Q&A: Being there when you're barely there

A, who is going through a painful and disillusioning divorce and now unemployment and financial troubles, asks:

"How can I be there for my son when I'm barely holding it together myself?"

Answer: Burn it down to what's really essential and let the rest go by.

You all know I've been through some stuff in the last few years. (Including being in eviction court twice in 2009 and sometimes having single digits to my name for a week at a time, which I never talked about because a) I didn't know how to talk about it (and still don't), and b) I didn't want to ask for help. I am still shocked and thankful when I can pay my rent on the day it's due and that I can buy my kids impulse items at the grocery store.)

In those days when I could not sleep for more than two hours at a time from worry and recrimination about how horribly I'd miscalculated and how off the track things were, the one thing I did that kept me from spiralling off, untethered, was making the deliberate decision not to roll over.

I thought about what my kids really needed. And what it boiled down to was food, water, clothes, a place to live, love, and security. They did not need a perfect magazine mom, who cut their sandwiches into shapes. They didn't need a mom who went on endless fun outings with them all the time and bought them fun toys. They needed a mom who hugged them a lot, who listened to what they said and paid attention, who took their feelings seriously, who showed them that they were important, and who waited until they were asleep to cry.

And they needed a mom who kept going.

So keep going. You will find another job. You will dig yourself out. You will be cupcake mom again. In the meantime, pay attention to your son and take him seriously and love him. The rest is fun, but if you don't have the resources he won't even notice.

You are doing the best you can, which is all he needs.

Who's been there?