Misplaced Praise of a Father
I think I’m done. I’m done agreeing with the generalized small talk and factually inaccurate praise of the mere suggestion of the presence of my Ex-husband in our children’s lives — like he’s some kind of magic man.
People who know, know better.
An ex-neighbor dropped by yesterday. I hadn’t seen her in over a year. We don’t have much in common and she does not read people well. She’s had four husbands, yet when my husband up left me and the children and I was visibly devastated, dehydrated and malnourished, she went on and on about how we should stay together and that maybe there’s hope.
“I wish I’d tried harder. Don’t give up. Maybe he’ll come back. I hope you can work it out.”
That’s what she said to me. She said this to me, though she knew that my husband had, suddenly, cruelly, left me. Now that I’m thinking back, it is quite possible that this woman is a nut job.
She was one of the people I avoided back then. Some people say the wrong things. They can’t help it, they won’t change.
Yesterday, she dropped by unannounced to invite me to her mother’s memorial service. She arrived just as the kids were preparing to go on a dinner visit with their dad. Like before, she went on and on about how that’s so good that he sees them, that –the alternative in her mind — total abandonment — is so bad, and told me a story about how her daughter-in-law’s absentee father showed up on her wedding day and practically ruined it. So she reasoned that my situation is so much better. blah blah blah
I don’t recall asking her opinion at all.
I did not enjoy our one-sided conversation. There are always stories of the most horrendous parents, male and female, but if you set the bar at those folks, hey, everybody looks good. I have one good father and know many more. The fatherhood bar is high in my world, or actually, it’s where it needs to be, but I digress . . . Not only did this woman irk me, but she went on and on while there was a child within earshot. I wonder how it makes kids feel to hear an adult praise their father for merely seeing them? Completely clueless, the ex-neighbor didn’t notice when I tried to change the subject by talking about the children themselves, their accomplishments. I was being polite. Perhaps too polite.
“Bitch, you don’t know my life.” Is what I wanted to say.
I’m sorry folks, I don’t usually talk like that, but sometimes people piss me off.
In fact, I’m a polite sort –to a fault, really, I can make small talk and seem to agree to the most ridiculous statements for the sake of decent society. But sometimes, it seems, this gives a pass and an exaggerated sense of importance to people who don’t deserve it, as well as an acceptance of past, current and likely future bad behavior. And sometimes, it just makes me mad.
As we sat in my tiny living room, on a house on a busy street, in the neighborhood of “The Help” that I had to work my butt off to get the Hoarders smell out of , it seems that no matter what transpired and how well the children have adapted to and excelled in a difficult situation, the most important thing for her to discuss was the seemingly magical appearance of their father.
I call bullsh*t.
So now, instead of nodding politely, I’m going to try to opt out of the small talk that makes me blinding mad. I think it’s better that way, don’t you?
And before I get the “What about the kids?” speech, I’m talking about conversations between grown folks. Children are not invited.
From now on every time some random acquaintance inquires about the time my kids spend with their dad and says,
“Oh that’s good, he still sees them.“
My new response will be,
“Yeah, I hear there’s gonna be a parade.“
And then I will launch on full-out campaign, an attack, if you will, describing the awesomeness of my children in excruciating detail. And I will note that my elderly parents, even at their advanced age, rarely miss a concert and get to many sporting events each season — because they enjoy it and they are so proud . . . and the kids are . . . wait for it . . . AWESOME!
And then I will turn and leave, because, you know, I’ve got things to do. I will not talk about or allow discussion of the perceived importance of the (magical) father’s (mythical) encouragement of said real accomplishments by these awesome kids. His is not my banner to wave, or shoot at. As I said, I’ve got other things to do.
My point is this: It is presumptuous to make sweeping statements about the perceived importance of an absent party, without any knowledge of or inquiries into the actual situation, and expect me, the one clearly in the trenches, to agree.
And frankly, it’s rude.
Just Me With . . . good manners.
The general public’s persistent blanket praise of fathers who may neither be good men nor good fathers is a disservice to men who are both. It’s a disservice to the mothers who are doing the best they can with or without (or in spite of) the existence of “the father.” It’s a disservice to the brothers, cousins, friends, sisters, uncles, aunts, neighbors, teachers, grandparents and whole loads of people who provide support and encouragement and love even though they have no parental ties nor court ordered obligation to do so. It’s a disservice to the kids, the children who should expect parents to do for them, without kudos.
So I’m opting out.
I have other things to do.
For other misinformed comments, see: Weekends Off .
For other misplaced praise, see: The Unspoken Pain of Sharing Celebrations
Weekends Off Fallacy
I was at a school function. It was already obvious to me that although I was acquainted with most of the parents there, I had no real friends. People said hi but no one stayed to talk to me, I changed locations three times to try to either strike up a conversation or make it less obvious that I had no one to talk to. Then when I finally settled on a spot, I overheard a mother talking really loudly, stating,
“It is so much harder to be a married mother than a single mother. I don’t get three nights off a week. I have to run the kids around by myself every day! He’s never around!”
Two other women nodded in agreement, a little uncomfortably.
One kind mother who also overheard this statement and who obviously knows my marital status, turned to me and said quietly,
“Do you find it easier to be a single mom?”
Gotta love her for recognizing my discomfort among the Stepford Wives in my community. (I’m not suggesting that all married women are Stepford Wives, this is a description of the particular women who offended me ). The kind soul who recognized my discomfort is a psychiatrist and one of the moms in an interracial lesbian relationship. So she has probably felt like she doesn’t fit in either. But at least she had her partner with her. I was alone. It was so insensitive for that other mouthy mother (fucker) to be talking like that, that loudly. Didn’t she think that one of those supposedly breezy single mothers might be in her midst? She’s entitled to her opinion, but geesh. It hurt a little; it hurt a lot. It felt like hearing a religious or racial slur from a person you wouldn’t expect it from.
Let the record reflect that I was once married. And I was married with children for eight years. And I’d like to say that I’ve known this woman since our oldest kids were in kindergarten. She was married then and she’s still married now. I was married then, I am not married now. So out of the two of us, I am infinitely more qualified to make the comparison between married with kids and single with kids. I’m the one who has been on both sides.
I say this because I know a married woman’s desire, the fantasy of a having her husband say, “I’m taking the kids for the weekend.” You do whatever you want, or “you go –I got this.” And I recognize that most married women never get a weekend for themselves, unless it is some preplanned girls’ weekend that only happens very infrequently and she has to “pay back” her husband for the privilege somehow. So I get it. My husband never took the kids, I was never completely “off duty.” I completely understand when I hear still married women envy single moms and their traditional every other weekend off. (Which, I might add is not a law, it doesn’t come with the divorce.) I get it. And I get that when my kids are on their (half weekend) visitations, I have absolutely no responsibility for them. I can go out, I can entertain at home. I can sleep in, I can walk around naked and listen to inappropriate music and watch R rated movies or porn —- in the family room! I get it. In its purist simplest sense visitation time is guaranteed time away from the kids that married women do not get. And I get that married women have parental responsibilities that are not necessarily shared with their husband and plus, they are maintaining a relationship. I get it. So I don’t take anything away from married women with children. Did I say that I get it? Because I do. I’ve been there.
However, for many single women with children, the myth of the carefree weekends off is just that — a myth.
First of all, single mothers do not always have one whole weekend off every other week. In my case it is not a whole weekend. It is one night every two weeks. (And I’m not complaining about that, it’s just what it is.) Second, my kids do not “summer” with anyone but me. (And I’m not complaining about that either). Some fathers don’t take their kids at all. Some take them out of spite or to reduce child support payments. Some parents have the best intentions but the children are carted back and forth according to an elaborate schedule based on percentages and someone else’s norm — an attempt to literally “split the baby.” Nothing breezy about it.
Second, and more, importantly, the time that the children are away is by court order. So this is not time for me, on a day good for me and/or that fits my friends’ schedules or the schedules of my favorite hobby. It is not a time where someone who loves me says that he will take care of everything that needs to be done in order for me to have some fun or relaxation in appreciation for all that I do. No, it is a time I am required to present my children to someone who, in my case, has shown complete disrespect for me. It is HIS time with the kids during which he can do whatever he wants with whomever he wants. It doesn’t matter whether I’d rather have the kids at home or whether I wanted to do something with them, I’m not allowed to have my kids home on designated days. For me, the guaranteed time away from my children is not a good feeling. For me, it often involves tears, Xanax, excessive cleaning, excessive sleep or hardly any sleep at all.
I once explained it this way.
Imagine your child having a minor medical procedure which required a hospital stay. It is something that needs to be done, but you’ve put off. It is something that is not life-threatening and you know your child will not intentionally be harmed but he or she will experience some discomfort. You spent all week preparing your child for this but really, you wish he/she didn’t have to go. You are not permitted to stay in the hospital with your child, you are not permitted to call. But in the long run, it has to be done. Plus, you have no choice.
Now, under this scenario you have a guaranteed free evening, right? Child-free!! Woo-Hoo! Feel much like going out? Would you arrange for a girls night out or a date with someone you met online for the very night you knew your kid was going to be in the hospital, simply because you knew it was one night where you wouldn’t have to get a sitter? Really?
My point is, not every child-free night is a blessing . . . or fun.
Here’s another example:
I remember after giving birth to my first. They kept him in the hospital one day longer than me because they needed to monitor his heart as a precaution (he’d had a pre-natal heart murmur). They told me to go home and get sleep and come back in the morning. I went home. I was up and standing by the bed fully dressed at 6am, still dripping and stitched from giving birth. My husband was fast asleep. (I think it scared him a little when he awoke and I was standing over him. bwahahaha. ) I don’t know how he could sleep. I hadn’t even known this kid for more than two days. I was physically more exhausted than I’d ever been in my life, but the idea of using my baby’s hospital stay to catch up on sleep was completely ridiculous.
Fast forward. Post divorce.
A friend of mine was hosting a school of rock type performance at her house. Kids playing real instruments in a band. I would have loved to have taken my kids. But, it wasn’t my day. The event was at 4:00pm, I had presented the kids for visitation at 2:00pm. I went anyway in support of other people’s kids. I had to fight back tears. My friend noticed my sadness. She has four kids of her own, is married and a stay at home mom. Probably never gets a real break.
She said, “It must be weird not to have your kids here.”
“Yeah, it is. ” I quickly added, “I don’t like it.” She nodded in silence.
Back to the school function and the mouthy lady.
I didn’t say anything to the lady. I’m sick of my circumstance and marital status and don’t feel like defending, explaining or even addressing it. I just wanted to see my kids’ event and possibly enjoy it with other parents. Well, at least I saw my kids. I enjoyed it alone, albeit a bit uncomfortably. Regardless of her right to her opinion, that woman’s behavior was rude, and without regard for the feelings of others.
For the record, I sometimes get sick of the single mom hype, too. I tire of the label. I don’t want to be put on a pedestal. I hate that. I don’t want pity. I hate that, too. But envy? Envy for a situation you know nothing about? I hate that most of all.
The myth of the weekends off — well, it’s not what it’s cracked up to be, it’s not the same as a married woman’s weekend off– if she ever gets one, it’s not the same for every single mother. My personal experience has been horrendous, despite my court-ordered night “off” and often because of it.
And that mouthy woman? I doubt we’ll ever be friends.
Just Me With . . . my children . . . at home tonight. Thank God.