My term for the single parent syndrome is:
“Married Single Parenting – Recurring Circumstantial Guarantees”
There is no doubt, you are married. However, at times there is no denying if you have children in a LEO marriage, you feel like a single parent.
My best written blog article on this issue is “The Big Picture”. If you’ve read my first book, Bullets in the Washing Machine, you know where I’m going with this.
There are several contributing factors to the Married Single Parenting factor in all LEO relationships which involve one or more parents being an Officer; they are recurring factors - as in, they will arise and reoccur often; they are circumstantial factors – as in there may be no rhyme or reason or any dependable way to predict when or where or under what circumstance these factors will occur; they are however, guaranteed to be a part of your life as the parent of a LEO child and the partner or spouse of a LEO parent. Recurring Circumstantial Guarantees.
There are several things which can be done to (in a way) “train yourself” as a parent of a LEO child and spouse of a LEO to ensure that these recurring circumstances do not cause a strain on your relationship with your LEO, nor cause resentment to build over time within not only yourself, but your child. It all comes back to making a decision to own your emotions during these recurring circumstantial guarantees, and in owning those emotions you can then make a choice – to act or to react.
One of the most recurring statements I hear from new mothers who are the spouses of LEO’s is: “I didn’t get married to be alone and I didn’t have a baby to be a single parent”. My first response to that statement every time is “But you are married to and have a child with an Officer, so how you choose to handle your reality is now up to you”.
It is a very common and known statement: “Parenting is the hardest job on earth; it’s also the most rewarding”. I’ve never once heard someone say “Parenting is the most rewarding job on earth, as long as you have adult company and help along the way”. Just as we’ve all heard the phrase “It takes continual effort to make a marriage work”. I’ve never once heard “There’s nothing as simple and carefree as marriage”. So why then, are we prone to get married, have children then resent feeling alone when married to an officer? Well, there’s also a very common phrase “We’re in this together”, and oftentimes in a LEO marriage you are left feeling very much alone.
All things in in life are about balance. Marriage and parenting are no exceptions. One of the hardest things, it seems to me, for spouses of LEO’s to overcome is the notion of what their expectation of marriage was, and the reality that their marriage, to a LEO – is far from that expectation. Our expectations of marriage are oftentimes so tainted by the “fairytale” which often has been engrained in us from childhood – henceforth the phrase “the honeymoon is over!” Clearly we are not alone in those feelings of being slapped in the face with a reality which does not conform to our expectations or that would not be phrase known worldwide. Add the badge into that factor and you are in for a whole new level of reality. Add being a parent along with being a spouse of an officer and you’ve just been knocked off an even larger pedestal. So now what?
Like it or not, there is, and has always been a very no nonsense, no therapy needed solution to the mystery of making marriage and parenting in a LEO marriage (in any marriage really) work…. in my own words… “Selfish Is Not An Option”. When you remove the “Me” from your thought process, it changes everything. Now I hear the resounding cry of “No ME?! But I shouldn’t have to lose myself or give up who I am for the sake of WE”. That’s not what I said. You can very much have a sense of self and self-worth while approaching your marriage and parenting with a “We” mentality. You do not have to lose yourself, much the opposite, you can gain a whole new sense of self, independent self, which is still very much committed to the “we” of your marriage and family. Again, it is finding that balance….and how do you maintain balance?
You cannot balance anything by standing on one side. You cannot balance anything which involves more than yourself, standing alone. Picture a seesaw in your head. If there is one of you, plus your partner, plus children, you will never find balance unless you equally distribute the weight on each end….and how does that seesaw then operate? One side has to do some work to bring the other side up and down. A seesaw is a balancing act and you will never operate one with only “ME”, there must be “WE”…..but part of that “WE” is YOU. You cannot lose your sense of self to make the “WE” work. Make more sense that way? But it always seems like you’re alone on the seesaw! I hear you all now.
So, if you are all alone…..where is your partner, and how does he/she feel about you, seemingly being all alone?
I have always approached marriage to my LEO with the constant phrase in my mind: “He doesn’t make the calls that keep him from his family, but he has a duty to answer them”. There have been many a time I have been home alone, kids sick, me sick – at the same time. I needed him, I needed his help; things would be so much easier if he were home. Trips to the doctor with kids puking, alone; I needed him. Trips to the ballpark, alone; it felt awkward to see all the other parents together. There have been plenty of times I was having a hard time, I was just plain tired, lonely, bored and where was he? There have plenty of sleepless nights, alone in bed, sometimes through storms or when past memories have left me scared – I needed him, where was he? No really…..when I take my needs and wants out of the equation, when I remove the “ME”, where was he?
Was he sitting in a patrol car, tired, hungry, missing his family, counting down the hours and praying a drunk didn’t appear before him ten minutes before he could finally get back to us? Yes, he was. Was he exhausted, twelve hours into a shift when a call came over the radio of a baby who had drown, or a family strewn about a freeway, in pieces? Was he rubbing menthol under his nose in 105° heat while standing over the bloated bodies of an abusive husband who murdered his family, then himself....five days earlier? Was he sitting at a road block, angered at the call that came over the radio that another officer called in sick, therefore leaving a shorthanded Sergeant looking to him to cover? Was he so shaken after stepping around a dark corner only to be fired upon in the dead of night, or so taken back by the scuffle which came from nowhere, finding himself fighting for his own weapon, that he took his day off and spent it at the range, practicing, when he could have been home? Did you even wonder why they spend time off practicing? They don’t tell you everything…..for a reason. Did he come home to you again, finally, yet immediately fall asleep? Are any of those recurring circumstantial guarantees what makes you say “where was he?” if so, are they less important than what had you asking “what about me?”
We’ve all heard the phrases “Love is give and take” and “You get what you give”. I guarantee whomever came up with those two phrases had a failed marriage in a short amount of time. Those statements should be combined and rephrased as “Love is you give and you will receive”. My very favorite bible verse says it all:
Love is patient, love is kind, It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but love rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. And now with faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these, is love. 1 Cor. 13: 4-13.
That is what it takes. Selfish is not an option. You cannot do any of those things with expectations in return. Love is not “I will give as long as I get back”. Love is not “I can only give so much and get nothing in return”. Love is not conditional. Period. In a LEO marriage you may give and give and give some more before your LEO has the opportunity to give back. Your LEO may not be able to give back equally, what if he/she can’t? What if you have the capacity and hours and fortitude and ability to give more? Do you keep a score sheet? Do you love your LEO only enough to stay even? Do you love only as much as you feel you get in return? If the truth of love is as that verse says above for you, does that mean you are slighted if you don’t feel the same in return? And are your “feelings” the reality of your LEO’s ability? When you put that verse in the lap of your LEO – is he purposely going out of his way to NOT love you, or not give back, or not be available? Or are the recurring circumstantial guarantees of his duty preventing him from being able to keep the score even? And…..is he to blame? Should you love him less, or differently or hold resentment against him because of the circumstances which he has a duty to deal with? Should he pay? Will that make the nights less lonely? Will it keep drunks off the street? Will it satisfy your feelings of lacking to give him the cold shoulder, start an argument, distance yourself or make your LEO into the bad guy who is unavailable to your children?
Do you sacrifice self for the sake of another? Your LEO does every day. You LEO sacrifices time with family, misses holidays, spends lonely nights on the streets, is exposed to tragedies which leave permanent emotional scars, consistently has meals missed, time off taken away, moments interrupted, anticipations crushed…..and your LEO is called to his/her duty. It is not something they sign up for, it is something that is within them. It is who they are. Could you make those daily sacrifices; be disrespected by most, hated by many, consistently unappreciated? Can you look at your duty to your LEO and say you will only fulfill that duty conditionally? You will give what you get. You will give when you have something to take? Or can you sacrifice yourself for the sake of “we”? Can the “me” in you think of “we” when it is YOU who has the duty to hold up the end of the seesaw? Or will you jump off and let it come crashing down? The seesaw is a balancing act….the ups and downs come easy, the balancing in the middle is what takes the effort.
Things which will make Married Single Parenting easier:
1. Always remember your LEO does not make the calls, but they have a duty to answer them.
Your job as a spouse and parent are universally revered as two of the most desirable and important positions one can ever hold. Have you ever heard of anyone looking at a cop and saying the same? Would that put a damper on how you did your duty if it were true? If someone were to say to you “Marriage and parenting is awesome unless you’re married to a cop” would you decide to be less dedicated to either? Your LEO is told daily how worthless he/she is in society, so much so that people seek to extinguish him/her from the planet. Wonder how it feels to come home to a spouse and family letting you know exactly how much you have neglected them and their needs while you were away?
2. Before you REACT, think about how to ACT to find a resolution. When those recurring circumstantial guarantees interrupt your life, before you react in the moment, think about how your actions will impact your marriage and family, and instead act accordingly to find the positive and eliminate the negative….the first step in that, is removing any selfish tendencies.
3. Never play the blame game. If you have resolved yourself to the fact that your LEO has a duty to answer those calls, don’t blame them for doing their job, or for being who they are. Any time you expect someone to change who they are to fit your needs, you are not living in love. You are reacting out of selfish want. Do not inflict your personal frustrations onto your LEO. Do not blame them for being late, or being called out or for the feelings of fear or loneliness of frustration you feel because they answered the call. Do not give the cold shoulder because you didn’t get what you feel you gave. Continue to give, continue to love, continue to be selfless and your LEO will recognize and appreciate your efforts, and not feel guilty for not being enough for you. In turn, you will receive all they have to give, when they have the opportunity and ability to give it.
4. Be your LEO’s biggest cheerleader and teach your children the same. LEO children grown up with their LEO parent being unavailable due to many recurring circumstantial guarantees. Teach them the reason they are not available are circumstantial, not fundamental. Teach them the importance of their LEO parent’s duty. Teach them their parent isn’t away for no reason, but for a very significant reason. Raise your children to respect their LEO parent as the hero they truly are. If you want society to respect and revere and value your LEO, don’t ever teach your own children differently. Never, ever make your LEO the bad guy for not being available, even in the most disappointing of circumstances. To a child, those REACTIONS leave a lasting impression which will lead to resentment which in honesty, is born only from your selfish reaction out of emotion in a moment of frustration.
5. Make memories out of moments. Teach your children that it is quality of time, not quantity. Learn to be flexible. Show your children that dinner can be five minutes in a parking lot. Teach your children that even if they only saw their LEO parent for five minutes that day, that the hug and kiss and “I love you” should be cherished, not resented. There is no guarantee for another hug or kiss or five minutes, it is up to you to teach your children to cherish the moments, to appreciate time together, not focus on time apart. They learn from you. You are molding them, you are their example. You can raise them to respect the importance of LEO life or you will raise them being selfish, bitter and resentful children, based solely on how you portray their LEO parent to them. Their LEO parent has the duty to be the best parent they can be in the time they have available, if they do not fulfill that role, that needs to be on them, not something created or contributed to by you.
6. Lose the stigma of getting help. There are many LEO marriages and families in distress. Many cannot cope or deal with the stresses which come with this life. Many spouses of LEO’s are living in abusive situations. Many LEO’s are living in marriages with spouses who are selfish. It is a two way street on the dark side of our thin blue line. Many don’t want to address it. There is infidelity, drug use, alcoholism, abuse and distress in many LEO marriages. There are marriages that cannot be saved and shouldn’t be. There are however, many, many LEO marriages which can be salvaged and thrive when circumstances are given a true perspective and measures are taken MUTUALLY to resolve those issues. BOTH parties, when willing to commit to change, which may involve professional help, can in many cases get back to the love they once had. Another step which involves sacrifice of self; selfish pride is one of the biggest contributing factors to the demise of salvageable marriages.
This life may not be a bed of roses. It may be something completely different than what you expected. You are here now. What will you choose to do? How will you choose to approach this life? Will you dedicate yourself to living positively, regardless of circumstances which could allow you to react negatively? Living and loving selflessly, while maintaining your own sense of importance in your role in contributing to the emotional well being of all those in your family will bring you benefits in return which could never be tracked. Mutual dedication, love and respect in a marriage does not come with a scoreboard. It is much like a playing field……and you can choose to work together on the same side for the win, or you can take opposite sides and play against each other until the game is over. The choice however, must begin with your decision to put your “ME” into the “WE” of your life. ©TPWL