Recently a client told me about her son chosing to stay with his father over her even though it was “her night”. The client immediately felt rejected and hurt. While wanting to present a calm demeanor to her son she was really thrown by the request. Her goal — while she communicated a response to her son — was to let him know he was free to make the request and since it was reasonable and she could honor it. This seemed like the right thing to do despite how she felt. However, she was left her wondering how she (and her home) might become more enticing so that her son would never want to choose anyone over her again.
Together we worked through the events that may have triggered the request from her son and also her feelings of being “less than”. We then we explored her internal thoughts and the messages she was sending to herself – “I am a loser”, “I am not a fit mother”, “my house is disorganized so my child feels uncomfortable in it”, “everything in my life is wrong”, “I really should be alone”. The striking thing about these words, is I had heard them before from other single parents.
While every situation is different, many single parents either flying solo or in co-parenting situations feel vulnerable because often in their mind they have already failed once. This is reinforced by a society that rewards in-tact families in so many ways. As I spoke with this client I felt steeped in the very true, but dark, hidden side of co-parenthood – the vulnerability of it all.
In co-parenting arrangements — no matter how well intentioned they are – there is often a jockeying of the parents to be the preferred one. I’m not sure if this is so they can be number one, or simply so they will not be rejected by the being(s) that are most precious to them. This vulnerability is scary and when challenged it hurts.
What we must keep in mind is that children are both fickle and truth-tellers, in most cases they are not cruel, nor manipulative. In the best co-parenting situations they are blissfully unaware of what might tug at the raw heartstrings of their parents. When I checked back with this client about this event, she reported that her son later told her he had wanted to organize his baseball cards in anticipation of school the next day. His choice, according to what he told her, had nothing to do with her failings as a mother or her disorganized home, it was simply that the baseball cards were at his father’s house.