Each year around this time, I get flooded with messages of best wishes and celebratory notes in regard to my role as a single parent.
But I ask of you, please, don’t wish me a Happy Father’s Day this year.
I remember the first time this happened 6 years ago. My daughter was an infant and I was going through a divorce.
“Hey Erinne, I know you’re playing both roles so I just wanted to wish you a Happy Father’s Day.”
Well, isn’t that sweet (and accurate), I thought to myself. I took this remark as a compliment. The next year, those types of messages increased. Finally, people are getting it! Each year I expressed my gratitude to those who recognized “what I was going through.”
Over the years, though, I’ve realized the only thing benefiting from this mentality of “doing it all” was my ego. Not only that, but parents don’t need the added pressure of having to be “both parents.” Regardless of how much the “other” parent is or isn’t involved, there’s no reason for mom to try and be dad or vise versa.
Before my daughter was aware of holidays and family dynamics, I used to worry about how to approach things like Father’s Day. Would she feel sad that her dad lives far away? Should I skip the day entirely and pretend it doesn’t exist? While it certainly wasn’t my responsibility to play the role of father, my role as a mother is to make her feel comfortable, confident and happy. If I were to walk on eggshells when it came to which family members would be present at school functions and at the holiday dinner table, then she would most definitely feel “different.” But if I show (not tell) her that we have all control over how much fun we have simply by choosing to do so, then these various situations we label as a time for parents, families, etc. will be embraced as her “norm.”
Often we hear something along the lines of “kids need their fathers around.” But more importantly than a presence, kids need to know they are loved. Kids need to know there are varying levels of love and even if their parents aren’t married, they still love each other. When children ask why mommy and daddy aren’t together anymore, we are doing them a disservice to say “we just fell out of love.” What is that teaching our kids about love? That we can potentially fall out of love with them, too? As much as we have days when we do not get along with the other parent who helped bring our children into this world, try to remember that we all love as best we can, keeping in mind people reveal this love in the only ways they know how.
Early in my divorce, I wanted to make sure my daughter’s father knew just how much I did as a parent. Comparing the tasks I did versus what he didn’t do certainly did not make be a better mom. In fact, I found myself taking photos just so I could say “look what the two of us did today. YOU missed out.” I created a competition with someone who didn’t even live in the same state. Thankfully, I realized how counterproductive this was for everyone involved but especially for my daughter.
When perusing the aisles of the local department store, don’t turn an eye to the “World’s Greatest Dad” gear. Being the “Best Dad” is a relative term. But a good measure of our success as mothers is when our children believe they do indeed have the best dad in the world, regardless of his actual presence.
And in the case where dad is not involved at all, do not assume his role. Just love yourself and your kids in the best way you know how and I promise that will be enough.