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Was Stepping Away the Best Thing I Did for My Son?

Photograph by Getty Images

It's been over six months since my son, Zion, went to live with his father full-time. For the most part, the changes have been good for my son and his father, but they've been hit and miss for me. The most difficult part has been letting go of the idea that being a good mother means being the center of my child's life.

For the first few months of this arrangement, Zion would cry horribly when I went to pick him from school or his granny's house. Crying has never been a common way for my son to express his emotions, so to see and hear him crying uncontrollably was very disturbing for me. He'd cry loudly while asking me to return him to his father. It would take about an hour for him to calm down. Eventually we'd cuddle together, and all would be right with the world. Just writing about it brings up strong feelings in me.

But about a month ago, something shifted.

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Zion started calling me and asking to see me. When I picked him up from school, we were able to talk about him being happy to see me while also still wanting to see his father later that evening. When I'd call his father to make a plan to pick our son up for the weekend, it was Zion who would call to confirm our time and what we'd do together.

Something has changed, and everyone can see it.

I picked my son up on Thanksgiving so that we could spend the day together, and when I arrived at his dad's house, he was ready to go. We made our usual family rounds and each of my family members commented on Zion's behavior and how much it had changed.

Just last year during a Thanksgiving visit to my aunt's house, Zion begged to leave; he was nearly inconsolable. My aunt, who is an old-school disciplinarian, commented that I needed to get better control of him. I was embarrassed and angered by her comment, but I decided to let him act out and to leave when I was ready.

When we arrived this year, Zion said hello to everyone and went into the living room, parked himself next to my aunt's 70-year-old husband and spent an hour asking him question after question. I checked on him once and was relieved to see them both fully engaged. My aunt jokingly said, "He's a new boy, thank goodness, because we had agreed to call Dr. Phil for an intervention if his behavior was anything like it was last year." I ignored her.

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Something has changed, and everyone can see it. Zion is more cooperative. He's less confrontational with teachers and peers. He is more interested in participating in school activities as well. He no longer cries when I pick him up, and he's able to negotiate for his desires.

His father says it's just a function of maturity, and I do agree, but I also believe that a big part of it has to do with dad. My son responds well to his father's influence; while I don't want my son to be afraid to cry, I'm glad that he's learning to monitor his emotions. Maybe taking a break from Zion was just what he needed to grow.

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