Mothers know a lot about a lot, so when you have a tricky question, who better to ask than a mom? And not just any mom, but a mom of five kids, from 5 to 17 years old. Meagan Francis is an author and the creator of the Happiest Home blog. Her most recent book, The Happiest Mom: 10 Secrets to Enjoying Motherhood, helps moms find more satisfaction in every area of their lives.
Meagan is our resident mom, our Everymom…The Mom. Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have raised my three sons as a single mother for almost their entire lives. Their dad dropped in and out, not even paying enough child support to cover groceries, though he has a great job.
The two older boys are now young adults and have built successful lives – with a lot of help from me. Our youngest, “Noah,” has always been my “baby.” At 16, Noah decided to run away to be with his father.
It’s now been 9 months. Noah’s grades have dropped from As and Bs to Ds and Fs, and no amount of counseling or patience has brought him home. According to Noah’s girlfriend, his dad and his newest live-in girlfriend (who does not know us) are telling him things like we are “unfit” parents. He is so twisted around now that he won’t even talk on the phone or visit.
Noah just turned 17, so the court system cannot make him come home. His brothers still communicate with him but don’t want to interfere.
Can you help me? I am so desperate and confused, and I miss him terribly!
Signed, Sick at Heart Mom
Dear Sick at Heart:
If there’s one thing I know about teenagers, it’s that sometimes they break your heart.
I should know. When I was a little younger than Noah, I left my mom to move in with my dad on the other side of the state. The circumstances were different from yours, but the effect was the same: My mom was devastated, and I dealt with my discomfort by tuning her out.
I wasn’t a bad or unfeeling kid, just immature and selfish in the way many teenagers are. I also craved a stronger relationship with my dad, which is understandable no matter how a parent has behaved in the past. And I didn’t have the tools to figure out how to manage both relationships without feeling disloyal to one or the other.
In your situation, it sounds like there’s some parental alienation happening on the part of Noah’s father and his girlfriend, which is probably making it much harder for him to see clearly.
My advice won’t be easy to hear, but I think, as painful as this is, that you need to let things play out the way they will and have faith that Noah will come back to you in his own way, in his own time. Since you have no legal recourse, you don’t have much of a choice, right? And I fear that trying too hard to get him to “come back” could backfire, in the way that our best efforts often do when the person we’re trying to reach is confused or uncertain.
Here’s the good news: Noah’s almost an adult now, and soon will be heading off to a life of his own. Once he’s out of his dad’s house, it will likely be much easier for him to navigate having relationships with you both rather than feeling like he has to “choose.” And the older he gets, the easier it will be for him to see the situation with clearer eyes.
Maybe you could consider writing him a letter telling him you love him and that your doors are always open to him, but that you will be backing off for a while to give him some breathing room. Let him know that you understand that he wants to have a relationship with his dad, and don’t hold it against him. And that whenever he’s ready, you’d love to reconnect on some neutral ground—maybe a dinner out, or a phone call.
Sick at Heart, as you already know from having two adult children out in the world, one of the hardest parts about raising kids is that eventually we have to let go—and you’ve had to do that in a really painful, abrupt, and premature way. I am so sorry. I wish I could promise you that Noah will rekindle a relationship with you soon.
But whether or not that happens, I do believe that you need to do what you can to create a happy life for yourself regardless of how long he takes to figure out how to manage all these different relationships. You sound like a nurturing type, and I can relate. Maybe shifting your attention and energy to another person or cause right now might help you find satisfaction in caregiving while distracting you a bit.
I wish you the best of luck, and will be rooting for Noah to make his way back to you soon.
I’m going through a separation and would like advice on remaining graceful while everything materially is stripped away and all responsibility of child care falls to me. I’ve given everything I have to my family for the past 5 years, and now I have to become the earner again in a heartbeat. How do I remain dignified when I’ve been so royally screwed over?
Signed, Screwed Over in the UK!
Dear Screwed Over,
Does it help at all to say you’re far from alone? Probably not, but it’s the truth. I can’t tell you how often I hear from women in your exact position. And when I was in the position of having to care for myself and two small children years ago, I felt much the same way.
I think that it’s normal to feel abandoned, terrified, and, yes, screwed over in these circumstances. So let yourself feel that way for a bit—take a day, a weekend, a week to wallow.
But remember that while those feelings might take a while to go away completely, you cannot let the life you want to create for yourself and your children get derailed. You can’t let the unfairness of it all get in your way.
The best way to keep your dignity is to assess the situation, make a plan, and take action. As you take little baby steps toward the life you and your babies deserve, you’ll see how much you’re capable of. And little by little, you’ll find that it matters less and less to you how you wound up in this situation, and that all you care about is making the very most of it.
Good luck, Screwed Over. You’ve got this. In fact, I’m hereby giving you a new pseudonym: “Confident and Kick-ass in the UK.” Sounds more accurate, yes?
Pulling for you,