We're Not Normal!
My husband and I divorced when our daughters were preschoolers, so when Z came to live with me I was familiar with the challenges of being a single parent. But that experience didn't fully translate to being a single custodial grandparent.
Divorced parents were common among my daughters' friends and mine. I developed a network with other single mothers to share babysitting and play dates. We built solid, supportive friendships and our shared experiences sustained us through the tough times.
According to Elder Options of Texas, more than six million children - approximately 1 in 12 - are living in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. I knew I was not alone. My friends provided ample support.
But Z didn’t have that. One other boy at his school lived with his grandparents. He and Z played sports together and became close friends. On weekends they would spend the night together at our house or his friend's. I became acquainted with the grandparents, and we communicated often about the boys and the challenges their circumstances presented.
But they were a couple, and the grandfather was actively involved. There was also a younger sister and two dogs. From a distance, they looked like a normal family. We didn't. And it bothered Z a lot.
"We aren’t normal,” he said one evening during dinner.
“What does normal look like?" I asked him.
He gave it some thought before answering. "It looks like a regular family."
"Okay, what does a regular family look like?" I held my breath, fully expecting for him to jump on an endless merry-go-round by telling me "normal."
He didn't, but his reply was almost worse. "It's a family with two parents."
My heart sank, because between my professional life and my devotion to Z, there was no time for dating. And to be honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to be in another full-time relationship. At the same time, though, I wanted Z to see his life as normal. I felt l like a fish trapped in an inescapable net.
Z and I talked a lot about "normal" over the following days and weeks. How do you explain to a child that it's not a blanket term? How do you help them relate to being outside the box in the most positive way possible?
Superheroes became my unlikely allies. Batman was in orphan, essentially raised by a grandfatherly butler. He didn't have a normal family, but he became a hero.
I made a significant investment in superhero action figures to supplement our discussions, but it paid off. Z finally became convinced that, although it didn't look normal, we were a solid family unit. More importantly he discovered that he had the power in his own hands to create an amazing future for himself.