense of normalcy. We knew we could band-aid the problem, letting our wounds beneath grow deeper and thereby do even more long-term damage. Or we could rip off the band-aid and experience a painful albeit healthier healing. The long-term health of our relationship was what we needed to prioritize for our individual health but also children’s health. And so, we chose divorce.
Would I have made this decision to file for divorce had I known that they would also lose parks, playdates and school? I don’t know. I can’t know. And to be honest, I am thankful we filed before COVID hit because it could have kept us clinging to what we knew was broken, in foolish hopes of easing our pain.
But the guilt ate away at me. I began to say “yes” to more and more. Yes to a second serving of ice cream. Yes to candy before bed. Yes to more screen time. Yes to the whining, yes to more toys (that we definitely didn’t need). I slowly moved from a parent to a circus leader. Because this SUCKED. We were all hurting. Not only was our external, global world hurting and falling apart. So was our internal, family unit. It was messy and painful and looking back, I don’t regret for a second giving them more ice cream or letting them watch “Mulan” immediately after “Wreck It Ralph.” I don’t regret letting them play naked in the mud in our old backyard weeks before moving or driving them through the Starbucks for cake pops three days in a row (yes, three).
But. As we all came up for air, I knew it was time to make a shift. We had gotten into a rhythm. We had found some ground in the un-grounding. We were adjusting and slowly healing. And now it was time to acknowledge the guilt but no longer give it my power. I put my daughters to bed, took a bath and then put on my favorite sweats. I grabbed my favorite pen and wrote a letter to myself and then I wrote a letter to my girls. Acknowledging all we had made it through thus far. Not necessarily celebrating it but absolutely honoring it. Paying homage to who we had been and what we had gone through.
After this, I had the space, both mentally and energetically, to pick up the pieces I had let fall to the floor. Just like I choose to rip off the band-aid of my unhealthy marriage, I needed to rip off the band-aid of my easy-breezy-lemon-squeezy-parenting. I needed to put my big girl pants on and be okay with being the bad guy. I needed to be okay with saying no and enforcing chores (gasp!). I needed to absolutely be okay with their feelings instead of trying to distract them from their feelings. If anything, I needed to empower my children. I needed to be okay with them being uncomfortable. I needed to acknowledge that my job was not their immediate happiness but their long-term wellbeing. And I needed to stop trying to ease their immediate discomforts.
Discomfort is a gift. It’s how we grow, change, evolve and emerge into our best, beautiful selves. In fact, wasn’t discomfort how these beautiful children that I love so dearly got here in the first place? Regardless of how babies are born, vaginally, cesarean, it’s no picnic. It’s hard, uncomfortable, and often painful. But that’s where new life begins.
I needed to lean into the uncomfortable spots of my parenting and look them in the eye. I needed to reevaluate the long-term effects of my short-term decisions and choose differently, in hopes of raising strong, independent, adults who are unafraid of ripping off their own band-aids so they too can be their biggest, best selves.