Both of us baby-faced and needing frequent naps, I could have spent the rest of my days with her head tucked safely under my chin and her little sixteen-pound body warming my heart. At six months into her life, I was finally getting the hang of things and not congratulating myself nightly that she was still breathing. I was now accustomed to the permanent expansion of my heart.
Little did I know then that in seven short years, her father and I would be working through a divorce and my plans for parenting with him would be barely recognizable by the end.
When parents divorce in Nebraska, they are required to work through a parenting plan, a legal document that directs the rights and responsibilities each parent has, along with details regarding routine parenting schedules, holidays, activities, and the like. If they cannot agree, a judge will prepare one for them. For any divorced parent this a well-worn document after years of flipping through it to discern who has which holiday in odd-numbered years and who gets what summer vacation time. A parenting plan can be a source of stability, structure, confusion, bartering, or bickering depending on the parent to whom the plan belongs.
Anna becomes an official adult this week at the age of nineteen. (Nebraska is the only state that extends the age of majority to 19). Our Parenting Plan no longer applies to her as of her 19th birthday. Her schedule, activities, holidays, and summers are now her own. I no longer have a legal say in her life – my rights and responsibilities are complete. So too, is any potential conflict about her with her father – done. I heave a simultaneous sigh of relief and sadness.
I find myself reflecting on my original parenting plan. It was never to be a divorced mom. It was never to do 12 years of parenting by myself. It was never to walk on eggshells for years after the signing of a divorce decree while trying to balance the sharing of our children between two distinct and separate households.
My parenting plan was to love her unconditionally from the moment I felt those first flutters of life inside of me. My plan was to teach her to appreciate both the big and small parts of life and see equal value in both. My plan was to ensure her safety, happiness, and compassion for others.
As I look back at the rough and final drafts of the mental parenting plans I painstakingly worked on over the last nineteen years, I reflect on how frequently they changed despite my best intentions for all to go smoothly. From the first steps as a baby to those dang eyerolls insultingly directed at me from my thirteen-year-old, every phase of parenting required a modification that is only revealed with experience.
When I wonder now if she still needs me or how I will fit into her plan, I see the big picture plan to love her unconditionally, to teach her appreciation and compassion, and ensure her happiness and safety remains the same. The hows, whens, and whys will remain ever-shifting, but the expansion of my heart is sure to continue.