This is the fifth installment of our reality series about Megan Dancisak, 27, and her son Ethan. She has the pleasure of raising him, and the hardship of doing so as a single mom. Read the first chapter of Dancisak’s story to find out how she chose life for her son when she had no idea how she could afford to raise him.
Ethan Dancisak stopped his Batman electric 4-wheeler by the door and dropped down to his stomach, craning his head to see under the toy car. With a tuft of hair sticking up in the back, a “Mom’s Rock Star” jersey tee, and one hand gripping his blankie, Ethan inspected the tires and peered at the vehicle’s underbelly, just as he’d seen the car mechanic do earlier that day.
It’s exhilarating yet terrifying for his mother, Megan, to see how quickly her 21-month-old son mimics what he sees around him. During worship at church, he raises up his hands and joyously cries out, “God!” Before meals, he folds his hands and bows his head in prayer, ending with a resounding “Amen!” But at the same time, Megan notices that when she’s upset or stressed, he copies her less admirable actions. Those are the moments she worries about—how her smallest actions will influence Ethan as he watches her day by day with his big blue eyes.
“I’m going to need God’s grace,” Megan said. “I don’t know what I’m doing. But I think there’s a lot of surrender in saying I don’t know what I’m doing.”
As Ethan transitions into a toddler with mind of his own, two quick feet, and a growing personality, Megan has had to surrender and depend more on God as she shoulders the role of both parents. She’s seeing past issues of control, people pleasing, and family dysfunction resurface, but now with the power to damage two lives instead of one.
In conversations with other moms at the playground or the even at church it’s hard to admit her feelings of inadequacy or the internal struggle of being both a single woman and a parent. She feels pressure to present the perfect family, a string of Instagram photos filtered and cropped to only show happy children and Martha Stewart motherhood. At times it makes her wonder if she’s the only one who’s impatient or fears that she’ll somehow mess up her child down the line.
But lately, she’s found freedom in just confessing her true feelings to God: She feels ill-equipped to raise a toddler; she’s jealous of where everyone else is going in their lives; she’s bitter about her situation; and sometimes she doesn’t feel like tending to a tiny, needy person. And as she acknowledges her feelings, she’s been able to cling to Christ and pray for God to help her love her son, and be patient and gentle as he grows into his own.
On a recent trip to Los Angeles’s Griffith Observatory, Ethan ran about exploring the unknown terrain with Megan chasing after him. Decked out in a navy cardigan, jeans, and chucks, Ethan looked like a little man and certainly had a mind of his own, with an independence that rivaled his mother’s. Part of Megan misses the days when Ethan was younger and she could just pick him up and go where she wanted and do what she wanted. But now Ethan has moods and preferences, tantrums, and his own agenda. His newfound autonomy butts up against her desire for control: “I liked him as a baby because I felt like I could control him. I struggle with anxiety so even though it was a false sense of control, I found peace in that.”
Before becoming a parent, Megan looked at mothers with rowdy children and rolled her eyes, questioning their parenting skills and how they could allow their children to act out. Now as she chases Ethan around the observatory, she wonders what onlookers must be thinking about her and her child. She desperately wishes Ethan would calm down so he won’t reflect poorly on her, but she realizes that fear over others’ opinions is just one more thing she needs to surrender to God.
Being a mom also has helped Megan understand her own mother, who raised her as a single parent. “I judged her. … I didn’t understand. I genuinely think she tried the best she could to love me the best she knew how. … I think without Jesus at the center of the household it was all she knew how to do.” Her mother had also grown up in a dysfunctional family, but Megan hopes the cycle will end with Ethan.
“I know I’m tempted to do the same thing when I rely more on myself than on Jesus,” she said of moments when she sees her mother in her actions. “But if I rely on Jesus, I think it’s going to be different.”
Breaking the cycle also comes through the wisdom older mothers are pouring into her life. Recently Megan joined a mom’s group at a local church. It’s kept the usually talkative 27-year-old quiet for once. At the first meeting, Megan almost had to walk out when a mother told the group what she had been struggling with the past couple of months. Her experiences mirrored Megan’s, and she realized she was not alone.
As she listened to mothers with older children tell what they’d gone through and the ways God provided for them, a ray of hope shone through. While she is a major influence in Ethan’s life, God ultimately has the final say.
“You can start to believe the life of the child belongs to you, but at the end of the day you’re called to be a good steward of what He’s given you,” Megan said. “These are God’s children. He already knew who Ethan would be. He already chose me to be his mother. He knows what he’ll endure.”