After my son was born, I somehow believed that his fresh newness and my motherly openness would bring my family and friends together.
Love and support would unify us, creating a fount of hope and wisdom from which we all could share, especially my baby boy as he grew into manhood.
Disagreements and differences would be seen for what they were — mere distractions from more important matters.
Well . . . that didn’t actually happen.
Unfortunately, many single parents discover a cold, unrestrained judgment and alienation when they mingle in social circles and among family members.
My parents, a few family members and a small group of friends have helped my son and me survive, literally and figuratively.
My mother and father have nourished my son and me with an unconditional love. When others turned their back on us, my parents gave us a safe haven to rest and refuel from our daily struggles. Because of them, we are not alone.
A handful of family members and friends became a powerful part of my world later in my life as my son became more self-sufficient in his teenage years. I reached out to them — and they reached back. Through them, I experienced connection, not rejection.
The gestures of these generous spirits have helped me to recognize and celebrate my value as a mother, woman and human being. Without the fortification of dignity and self-awareness, I certainly could not have survived the cruelty unleashed so casually, so freely by others.
The last time I saw my sister was on my son’s 6th birthday. She and her boyfriend traveled to Maryland, so he could meet my parents. Their relationship had become quite serious. For a few years, they had lived together in a smallish, rather intimate apartment and supported each other in their artistic and entrepreneurial endeavors. Eventually, they married.
Before her trip, we spoke on the phone about combining her visit with a birthday party for Joseph. We discussed the people who would be attending, swapping memories and exchanging laughs, people she and I had not spoken to for several years and ones we knew well and yearned to see. Exercise and entertainment led the conversation to the many lawn games planned from horseshoes to bocce. Food would be hamburgers, hotdogs and fun nibblies. We agreed that this party would be the ideal setting for her boyfriend to experience our family and friends.
When she arrived in Maryland, she seemed a bit anxious. I assumed she was nervous about the overall visit, particularly my parent’s reception of her boyfriend, and its outcome on her relationship. I never did have a chance to ask her; a distance was growing between us, perhaps I just didn’t want to see it.
My sister and her boyfriend stayed with my brother and his wife and met with my parents on planned outings. I recall attending one such gathering at a local restaurant, the only one I was present at aside from the party. The hostess directed our group of eight up a staircase to the second floor where we were seated at a long, wooden table near a fireplace. The scene was rather rustic with exposed wooden beams and period furniture. With each movement, the floor beams creaked, voicing their distress, sometimes softly, sometimes loudly, under the strain of our physical and emotional weight.
My sister and I sat so far apart at the table that any conversation between us would have required an effort on our parts. As it turned out, she sat at one end with her boyfriend and I at the other with my son. Between us were our parents and my brother and his wife. This seating arrangement combined with the conversations at other tables and servers bustling about the room made a chat unlikely unless we raised our voices or moved to sit near each other.
However, this situation really didn’t alarm me. I believed we would have numerous opportunities to chat either in the next couple days or on the phone in the coming weeks. We were OK, I thought, but actually we weren’t. We really weren’t. Little did I know that she and I would never converse again.
The birthday party afforded my sister the opportunity to expose the deep fissures in what remained of our relationship. At the gathering, my son was playing with his dearest friend while the adults hung out. As the hostess, I welcomed each guest, chatting a bit and making sure they had what they needed. I floated about like a butterfly.
My sister appeared disgusted and annoyed. She was standing on the lawn with her boyfriend when she looked up at me as I stood on the deck. I was happy to see her, but the feelings were not reciprocal. She looked directly at me with a sort of contempt, and she made no effort speak with me. Eventually, she left the party — and the state — without even a good-bye.
For more than eight years, my sister has not spoken to me. Her reasons for essentially shunning me have varied, but I remember two in particular that preceded this visit.
When I decided to hire a new attorney, she offered advice on selecting one. I can’t recall her specific recommendations, but I do remember not following them. I was looking for certain characteristics in my next lawyer, knowing that issues with our child custody agreement would be challenged and argued in the courts for years. I needed a smart strategist who understood controlling, narcissistic personalities. She didn’t seem to understand my wishes and grew frustrated with what she believed was my complete disregard for her opinions. I know she was trying to help and I was grateful for her concern, but she only added more stress to the situation.
The second sore point occurred immediately after my son was born. I was recovering from my caesarean section surgery, adjusting to a newborn and his demanding schedule, and working with an attorney in my custody case. I needed help and I was completely overwhelmed. I wished that my sister would visit and help for even a short time. I desperately needed her support and expressed to her my disappointment and frustration that she could not be there for me.
As the year progressed, my life became exponentially more demanding and frustrating. Legal fees. New job. Childcare. Case prep. Parenting. Failed co-parenting. I was so relieved that my sister was not present for the daily hell swirling around me. She did not deserve to be a part of this torture in any way. No one did. I eventually apologized to her and expressed my happiness that was far from it. I thought she accepted my apology, but I eventually realized that she had not.
I never thought that being a single parent would alienate my sister from me.
I think about my sister occasionally. I learned that she remarried after her divorce and continues to paint beautiful pieces. I wonder if she is happy. I wonder if she knows how much she has hurt and disappointed her nephew. I wonder if she knows that I mourn the death of our relationship.
Her rejection of me has caused such pain, but I still call out to her despite her silence.
On Thursdays I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.