Being a parent without a partner

“It’s day four. I woke up crying this morning, and I can’t stop. It just comes in waves. Aaron is asleep on the couch downstairs, and I just keep seeing over and over again in my mind the image of him, a full grown man, curled up, tucked into his daddy’s arms and shoulder, crying as he found out that his daddy has stage four cancer. That image will never leave me. Paul cradling his precious boy.” – February 16, 2018

My son is twenty-three. I am hardly a “single parent” in the modern sense. I am not raising young children by myself. I am so grateful that Paul was with me through all those years, but there are times when, as a parent, I feel the loss of my parenting partner. Even adult children come to crossroads in their lives, their job, their relationships, having kids of their own when they seek out the counsel of their parents. Parents. Plural.

A couple of weeks before Paul passed away, I awoke during the night at the hospital, and Paul was not in his bed. Panicked, I strained to look through blurry eyes around the dark room. My gaze landed on the movement of a figure bent over my son who was sleeping in a fold out chair. It was Paul. Unbelievably, even with large amounts of pain medication and sedation, the impulse to be Aaron’s dad could not be diminished. Paul was out of bed, with IV tubing stretched half way across the room, and he was pulling a blanket up over his sleeping boy. I told Paul he had done well, that he was a good father, and then gently guided him back to his bed.

No matter what was going on between me and Paul, we were always on the same page when it came to parenting our son. If we were not completely united, we always agreed to at least have the appearance of being united. We were always able to set our selves aside in order to provide as much stability and emotional safety for our son as possible. This was particularly true during transition years when our son was changing schools and when big, pivotal decisions needed to be made.

Making preparations for his launch from college to full on adulthood has certainly been one of those transitional phases, and I have missed my parenting partner immensely. It’s not that I don’t feel capable of helping our son navigate this phase, or that I doubt the guidance I am providing, it’s just that I am alone in this process now. It’s lonely. I miss the small moments most, the quiet, late night conversations about what to do next. We made another human, together. I feel deeply the full weight of the parenting process now. I am blessed that it is something I have never had to do on my own. Yes, there are others in our lives who care about our son and in whom I trust, but they don’t, they can’t know the full story of our life together as a family, and they never will. Because our son is an only child, there simply is no one else who participated fully in the family dynamic that produced him.

Our Family

My husband was a good deal older than I am. He had been married previously but had no children of his own. He was nearly 40 years old when we had our son. The day we arrived home from the hospital I was downright scared. I felt safe being at the hospital with a newborn. There were people all around me who knew what to do, but when we got home, I was suddenly overwhelmed. Paul was amazing. While our son still lay sleeping in the car seat, Paul settled me into bed and then brought our son to me. With a big smile on his face, he said, “Here. Hold him! Hold your son.” I took our son in my arms, and all the fear just melted away. I was no longer worried that I wouldn’t know what to do because with Paul I felt safe, supported, and encouraged.

We weren’t eager to leave our son at daycare nor could we afford it. Paul opted to be a stay-at-home dad, and he was so good at it! He was great with our son, calm, tender, doting, and patient. He was even more patient with me. It wasn’t any easier for me to be the one going to work than it was for him to be the one staying home. I had a terrible case of mom-guilt, and it came out in me being a little over-bearing about how things should be done, a desire to control all aspects of caring for our son, but Paul didn’t push back. He understood. He understood better than I did and just let me work it out for myself until I felt more comfortable in my role. He was so generous that way.

Soon, we will have a lot to celebrate, but each celebration will be bittersweet. We are moving into a time period in our son’s life when he will make some of the biggest decisions there are to make, graduate school, moving to a new city, long-term relationship decisions (read engagement!). And all of those decisions come with big moments, graduation, first day of work, first home, creating a family of his own. I am confident that the right decisions will be made, but I miss my partner and I hate that Paul’s not with us to see the fruition of all of the parenting work that we did together. I want to make sure that I find ways to include and infuse Paul’s memory into all of it. I think being thoughtful and intentional in the planning is the way to do that. Our son is the product of both of us. I intend to represent us both and seize opportunities to share Paul’s memory from a place of strength and gratitude.

Be blessed, Malia