Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What Is Being "Selfish" versus being "Smart"?

I've already confessed that my family is addicted to trashy television.  I am unfortunately the worst offender in our house, and adore watching shows like 'Teen Mom' and 'Real World' after Hubs has gone to bed.

The last couple of episodes of 'Teen Mom' have shown one of the moms, Kailyn, struggling with the decision to marry her boyfriend and possibly move out of state if he is relocated for the Air Force.  Right now (in reality TV world, which is months behind real-time) Kailyn's son spends about 30% of his time with his dad Jo and Jo's family.  If (and she eventually does) Kailyn gets married, it could really cut down on Jo's time with his kid.  Which totally sucks for Jo, yeah, I see that.  But what is making me all twitchy about the whole situation are the bloggers and recap sites whining that Kailyn is being "so selfish" for thinking of remarrying and leaving the state.  And there are plenty of these articles out there.  One of my favorite negative comments is that if you have a kid with someone you need to be prepared to stay near them forever - no matter what happens.  Really?  I can only imagine that comment comes from someone who has never experienced the difficulties of co-parenting through a divorce or break-up.

After three years of raising her son in a town where she has no family or support system besides Jo's family, Kailyn is leaving to marry a man who has promised to take care of her emotionally and financially.  She will finally be getting health insurance.  She will not have to worry about where the money for next month's rent will come from.  She will have that security for the first time since her son was born and Jo kicked her out of the house after their breakup.  How is that just a "selfish" decision? To me, this seems like the answer to prayer.  It seems like the best possible decision she could make for herself, and thereby her child.

I think her story just resonates with me so much because it's like watching my own life if it were scripted and dramatized.  When Ex and I split up, I ended up moving to a town 30 minutes north of where he'd eventually settle.  He was able to co-parent with me easily, we'd alternate pickups and drop offs and he even had a key to my place.  When I worked late nights he'd come over and put Little Man to bed, and wait til I got home to leave for his place again.  It was a nice arrangement, if you don't mind absolutely no privacy and the fact that the person that drives you completely bonkers is still spending 30-40% of your week driving you bonkers.

But up in this suburb of Baltimore, I had no family, no support system, and my job was relocated 45 minutes away.  I basically lived at the mercy of Ex and his mom (neither were working at the time) and put thousands of miles on my old car driving to them or sitters and an expensive daycare that sapped any extra funds I could scrounge up.  I didn't get to enjoy being a mom because I was so busy trying to make sure we survived month-to-month and that all our bills were paid.  In short, my life was a lot like Kailyn's, except I was a few years older and not famous.

When I met Hubs and he later asked me to move in with him, I knew it would change the relationship between Ex and Little Man.  Instead of seeing him 3 days a week, he'd see him every other weekend.  It was something I felt bad about, and that Ex initially resented.  But I couldn't deny the benefits it would bring for both Little Man and myself.  I got to take him out of daycare and start up home therapies with Infant and Toddlers.  I was able to take him to countless specialists and get the ball rolling on new ideas for his care.  I was finally able to discover that he was probably having a shunt malfunction for a very long time without us knowing.  I was able to stay home with him and work through the horrible stranger anxiety he had developed.  I was able to breathe and talk about my problems with someone who loved and supported me, and eventually get married, get health insurance, and start a family again.  I was able to get out of the constant negative cycle that single mother-hood had thrust me into, and I was finally able to be happy.  Best of all, I was finally able to be the mother I'd always wanted Little Man to have.

Is that selfish?  I can't imagine a single person calling it that, but maybe it's because I'm not a teen mom.  To me it seems like I got the lucky break that very few struggling single parents get - that opportunity for a second chance.  While in a perfect world of divorce, Ex and I would have been able to parent on a 50-50 schedule - it just didn't work out that way.  But if you asked him, I bet that "selfish" would be the the last thing he would call my choice.  Even though he was disappointed to lose time with Little Man, he knew that what I was doing would make both of our lives better.  And you know what?  When the time came that Ex wasn't able to pull his weight and help out with Little Man the way he had been before - I sure as hell knew that making the hard decision to change the way we parented back then had been the best option.  Instead of being completely screwed because of Ex's choices, the choices I had made for myself allowed Little Man and I to continue being healthy and happy.

Although I don't know Jo or his circumstances, one day he will also decide to move forward and make huge decisions in his life, after all he is barely 20 years old.  Those decisions will change his co-parenting needs, and Kailyn should not be forced to wait around to see what his choices are before she can make any of her own.  Someone had to take that first step to move forward and better themselves, and I respect that she saw a way to make a better life for her young family and took it.  So you can call her selfish if you want, but all I can call her is smart.  Because I see myself when I look at Kailyn, and all I can imagine is that sigh of relief she breathes every night knowing that she and her child are finally secure, settled, and best of all - happy.

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