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After my divorce, and with business bad, I was flat-out broke and had no idea what I was going to do. By myself, with neither family nor anyone else to help me, I was devastated.

My daughter Gina noticed at a young age that other kids at the playground were playing with their dads. She’d shoot longing looks at them. She’d ask me later why her father never took her anywhere. It didn’t matter that I myself did, that the two of us traveled all over the world. Because nothing fills the void from an absent parent.

It’s difficult to realize, as a mother, that your child will grow up without her father, even one who was living just a few miles away. Our divorce was tough; my filing for sole custody was, to my husband, the equivalent of wanting to raise my daughter entirely on my own. Once I went to court for child support payments (which is something I urge you to do if you don’t get yours), our relationship actually changed a bit for the better. Making payments to a government authority, rather than to me, made a difference for him. I am proud to say that he has fulfilled his child support obligations to the last penny.

But as for parenting. Well, today I believe that he simply did not know how to be a father. He had grown up without one, too. Parenting isn’t about reacting to how your child acts. It’s about setting rules and limits that you enforce. He did not know that. He tried at times and he saw her every so often. Most of the time, they stayed at his house watching TV. It went all right for a while, until Gina hit her pre-teen years and became more vocal. And then one day I had to make the decision to sever all communication with him unless certain criteria were met. Gina refused to go; his living situation had become too unpredictable for her to be around him. Gina and her father have not spoken in years and I have to let her decide when, or even if, that will change.

As for my business, well, it had picked up slightly. But I had to wring every dollar dry. It was a challenge making ends meet each month. The stress and struggle to make it through another day eventually took their toll on me. One year after the divorce, at the age of 30, I had a nervous breakdown. I remember the day. I was standing in line in a store when all of a sudden it felt to me as if someone had cut a wire in my head. I even heard a ping. For the next six months it was like living in a cotton ball: dulled and deafened. I couldn’t feel anything. I had panic attacks. I cried all day. With no money for therapy, I managed to find a low-cost holistic healer who lived on the other side of town. I don’t remember exactly how I got through this period. It was the hardest time of my life, a fight for survival at its most basic.

My first defining moment came to me one day when I lamented that my daughter never left me alone. Not even for a moment. I couldn’t take a shower or be anywhere without her following me. It drove me crazy. I could hardly deal with myself, so how could I possibly fulfill her demands? That night, I cried myself to sleep, anguished over what life had given me.

I had read the book “Conversations with God,” in which the author, Neale Donald Walsch, conducts a question-and-answer communication with God. I had tried doing the same thing myself without results, but I tried again that night. This time there was an answer to all my questions of “why.” What I heard was this: that my daughter was an angel watching over me during these trying times. That she could not leave me alone because I could not be left alone. That she was very worried about her mother, and this was her way of showing it.

I was a real mess. I felt terrible. My three-year-old had been burdened with my problems. It was time for me to step up, stop the pity party, and begin to move on.

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