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struggling momNEO, I struggle every year to try to give my kids what they want for Christmas but it seems to get harder and harder. I am a single mom and my kids father is incarcerated so they don’t know him very well.  I didn’t make the best choices when I got into that relationship. I was really trying to get out of a bad home situation and took the first chance I could get.  When I think about all the madness I was in, I was lucky to get out of it with me and the kids in one piece.  I was so scared from what we went through that I stayed away from relationships for a while and just worked on me.  I went back to school  and this year I finally finished my degree. It took me eight years working  and taking whatever classes I could at night. 

My two kids are teenagers now and it has just been us all this time.  I have had men try to get with me over the years but I guess I needed to feel like I could do it different from my mother and my sisters and my girlfriends who always get with men to try to get their bills paid.  Now that I have my degree, the job I was supposed to get is no longer available because the company is cutting back.  It is crazy because I have these loans to pay back at the same time I am not going to be able to make the money I thought I was going to make by going to school.  To make it worse I might end up losing my job because I am overqualified and there are people they can pay less money to do the same work.  My supervisor kept me in the position so she could promote me after I graduated but now all of them have lost their jobs too. 

I have a friend who has been there for me for a couple years now.  He recently told me he had feelings for me and that he kept them secret because he did not want to scare me away. He is a hard worker. The kids know him and really like and respect him. He has jumped in more than once to check on them for me when I had school or work.  He does handyman work and took care of his mother who recently passed. We both go to the same church so I know he was not seeing anybody. His mother seemed to be happy when he started helping me with my boys. The only thing I know is that he was with somebody who hurt him really bad some time in the past when he came back from the army and he just kept to himself after that. He is close to 20 years older than me but I don’t think anybody has ever been nicer to me. I think I could really have feelings for him too. 

He asked if he could help me with Christmas this year and he was hurt when I told him no. Neo am I being too prideful? I am so used to doing things for myself that the answer was just automatic.  I don’t want him to feel like I am trying to use him. This is the first holiday after his mother has passed and I feel like maybe he is missing her and just trying to be nice. But he has only called me once in a few weeks since I said no and we usually talk at least a few times a week. I am worried that I hurt him. Help.

A Struggling Sistah

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REPLY

My Dear Struggling Sistah

First let me say that eight years of night school shows a level of dedication I think we all can learn from. The sad truth is that many of our young men turn to the streets when the situation at home is bad and just as many of our young ladies try to escape home situations by jumping in the bed of whoever they feel can provide them security. The men end up in prison and the girls end up as single moms.  But it really depends on what we are willing to learn from those mistakes.

It sounds to me like you have chosen to learn as much as you can and to better yourself in spite of a bad family situation and getting with the wrong man. You said the kids do not know their father well. Since you indicated that there are two, I have to conclude that you were with him for at least 2 years. Adding to that the fact that it took you 8 years to finish school after he went away and with your kids being teens, that whatever he did was serious enough that he is still incarcerated at least 10 years later.

There are a few things that I see here. On one hand you have made the most of your life despite the past. But on the other hand it appears that you may have isolated your kids from their father and other relatives. I can only go by the words you wrote which seem to be all about what you are struggling to do alone. Now you may have very good reasons to do it all alone. You didn’t say how bad your family was at the time you left or if their father was abusive.  But 10 years is a long time. People grow. Many lessons are learned through the passage of time. You yourself are a living testimony of that.

I just want to make sure you have given others the benefit of rebirth that you have been fortunate to have. If the children do not know their father because  he has no wisdom to give them even from where he is, then I understand you keeping them away, but if it is because you ran head first into the future never to look back, then you cannot allow your painful past to deprive them of knowledge of who they are, or you deny them the ability to learn from all of you in a way that can help them to make better decisions.

Eventually they will want to know the whole truth and not just your version of it. You explained very well how and why you got into the situation you did with their father.  Put aside your past pain and fear for a moment to understand that there is a how and why to his story as well and since both of you are inside of those kids, they will never be complete until they understand themselves through both your eyes. I know it has been easier to just buckle down and be super mom but they are coming to an age where those types of answers are going to be important and if they can be provided in a positive way, I would encourage you to let it happen. It does not mean getting back into a relationship with their father although it can mean having to face an uncomfortable part of your life that you have tried to move on from. But you really can’t because you owe it to the kids to know who they are.

You basically said you spent the last 8 years running on fear, burying your head in books, and your kids, and away from relationships. It is easy to look at the results and say you did the right thing. Except the scripture you use for church says “for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, and power, and of a sound mind.” I’m sure the cutbacks your company was making didn’t happen overnight. So even while you were finishing your degree there had to be signs that things were changing there. The supervisor who wanted to promote you saw the signs even faster than you and if he or she was close enough to you to want to promote you while watching you go to school  eeking out a few classes at a time, it is more likely that you had better warning than some of your co-workers.

The problem that fear creates is that we end up trying to pray something away instead of being pro-active and we end up letting situations land on us rather than getting out from under while we have the power to do something about it. That is especially hard when we see our jobs at risk because that plays back into the sense of security that got you into the mess with the kids father. You wanted to believe that with you doing all the right things this time around, surely God or the company would recognize that and not take away your security. But sweetie that is just not reality. God is not in the business of making sure you get a promotion or to keep the doors open to the company you work for. It is always good to pray and ask for wisdom, but to then move forward with your decisions knowing that you will receive what you need to make sound decisions.

That brings us to this man in your life. 20 years older and a former military man who basically dedicated his life to his sick mother until she died tells me one part of the story. The other part of his doing so after being hurt by a woman tells me a possible other side. This man is old enough to have been a part of one of the two wars in the gulf over the past 20 years. Many soldiers came back to wives who had cheated on them or who could not handle the types of stresses and nightmares that a man has when he has seen the horrors of war.  Some of these soldiers turn to drugs, alcohol, or isolating themselves to the point of being homeless. Whatever this man has gone through, it looks like he turned to God, and his mother ,and working with his hands to heal his heart and mend his spirit.

You didn’t say how you met, only that you knew him and his mother from church. I can imagine that seeing him dedicated to his elderly mother and also seeing him work around town as a handyman knowing he was not out running the streets made him a safe man to know. And for him to see you trying to handle two boys, being young yourself, and dedicated to work and school and you also not running the streets made you safe for him.  I have seen this kind of “peace” between two people who have been running away from their hurts more than once. It is amazing the healing that happens between the two when they recognize what they bring to each other.

He has probably had feelings for you longer than you know and your recent struggles made it impossible for him to hold them back any longer. As independent as you seem to be, I would guess that you probably have gotten more comfortable telling him when something is bothering you when you used to keep your struggles to yourself. So, in a way, you invited his care even if you were not consciously doing it. The fact is, you two have gotten close. You said they kids are also close to him and as a mother who has otherwise avoided relationships there is no way you would have allowed that without  you recognizing  there was something there that you could trust.

You also told on yourself when you mentioned his mother being happy to see him with the boys. Baby you already knew it wasn’t just the boys. You just didn’t want to admit that you were letting someone in your life. It is easier to say he is just helping with the boys. But you went on to depend on him when your schedule was rough and that was helping you, not just the boys.

The reason you told him no about the gifts is because it was more personal and because he expressed feelings. It meant no more hiding behind occasional favors that were really and always had been expressions of love that you accepted all along. This time is was official. Pride went out the window the first time he watched the kids for you.

Face it, you care about him. You are just scared. And having faced so many challenging aspects of your life I can understand why. It looks like he may have the same issues based upon him saying he was afraid to tell you out of fear that you would run away. It sounds like you both need to have a heart to heart putting all your issues and fears on the table and then come up with a plan to face them together so that they are no longer obstacles to the future the two of you could so happily have. But you both have to be willing to do it.

You have given every lame excuse in the world as to why you think he wants to help you. The most obvious one is that the man loves you and it is time for you to stop denying that it is possible that someone could or that what you have in you is good enough to give to someone. Love does not require perfection, just a mutual commitment to grow beyond imperfections together.

You spent 8 years getting your degree and the job you were working toward is no longer there.  That could shake up anybody. But maybe what you thought you were earning that degree for was not what you were meant to do. Maybe the lessons of showing up at night for 8 years through weariness and sick kids and hectic work schedules were more valuable than the degree itself. Maybe it is your degree in “life” that made this man fall in love with you.

We live in very uncertain times.  The bonds that we are so blessed to have today, we have no idea how much time we will have to enjoy tomorrow.  Find the courage to seize the day, for the happiness that it is meant to bring. If his mother could have said one thing before she passed, she may have said the same thing. Who knows… perhaps… she did.