Let me put this out there first: I am a single mama and so admittedly enter this discussion with a built in bias. Being a single parent was not something that I planned, but as with most single parents my relationship ended (ugly) and my dream of raising my daughter in a two-parent home dissipated. I was then forced to pick up the pieces of my wounded psyche and commence to building a new existence wherein my daughter, her father and I learn to navigate the treacherous but rewarding land of shared parenting, all the while dealing with hurt feelings, old resentments and at times valid distrusts: aka Baby Daddy/Baby Mama Drama.
My seven year old is responsible for bringing on my most recent musing. She called me while en route to delivering a Father’s Day gift which she and her paternal grandmother had just purchased for my daughter’s father. My phone rang and I recognized my pseudo-mother-in-law’s number (My ex and I were never married, though we cohabitated for four years). I answered the phone and my daughter cheerfully chirped: “Happy Father’s Day!” Now you have to understand that my daughter loves to celebrate any holiday, whether it’s Christmas, New Year or Happy Mismatched Sock Day, she is just as fervent in her celebrations. Anyhow, I corrected her on the Father’s Day salutation and explained that she should send that one out to her Daddy. My ex’s mother, who has always adored me (yes I’m serious), then replied that, as a single mom I had been both mother and father to my daughter.
That exchange later gave me pause. While I appreciate my pseudo mother-in-law for holding my parenting in such high esteem (in reality on most days I give myself a C on the mom scale, maybe a B- when I managed to remember that it was Pajama Day at my daughter’s school), I must decline the title of: Momdad. Granted in my relationship with my ex I always felt like I was more the “dude.” No I am not taking a swipe at his manhood (well maybe a little), it’s just that I am the one that knew how to light a grill, I am the one who could grab the tools and put together that just purchased T.V stand and I am the one that understood the nuances of a 2-3 zone defense versus a man-to-man. So although I could teach my daughter many lessons that might be considered male (save that debate for another article), there are still many ways my ex can relate to her as a father that I never will. I love her like I’ve never loved anyone in this world but he gets her in a way that I don’t.
When I think she’s whining, he sees it more as a plea for understanding. He views her stubbornness with a patient amusement. She believes that he could run through a brick wall and in actuality if it meant saving her, he would try. While I am awed as I see her inch toward femininity, he is terrified and prepared to protect her from the hurt that others of his own gender will place on her because of it. (Men know boys that become men). He is the first man she loves and who loves her. While he is not perfect in this role (okay another slight dig), she knows his love is unconditional and she will hopefully not reach puberty and go out in search of another man to fill an unrecognized vacancy within her.
My other reason for respectfully abdicating the Momdad crown is a selfish one: I will not let him off the hook! ALERT-This is the part that will have the men gritting their teeth. While I believe that most men want to be in their child’s life, (I said most, not all-again a subject for a different article), I also believe that most men want that involvement on their on terms. The majority of time, post-split, it is the woman who ends up as the custodial parent. Yes, but why? Men cry foul! Society and the legal system presumptively and at times unfairly assume that a woman is the better choice. I will give my male counterparts that argument. I like to dig deeper, however. What percentage of men actually seeks out custody (be it full or joint)? The majority meekly presuppose that they won’t be granted custody, others are comfortable with being a part-time parent as it is less constricting to their social lives, while a small percentage might not be interested in being a father at all, i.e. deadbeats. (Yes, before you say anything there are deadbeat mothers also).
For custodial parents, usually the woman, being a single parent means that one’s level of involvement is defined by circumstances. It means every day getting your child prepared, getting oneself prepared, dropping the child off to school, proceeding to a full time job, completing 8 hours or more of employment, picking child up from school, homework, activities, feeding the child, getting child ready for bed and finally enjoying five minutes of silence before collapsing in exhaustion only to do it all again the next day. This routine may be sometimes broken when the non-custodial parent comes on his agreed upon dates (every weekend or every other weekend) and whisks the child away for 48 hours as the fun parent (yes, bitter a little). During that respite the custodial parent can try to squeeze in me time, free time and grown up time (insert your own definition).
This is the double standard under which society forces women to exist. A father, such as Dwyane Wade is heralded when he takes sole custody of his children. Yet even when a man is not the custodial parent, as long as he is paying his child support, showing up on his agreed upon visitation days and remembering birthdays, how is he viewed? As a “Good Father”. Let’s flip the script, shall we? If a woman agrees to be the noncustodial parent then what is society’s knee jerk portrayal? Now this woman could be paying her child support, never missed her agreed upon visitation days, never forgot a birthday and never even skipped a game or a PTO meeting. The first judgmental thought we have when a woman is not the custodial parent is: She must be a bad parent. Deny it if you wish. Women are not so easily permitted to make the decision on their level of parenting that so many men blithely make at the end of a relationship. A noncustodial female parent is a vilified mom.
So what does this all mean? I can only speak from a woman’s perspective. While I recognize that some of my single parent sisters do not have a choice as to how much their children’s’ fathers are active participants. Whenever it is possible for the man to step forward and have a role in a child’s life, allow him to do so. Girl, cut your self a break! This might mean the swallowing of pride, the biting of tongue and the pushing down of memories of his trifling wrongs (sorry got sidetracked). It might mean that yes he sees the child even when he is not paying his child support, because though the child needs his financial support, the child needs his presence even more. Take that time when he is fulfilling whatever level of his parental responsibilities to exhale. Enjoy a meal either by yourself or with someone else that sparks interest. Most importantly agree to allow yourself time to appreciate your role not only as a mother but also as a spectacular woman!
Milicent Lane is a single mother that lives in the Greater Cincinnati Area with her adored daughter. She loves writing, music and any downtime she has from her work. She can be followed on twitter @MLaneBooks, I have written a self-published book entitled, Willful Temptations which is available on Amazon and Kindle and can be visited at www.millicentlane.com.