Last week my husband and I took our family on a week long vacation for Christmas that included a cruise, parasailing over the Pacific ocean in Catalina Island, horseback riding on a ranch in Ensenada Mexico, and a day of roller coaster thrills at Knott’s Berry Farm. All capped off with a car ride back up through sunny California and gray skied Oregon that stretched over three days, stopping only to visit friends and family for the holidays along the way. The five of us had the time of our lives.
The problem? We are a family of six, not five. One of our children, my biological first-born son – Jesse, was missing from every adventure, each magical memory created, and every single family photo taken on this family vacation. There wasn’t a single activity we did that my heart didn’t ache wishing that he was there.
Yet…it was my decision to cancel his ticket 6 weeks prior. What kind of mother am I, you may ask? What kind of mama would leave one of her children casted aside on a family trip? Before you cast your judgement, let me give you a little back story. Jesse has lived primarily with his father (my ex-husband) for the last 677 days and appx 16 hours. I could devote an entire other blog (or 10) about the details of why Jesse moved away to live with his dad. Honestly…I could write a book about it (hmmm…). That being said, when we decided this year for Christmas to swap traditional gifts for our children for a fun vacation…I had to loop my ex-husband into the planning process to ensure Jesse could join us. Unfortunately, he then took this information and decided to then tell our son that he would not be getting what he asked for for Christmas from his mom. Wildly upset that he wasn’t receiving cash from me to fund his “ultimate gaming PC” fund…I got several hurtful texts that called me a liar (I had told him cash for Christmas was a possibility weeks prior), refusal to ever come to my house to visit again, and demands for me to return whatever it was that I got him. In short, he threw a big fat teenager tantrum.
Part of me wanted to push aside his behavior and invest all of my hope that he would learn about the cruise during our big Christmas reveal, be over-the-moon excited, and joyfully engage in the family fun with all of us in Mexico. Though I couldn’t ignore the fact that he was acting like a spoiled and entitled child – only happy to receive gifts that fit within his demands. So in an attempt to put the ball in his court, I gave him a couple of options.
“Jesse, you have two choices. Door number one is a surprise Christmas gift that you may not have asked for…but think you will love and is more valuable than if I were to hand you cash. Door number two is money that you can put toward your PC…though I will have to return what I already got you and I can only get half of the money back. Which means you won’t get as much” I said.
He replied “If door number one is so good I’ll buy it with my own money. If you give it to me, I”m just going to sell it. So you might as well just refund it or give it to someone else. Also, I may not even be coming up for Christmas anymore.”
Heavy in my heart, I cancelled his cruise and his flight. Ultimately, I could not risk the high probability that when we surprised the kids with the trip, he’d be royally pissed off and would set out to make the vacation miserable for all of us with an ungrateful and nasty attitude. Our other three children we knew would love and appreciate this gift. They’ve earned it. They deserved it.
The day before we were scheduled to leave for vacation, we surprised the kids with the news of the trip – letting them unwrap new suitcases filled with items that could be used in warmer weather. I then had to send the message that I had been dreading for weeks, telling Jesse of the would-be gift he had willingly declined weeks prior. “I’d still rather have cash” was all he responded with.
Do I believe this to be true? To be honest, I’m not sure. Since moving in with his dad, his one and only hobby (obsession, rather) has been gaming. He no longer had out-of-the-house hobbies or in-person friends…but a bedroom that looked more like a man-cave. The bed swapped for a couch, a high-tech computer, multiple monitors, cans of soda and candy wrappers everywhere, and the lights rarely on. It is quite possible that cash to put toward improving his “set-up” was more valuable to him then a 5-day trip with his family.
On the other hand, just a couple of weeks prior he had opened up to me that part of him wanted to move back home. “Oh yea?” I had responded. “What are your reason’s for wanting to?”
“You guys do stuff together all the time. I don’t do anything except sit at home and go to school” he replied. My stomach twisted. This conversation was coming just a couple of weeks after I had cancelled his cruise ticket.
“And your reasons for not wanting to move back?” I countered.
“You guys have rules. I can’t drink sodas or energy drinks or eat whatever I want. I can’t have my x-box there or play as much on my PC” he said.
“I would love to have you back home – I hope you know that. It hasn’t been the same since you moved, and I miss you every day. But you’re right…we do have structure and rules. You have to decided what you want and what is more valuable to you. Our door is always open” I said.
So, while I am sure he is happy with the cash he ultimately got from us for Christmas…I also know that he is internally upset he missed out on the experiences of a family vacation. I know he must have felt hurt and left out. It KILLS me thinking of him home alone in his room, checking Instagram to see what photos his brother may have posted from the trip he was not a part of. Though he is too prideful to ever admit that he may have made a mistake. His stubbornness is a quality he unfortunately inherited from both of his parents.
There was a moment during our vacation, while riding bikes on the coast of Catalina Island, that we rode up on a familiar spot called “Lover’s Cove”. Watching people peel off wet suits on the side of the road, I was brought back to nearly 15 years ago…when on this very spot the 21 year old me had gone snorkeling during my honeymoon. I had been 5 months pregnant with Jesse at the time. Tears filled me eyes. If only I had known then that I would come back to this place years later…in a happier marriage, with a a much bigger family, but without the baby that was growing inside of me then. My heart felt shredded.
There are days when I feel like a failure as a mom. There are days when I know I am doing the best that I can. There are days when I question if I’m doing things right, and several when I’m proud of myself for having such incredible kids. Ultimately, like most parents, I am trying my best to raise good adults. Adults that are caring, compassionate, responsible, and happy. Adults who can make decisions on their own and who can deal with the consequences of their mistakes. Which means I have let them make mistakes when they are young and allow them to navigate through those lessons with they do. Sometimes this means watching them go through pain. Often this means going through pain myself.
I am sharing this piece of our story with you because this parenting gig is hard. Really hard. You may not have had to make the decision to leave your child out of your family vacation, but as parents, we all have to make incredibly tough decisions all of the time. What makes these decisions even harder is the worry that we are constantly being judged about what kind of children we are raising or what type of parents others deem us to be . I worried about what people would think of me as a mom when Jesse moved away to live with his dad two years ago. I could see myself through the lens of people who didn’t know our story – knowing it is impossible to explain the complicated web that led us to that point.
People make parenting decisions all of the time based off of what other’s think or fear of judgement. The truth is, YOU are the one who knows what is best for YOUR kid. Not Sally next door, not the teacher at school, not your own parents, or even your pediatrician. YOU do. The best way to stop worrying about being judged by others is to stop judging other people yourself. Yes, there are circumstances when kids are getting neglected or abused – I’m not talking about those situations. I’m referring to the day-to-day parent versus parent “I would never raise my kid that way” type of time-wasting nonsense we do on a daily basis.
I truly believe that this is how we raise good adults. By following our internal mom/dad GPS and parenting intuitively. I am a good parent. Hell, I am a GREAT parent. You are a great parent too. Even if you make mistakes. Even if your kid makes mistakes. So next time you’re feeling judged or maybe are going to cast a bit of judgement yourself – remember that one mom who left her son home on a family vacation…Kidding! For real though…remember that we are all doing the best that we can for ourselves and for these angels (and sometimes assholes) that God has given to us. Then go get a massage or something…because this parenting gig seriously is hard.
original post December 29, 2018