25 March 2010

and you wonder why?!

Earlier this week I was talking to a friend about the whole single parenting thing and it got me thinking about some stuff.  Dangerous area there, I know.

Do you see a soap box in my future?

My daughter is 19 years old now, which means I've been a single mom for over 11 years.  It hasn't been easy, but I can honestly say that it certainly hasn't been overly difficult.  My daughter was one of those kids who was easy to be around.  She didn't pitch "fling herself on the ground-flailing arms and legs-screaming at the top of her lungs" fits.  Mainly she'd give me THE look and go off to her room to sulk.  There's no doubt where she learned THE look, so I only have myself to blame for that one.

I taught her manners and she used them.

I had high expectations for her behavior and she met them without question.  That's just the way it was.

She is and always has been polite and respectful, caring and generous, smart and funny.  There wasn't much disciplining going on because there wasn't much "bad" behavior to discipline.  All in all the best kid a mom could ask for.

Anyway...  This post is going to be about single dads.  If there are any of you out there (and frankly, this may apply to non-single dads as well) please take note.

If you wonder why your child has decided s/he doesn't want anything to do with you, perhaps you should reflect on a few things.

Don't make promises you can't or have no intention of keeping.  It just makes you look like a total loser.  And the other parent gets the extremely difficult and heartbreaking job of trying to make things right while doing their very damnedest not to let on that you ARE a total loser.   The hardest part about being a single mom was thinking I should try to convince my daughter that her father really loved her and to encourage her to maintain contact with him.  

For example, don't promise your child you are going to call and then don't.  There is nothing more painful to a mother than to see her child sitting by the phone waiting and waiting for a call that isn't ever going to come.  She even refuses to go outside and play with her friends because she "might miss daddy calling." Even though you PROMISE you will go get her if he does call.  After sitting and waiting for the call that didn't come, my daughter would ask me why her daddy didn't love her and didn't want to talk to her.  Then she'd go to bed and cry herself to sleep.  If Scotty could have beamed me to another location, I'm guessing there would be one less dad making idle promises. 

Don't tell your child they are the most important thing in the world to you, and then expect them to buy this load of crap when you finally get around to calling a couple of MONTHS later with some sorry ass story about how you had "really important" job related something or other going on that made it impossible for you to call.  You still managed to find the time to call the girlfriend/mom/sister/brother/friend/etc.  Kids aren't stupid.  Forgiving yes.  Stupid no.

Don't lie to your kids or withhold information.  Your relatives talk.  In fact some of them seem to get perverse pleasure in being the bearer of "bad" news.  You have a girlfriend, or in our case, a new wife, you might want to let your child know.  If you are starting another family, let your child know.  Don't wait until after the baby is born to spring it on them that they are a "big sister."  And most certainly don't tell mom that you didn't tell the child because you weren't sure how your child would react and that you didn't want to "hurt" them.  Yeah, my daughter knew she was going to be a big sister MONTHS before the baby was born but had been sworn to secrecy by her grandmother (the one who spilled the beans) that she wasn't to let her dad know that she knew.  (In fact, don't tell ANYONE anything you want kept secret from your child – because it ain't gonna happen.)  Give your child credit for being stronger (and sometimes more mature) than you think they are.

If she can forgive you not calling for months on end, surely she'll forgive you remarrying and starting another family.  Assuming she even cares at that point.

Don't expect mom to "make" your child visit you just because the judge said you get the child every other holiday.  After several years of sporadic contact, you seriously can't think your child will want to spend holidays or summer breaks with you or your family.  You're a stranger.  What child would want to spend their holidays or summer breaks with strangers?  Oh, and if you do somehow manage to convince your child to spend some of their holidays or summer break with you, take vacation time to spend with them, don't stick them in day care or send them to camp.  They didn't travel across country to be plunked into daycare or sent to camp because you couldn't afford to take time off work to spend with them (especially when you can afford to take time off work to go visit the new in-laws or take your new family on vacation to Disney World immediately after your child goes back to mom – yeah true story.)  It's called planning.  Moms do it all the time.

Remember your actions speak a whole lot louder than your words.  Children pick up on things pretty darned fast and it doesn't take them long to realize your platitudes and empty gestures are just that.  Be honest with your child.  Hell, be honest with yourself.

From personal experience I know parenting isn't easy.  And parenting from a distance is probably harder, but it's impossible if you only do a half assed job at it.

Points to consider:
  • Don't tell a child you're going to do something and then don't.
  • Don't assume children are stupid and ignorant of what's going on in your life.  Believe me there are other family members out there only too willing to spill the beans.
  • Don't get angry with the child if they refuse to talk to you or don't want to visit you if over the years you have repeatedly let them down.
  • If you are going to send birthday and/or Christmas presents, try to find out what the child's interests are or what they like.  Don't expect the new wife to come up with gifts; it's not her job.  Oh, and sorry, but a $10 Target gift card is perceived by a 10 year old as "Oh crap! I forgot about ."  You can't expect your child to believe for one second that you only spent $10 on your new children for their Christmas presents.  And seriously do you know many 10 year olds that put a Target gift card on their list to Santa?  Really.  As a further FYI, 19 year old college students don't shop at Land's End.
  • Don't expect the mom to "fix" the relationship you have irrevocably broken with your child.  Believe me after years of seeing their child disappointed and hurt, moms are probably relieved the child has finally said, "Enough!  I don't care if I ever hear from him again."
  • Don't call every couple of years asking if the child is interested in "working on" the relationship.  Leave them alone.  You've disappointed and hurt them enough.  Let them move on.  If they want to "work on" the relationship, let them contact you.  But don't hold your breath.
  • Don't equate child support to love.  It isn't.  Don't begrudge paying for some of the child's expenses outside of your monthly obligation.  You are the father.  You chose to have a child.  Be responsible.  And remember mom's probably eating thousands of dollars of expenses that legally should be split, because it's way easier than having to deal with you and your excuses as to why you feel you shouldn't have to pay.
  • Finally, don't act surprised or shocked by the lack of interest from your child if haven't taken the time to energy to prove that you really do care.  Just because the child isn't showing anger doesn't mean they care.  The opposite of love isn't hate, it's apathy.