Friday, June 24, 2016
On Being Mom and Dad
“Single parenting is sometimes just a case of sitting around by yourself in mild despair, not knowing what to do.” – Simon Van Booy
I’m a mom who is also a dad.
My husband died 11 years ago and I inherited the “dad” crown. The only difficulty is, I still struggle with how to wear it properly. I know what a woman can provide for her children because I am a woman. But I don’t know precisely how or what a man provides.
I have a father. A great dad. And when I think about what he brought to my life, I think of safety and security. He was sure. He was steady. He taught me how to change a tire and check my car’s oil. He taught me not to keep too much crap on my keyring because the weight was bad for my car’s ignition switch. He showed me every day what hard work looked like.
Have you ever heard the saying, “I have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good”? I’m a single parent operating in a world that is still set up for a two-parent household. Schools have “Lunch with Dad” day. My daughter came home with that flyer from school and told me that her teacher said it didn’t have to be a dad. It could be a grandfather. Any “father-figure” would be fine. Somehow, though, me showing up to the lunch was not what they had in mind. But I’m her father figure. Don’t they see? Gender-specific theme meals hurt the kids. They cause the kids shame and pain and open them to teasing because, let’s just say it, kids are cruel and they use things like this to taunt one another. “Lunch with Mom” was equally painful for the little boy in her class whose mom had died from cancer earlier in the school year. Can’t it just be “Lunch with Parents”?
I play both roles to my kids in an age when the idea of roles is supposedly becoming more fluid and less defined. Except when you are the only parent on duty, those roles are just as sharply limned as ever by you receiving comments like, “don’t you have a man to do that for you?” This was when I went to the auto store for new windshield wipers and asked how to put them on. Or, the only single dad in my daughter’s class brought cupcakes to the class Christmas party (the only party where we were allowed to bring sweets for the kids). One of the other moms told him they were adorable and asked where he got them. He replied that he made them. She paused for a moment and then said, “Oh, why didn’t your wife make them?” He and his wife have been divorced for seven years.
I’m the mom. I’m the one who cooks and cleans and snuggles and sings (badly). I tuck them in at night and wake them for school in the mornings. I nurse them when they don’t feel well; I do their hair. I’m soft, loving, warm, encouraging, hard-working, independent, and filled with sage motherly advice.
I’m also the dad. I drive. I teach them how to protect themselves from bullies, how to carry themselves, and how to know what they are worth. I know how to fix tiny things around the house, so they see me maintaining this castle of ours. I take the car in for servicing and take out the trash. I’m firm, grounded, dependable, steady, and occasionally want to tell them, “Go ask your mother.”
It’s hard to know if I’m giving my kids what they need from both parents, because I’m only one parent filling two roles. I can’t tell them how a man thinks because I don’t think like a man. I can only perceive how a man thinks. I can only prepare them for the extraordinary women they will become, for a broader definition of ‘personhood’, in a world that is constantly changing around us all.