By Dena Landon
If you’re a parent, you’ve made promises. I’ll never let anyone hurt you. I’ll always love you. The promises we make reflect what we hope and want for our children. Happiness, safety, love. Some promises – like the one I made prior to his birth that I’d never bribe my kid – are broken almost immediately when reality sets in. I once offered a three-week-old baby ten thousand dollars if he’d nap. He didn’t take me up on it. Others take longer, bending for years until they snap.
I grew up in a divorced home, with a father who used the legal system to punish my mother for leaving him. Five years after their divorce was finalized he was still dragging her into the courts, battling for custody of my younger siblings. When I got married I promised myself that our marriage would last. Holding my son in my arms for the first time I silently promised him that he’d have an intact family. After dragging my ex in and out of marriage counseling twice, enduring years of verbal abuse, and living with a knot between my shoulders that never eased when he was around, I chose to break that promise. It hurt to let go of what I thought my life, and my child’s life would be but I’ve never doubted that I made the right decision.
I had to let go of the promise I’d made my son that he’d grow up with an intact family. To shift my thinking to accept that ‘together’ does not equate with ‘good.’
I think that part of growing up is accepting that promises will be broken. No, not broken. Broken is a harsh word that carries with it connotations of carelessness or blame. I prefer – released. I had to let go of the promise I’d made my son that he’d grow up with an intact family. To shift my thinking to accept that ‘together’ does not equate with ‘good.’ Marriages that last are not always healthy. Ultimately, it mattered more to me that he grow up in a respectful home than a two-parent home. When I stopped clinging to that promise I’d made him about an intact family we could move towards something better.
Sometimes we chose to let go of promises, sometimes they’re taken from us. Last summer, for a brief two months, I was pregnant. Though we were friends at the time, the father and I weren’t together. Since there were complications from the beginning I decided to wait to tell him. Writing is how I process my life so I bought a journal and, every night, wrote to that baby. I don’t know if your father will love you, but I will, my words scrawled across blank pages. I hope you have red hair like your daddy. If you hold on, I promise to take care of you and love you enough for two parents.
Last month I finally tore those pages out, ripped them to tiny shreds and tossed them in the trash. I’d wanted those promises to last, but had to let them go. I’d done everything ‘right,’ stopped drinking, eased up on exercise, napped, taken vitamins, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t control the outcome. And I screwed up, badly, by not telling the father until it was too late. I was afraid, and scared, and decisions made from that place rarely turn out well.
Children make lots of promises. Some of them, like the one that they’ll clean up their toys before bed, you know will be broken. But not all of them will be. I’m always going to love you, Mommy, my son told me when he climbed into my bed yesterday morning and asked for cuddles. He may have just wanted me to hand him the iPad so he could watch cartoons but I’m hopeful that promise will last.
Of all the promises you make to yourself at the beginning of a new year, promise yourself to not give up on the hope they represent.
Adults make fewer promises. We are less liberal with our love, more guarded and careful. If we could let go of the guilt we feel for broken promises, if we could practice gentleness and forgiveness with ourselves and shift our viewpoint to that of gracious acceptance and letting go, maybe we’d recapture some of the joyous promise of a child. You can’t force a promise to hold, so perhaps you should hold it with an open hand. This promise is my hope for you, for us, for my life.
No matter how many promises we’ve had to release I don’t think we should be afraid to make more. Like I said, choices made from fear rarely turn out well. Of all the promises you make to yourself at the beginning of a new year, even if you have to let some of them go, promise yourself to not give up on the hope they represent. In the long run, that hope will carry you forward.
About the author
Dena Landon is a single mom who eats raw cookie dough, passionately debates intersectional feminism and frequently tangles herself in yarn. Her work has appeared on The Washington Post, Narrative.ly, Salon, bust.com, and in Dance Teacher and Dance Spirit magazines. Her first novel was published by Dutton Children’s Publishing in 2005. She blogs at femmefeminism.com, and can be found on Instagram and Facebook.