I might give more clarity than is appreciated by my ex on my blog, but not to our kids. They don’t read my blog. They don’t always want to do the reading for homework and Mom just blathers on. I don’t lie to them but I defend their Dad to them all of the time. They are free to express themselves in my home, so when they call him names, I’ll remind them that he loves them as much as I do. When they justify their opinions, I remind them that we can all be a bit selfish or lazy, but that doesn’t mean we love anyone else any less. I remind them that having them do chores around the house prepares them for life alone and their Dad is doing the right thing by teaching them independence. They help out when I need them to but I resented feeling like a slave to my parents, and will never ask my kids to do work I won’t help them with. I might not like their Dad as a person and my life is so much happier without him but I admit, my kids have a good Dad.
Why do I defend him? Because even in the ways Kid1 splays himself across my couch, he is in every way his father’s child. I love my sons. Every part of their personalities is special to me. There are even ways where I see their Dad or grandfather coming out and those are special. I know them and I know where they come from and they’re my kids. I want them to feel safe talking about him to me, and they do. Because I defend him even when I don’t want to.
We get our first sense of identity from our Dads. It’s how we fit in his world that tells us we matter.
My relationship with my kids started in pregnancy. I was talking to them before they had ears to hear me. I had that bond or connection, and I still do. The act of growing up means we are part of our mothers and spend a lifetime learning independence from her. Even as an adult, I see the ways I follow what my mom did and the ways I try hard to distance myself from her. I see it in my sense of style and the way I give my kids affection.
When a child is born, they still rely heavily on the parent they attach to, but the smell of mom can soothe a crying baby because that feels like home. It’s instinct. When they get older, they start to look to the other parent, (in my case my Dad as well as my children’s Dad) to see where they fit.
Mom is different from Dad. There’s a sense of safety when a child gives mom a melt down. Mom understands and will make it better so they can safely fall apart.
With Dad, there’s a distance that holds a different sense of security and safety. They will behave differently. It’s not just me. Most seasoned moms will tell you their kids are different people, depending on who is around.
When it came to angry tempers and who was more capable of losing their shit, it was always me. The pressure of keeping a clean house, behaved kids and his needs met was overwhelming. My needs were neglected and it looked like anger. I was scary. Without fail, I could tell my kids to behave or I would call their Dad, who was usually more patient, and they would behave. They listened to his authority without him needing to raise his voice.
Our home feels different now. I have certain rules, but I allow flexibility. I will ask them to shower after dinner, but I’m flexible with showers as long as they happen before they leave for school in the morning. I will ask them to go to bed, but in bed with devices is okay as long as they’re asleep before I am, and even if they aren’t, they won’t be punished for brains that won’t slow down. I don’t worry about what they wear to school as long as their bodies are comfortable and warm. Much of this is very different from their Dad and most homes because as mom and head of my household, I can do it how I want to and giving my kids more control and authority over their bodies is important to me.
But I’m not Dad.
When my niece was younger, I asked her brothers to step in and be the man in her life. I asked them to take her out and play basketball and spend time with her. I let them know that if the men in her life don’t give her a sense of value, she’ll believe any boy that tells her he’s the only one that cares about her and that will groom her into his victim.
My Dad has always been part of my life. To this day, I see my Dad fairly often and we talk. I’ve become more open with him than he probably appreciates at times. Growing up, I still had Daddy issues to reconcile. It was mainly that he was present and my Dad, but he wasn’t the person I imagined him to be. He failed the rules I set for him in my head.
My Step-Dad was patient beyond measure. He gave me rides, bought me things I wanted, was kind and patient. I was terrible to him. I called him “Penis” and sometimes to his face. I treated him like the name Step-Dad meant I was to step on him. It was years of patience and I couldn’t see him as a decent man until 5 years into his marriage to my mom. Now I’m so blessed to have him in our lives. He’s been a terrific grandfather to my kids. He spoils them. He loves and cares for them, and he looks out for me. Step-Dads are really special and mine is a great Dad.
I’m lucky to know my brother in law as a great Dad to my nephews. They live separately from me, so I don’t know all that happens as they parent, but I’ve seen him guide my nephews in a way that they are respectful, responsible, and caring. Of course, my sister had a great deal to do with that too (because my family is filled with badass warrior dragon slayer women), but I’m not writing about moms. He has been present and involved in their lives. He has given structure and discipline as well as encouragement. He has put being their Dad above being a person in the ways where selflessness has been more common than selfishness. That’s a great Dad.
There’s a holiday schedule for my kids. Easter is coming and I get the Saturday before Easter and their Dad gets Easter Sunday. We used to visit his family and I wanted the kids to keep that tradition and enjoy a quiet day with them where they don’t have to house hop and we can just enjoy each other privately. For Christmas I get Christmas Eve. My mom started having celebrations on Christmas Eve so we could spend Christmas Day with our spouse’s families. Without a spouse I was planning a hike alone but a friend invited me to share their Christmas meal. I sat at the table and watched a Dad hold a baby so his wife could eat her meal. I watched him connect with his children and guide them with love. He knew the needs of his children as well as his wife did. I was so blessed that night by being able to watch a man be a great Dad to his children in supporting his wife.
I remember taking a picture of the mess Kid3 made in my hair when he wanted to brush and style it for me. It was fun for him but it reminded me of all of my bad hair choices as a child. I cringed. I couldn’t go out like that. The smile on his face made it a moment worth remembering through the selfie I snapped. Yesterday a facebook post almost moved me to tears. A friend posted a picture of her husband with their girls. He was proudly wearing the polo shirt and tie his daughter picked out to go out and spend time with his daughters and a niece. That is a great Dad.
It seems to be an anthem among single moms that there are no good Dads out there, but that’s not true. There are many amazing Dads out there and it comes down to a choice to be that person. Just like moms, it’s a moment to moment choice. Sometimes we shine with patience, love, care and understanding. Sometimes we fail miserably and hurt the children we love with impatience, anger and selfishness. The great ones never quit and learn with the kids coaching them to greatness.