Photo by Ilyuza Mingazova on Unsplash
Back in early November, I sent my ex a quick message to let him know that our daughter was asking for some very specific doll toys for Christmas. I already knew what I was getting her, so I made a list of five related things I knew she wanted, so, he’d have options. All five gifts came in at different price points: $25, $28, $35, $50, and $100 since I didn’t know his budget.
My ex responded favorably, and I didn’t pester him about getting a gift after that. Our daughter is six, so, there’s enough history for me to know he’s not one for thinking ahead. I also know that nagging him can make things worse. However, I’ve had some luck in the past by making a few suggestions to him about gifts for our child.
I left it at that.
He hasn’t seen our daughter for nearly a year due to the pandemic. When her birthday happened last April, the pandemic was still new, so, I asked him how he wanted to manage her birthday gift. He asked me what she wanted, agreed to one of those toys, and then I picked it up for him from Target and he paid me back.
He’s only been on a video call with our daughter three times since the pandemic began — once for the virtual birthday party I arranged, once after I suggested it, and once on Thanksgiving when she initiated it.
The most frustrating aspect of our co-parenting relationship has always been his unwillingness to initiate anything on our daughter’s behalf. In fact, shortly before the pandemic hit the US, I made the choice to quit making our child visit her dad when she didn’t want to. There were way too many concerns that came up and I couldn’t be sure that she’d get what she needed when she was there.
I know, I know. People still balk over this and think it sounds cruel. But our situation isn’t typical, I suppose, since the Catholic hospital where I gave birth omitted his name from her birth certificate and he never felt it necessary to correct it. We were never married, so he never acquired legal rights. He simply told me how he thought things should go, and it was always imperative to him that his wages wouldn’t get garnished for child support.
So, no courts.
For a few years, I really tried to encourage him to be an involved dad until I realized I was wasting energy and consistently disappointed. She didn’t look forward to the visits. I began to trust him less and less.
Why should I make my daughter go stay with her father when he refuses to meet her needs despite our repeated talks about these issues? If I send my daughter to her dad’s house, I expect that she will brush her teeth, have soap in the children’s bathroom, and not have to sleep with the light on just because she doesn’t know how to turn off a lamp.
I don’t expect him to provide a perfect home for her visits — lord knows I’m messy and hopelessly flawed — but I draw the line if her needs aren’t being met. And there was a laundry list of different issues, some I’ve already written about.
In some ways, the pandemic has helped relieve some of the pressures of co-parenting. He hasn’t asked to see her and I haven’t had to say no.
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I took tons of fun photos and videos that I sent to my daughter’s dad. Like countless other children, our kid loves Christmas. She shared every little festivity with her father and anyone else who would pay attention. On many days, I recorded a little video of her opening an advent calendar present — usually hair scrunchies or soda pop-flavored lip balm. I did my best to help create happy memories in the middle of the pandemic by celebrating a little bit of “Christmas every day.”
This year, I went bigger than usual with her Christmas gifts too. It was something of a coping mechanism for me, but I also decided that “after the virus,” we’ll have a more experience-based Christmas than a gift-heavy one. Maybe we’ll travel next December. Or whenever it’s safe to do so.
I even went all-in and did “the Santa thing.” Some of you might remember years past where I wrote about not wanting to celebrate the Santa myth at home. Originally, I never wanted to lie to my daughter and do certain silly things like the tooth fairy either. But do you know what? She wound up believing in Santa and the Tooth Fairy anyway, and 2020 marked the first year that she lost a tooth. I guess the pandemic made me feel like “holiday magic” was worth the facade, so I changed course.
I ordered her a box “from the North Pole” that included little things like “reindeer food” to sprinkle on the ground before going to bed on Christmas Eve, a letter from Santa, and a cookie from Mrs. Claus.
My daughter also wrote her first letter to Santa. We “sent it in” by uploading it to a website and she asked him for books and a L.O.L. Surprise doll. I bought some special metallic Santa-themed wrapping paper and successfully fooled her into thinking Santa really visited the house and brought just what she’d asked him for. I got around the whole question about why Santa never brought her a gift before by pointing out that this was the first year she wrote him a letter, and saying that parents sometimes give all of the gifts so Santa can focus on the families that need him the most.
I have no idea if this was a good or bad idea. What I do know, however, is that she had a wonderful holiday season even though we had to stay home. And she really enjoyed sharing those photos and videos with family, including her dad.
On Christmas Eve, my daughter’s dad messaged me to say he hadn’t bought Christmas gifts yet. He asked if she’d gotten any of the gifts on the list I gave him. I replied that his mother had gotten one but the rest were still fair game. He said, “okay, great!”
But aside from a quick text message reading “Happy Christmas,” my daughter’s dad didn’t even acknowledge her the next day. When I told her that he said Happy Christmas, she had me record a quick video to tell him Merry Christmas and say she loved him.
Literally, no response.
In fact, I haven’t heard anything from her dad since Christmas Day. Which means she hasn’t heard from him either. He pays between $100 and $130 twice a month for child support and sent his last payment on December 31st. He’ll likely send another today. I still have no clue if he was ever serious about getting our daughter a Christmas gift, though this is the first year in recent memory where he’s done absolutely nothing.
To be honest, I’m unsurprised, but… I’m also angry. I specifically didn’t get on his case about him getting a Christmas gift because a.) I expected him to act like a grown parent, and b.) it’s not his first rodeo. He has three kids before her, two step-children, and one child after her.
I find it hard to believe that he did absolutely nothing for his other six kids. I spend so much time actively trying to not think about this stuff because I don’t want to be angry. I don’t want to waste time on a man who can’t make an effort for his child.
But, oh my God. I just began processing the fact that it’s been three whole weeks since Christmas and my daughter’s dad couldn’t be bothered to make even the smallest effort. I guess I’m having a delayed wave of anger.
I haven’t talked about it with my daughter because she hasn’t mentioned it. I do abide by the policy of never talking to her about her father in a negative way because I don’t want her to think that she’s somehow anything negative as his daughter. But she’s only six years old and she’s used to her dad doing the bare minimum. One of these days, I know she’s going to ask questions or say something about the fact that her father doesn’t involve himself with her.
It’s mind-boggling, really. She hasn’t seen her dad since late February or early March of last year when he only lives about 30 minutes away. He could have driven over any time to tell her hello from a safe distance. He could have done Google calls. He could have sent her a freaking Christmas card.
I’m so sad and angry because I had such an awful father who was never there for me. So, I know how that can affect a child and I never wanted that for her. The good news, of course, is that she and I have a much better relationship than anything I ever had with my mom, so, I also know that she’s going to likely fare much better than me. I can’t control what her father does or doesn’t do, and I can’t control how she feels about any of it. But if or when the time comes, I know I’ll do my best to give her a safe and compassionate space to talk about it, however she feels.
The irony (at least for me), is that I’m still going to get angry messages and comments that I am a terrible mother who has “alienated” my child from her father. Every single time I write about the fact that my daughter’s dad doesn’t pull his weight, somebody just has to respond to say that it’s my fault and not his.
To be honest, that’s actually why — or partly why — I write about my frustrations with my daughter’s dad. It’s such a personal and vulnerable thing. I don’t know how she’s going to feel about all of this in the future. At six years old, she still thinks she’s got the best father in the world simply because he’s the only one she knows. I don’t correct her. I understand that she still sees family as an extension of herself. Let her develop a healthy sense of self-worth that isn’t contingent upon anything anyone does (or doesn’t) do.
We can process any difficult feelings in the future as they come.
But I get it. In hindsight, perhaps I should have pushed to do his Christmas shopping for him and have him pay me back. Some folks will say I should have just put his name on a gift and pretended. Like with Santa.
And do you know what? Maybe they have a point. Maybe. Maybe my job as a mother should include covering for her crappy father. Perhaps there is an argument to be made for being the type of single mom who facilitates a relationship between her child and their father.
Okay, no. I really don’t think that’s beneficial, but I think it’s amazing how many people do seem to believe that in 2020, a mother is responsible not just for her relationship with her children, but also for a father’s relationship with them too. It’s absurd. Men are not big babies who need coddling.
And women are not training centers for half-raised men. I read that last night on Facebook:
When HR Mom shared this awesome post from Black Girl, Lost Keys, someone pushed back saying the statement wasn’t fair because it put more responsibility on mothers to answer for their son’s personal shortcomings. HR Mom was prompt to point out the bias in that assumption. Why is it that when we say “half-raised men,” we put the blame upon mothers? Why wouldn’t we associate fathers with parenting too?
I’ll be the first person to tell you that I don’t have all of the answers. I am not a perfect parent. Truthfully? I am about as far from perfect as one can get, but I give myself some credit because I certainly do try. I think an awful lot about my dysfunctional childhood and I actively try to give my daughter a better and healthier life.
For the most part, my struggles are different from the struggles my mother had while raising me and my sister. And the intentions are dramatically different too. My mom raised us to be “good Christians.” Girls who wouldn’t go to hell.
Which meant she raised us in fear. She was constantly worried about us doing the “wrong” thing, and her idea of wrong was all about purity culture and checking off those very narrow evangelical boxes.
Parenting is different for me. I’m not religious, though I do send my daughter to a private Christian school for other reasons. My whole perspective on parenting, however, is that I do my best to raise a healthy, whole, and emotionally intelligent person.
This makes me especially wary to send my daughter the wrong message about relationships. I can see no good reason to facilitate the relationship between my daughter and her dad in lieu of him doing some work for himself. Now, me picking up his slack by always buying his gifts and making all of the arrangements for him to communicate with our child wouldn’t actually build them a healthy relationship anyway. But it would show her how to bend over backward for somebody who refuses to do any work themselves. I say that a lot, I know. Part of me keeps wondering if my perspective will ever change.
So far, no.
Every time something like this happens where I’m reminded that her dad is never going to be “there” for her, there’s this awkward, uncomfortable peace. It’s not a shock. I already know I can’t change him. But am I disappointed? Well, yeah. I don’t think the disappointment will ever end, because I know the day is going to come when our daughter notices. When she cares. At some point, she’s going to notice that her father rarely lifts a finger to express his love, and it will be my job to help her navigate all of the feelings that go along with that realization.
It will be my job to help her understand that this is his issue. His shortcoming — not hers.
But some days? It’s just enough to make me scream.
In the past, I’ve written a lot about how much the double-standards of parenting drive me nuts. It doesn’t even matter what my daughter goes through with her dad — men and women alike are bound to tell me that his missteps in parenting are my fault.
“Does he even celebrate Christmas?”
Yes, Karen. So, no, that’s not the issue.
“Maybe he doesn’t have a lot of money!”
Yeah, perhaps not. But a.) millions of low-income single mothers budget every year for Christmas, and b.) you literally do not need to spend a ton of money to show your 6-year-old some bit of love and caring.
Especially this kid.
Honestly, we’ve got the sweetest, kindest child. She’s handled the pandemic like a champ and absorbed so much disappointment already. She’s never once thrown a tantrum about canceled plans or parties because of the coronavirus.
She’s a good kid, and she doesn’t expect anything from her father.
How is that not on him?
In a nutshell, of course, I have to say it may sound cliche, but it’s the patriarchy. The ingrained societal belief that only mothers are responsible for raising children well. And that fathers are just what? Naturally ornamental yet simultaneously incredible if they happen to “babysit” their child for a day?
God help us.
It’s not as if my daughter’s dad is some stereotypical conservative who believes in rigid gender roles and everything like that. This is a man who counts himself as liberal, “woke,” and even a feminist. And he doesn’t see the problem with just coasting on by.
He’s not the only one.
In the world of parenting, there’s so much talk about father’s or men’s rights and parent alienation that it’s practically taboo to be honest when you’re discussing disengaged and crummy dads. Instead of recognizing that men must shape their own relationships with their kids, we (as a society still steeped in sexism) tend to lob that responsibility back onto the moms.
To that end, moms are routinely told that whatever happens to their kids at dad’s house isn’t their business. Or that they need to make more of an effort to involve dads who simply refuse to pull their own weight. It’s not good for anyone — not the kids, not the mothers, and certainly not the fathers.
These patriarchal stereotypes put undue pressure upon women and children. Like we don’t have enough to worry about. If anything, it teaches women and girls to be “training centers” for men. And then it teaches men and boys how to coast through their relationships without ever connecting on any real level.
Nobody wins when we routinely let these types of fathers off the hook and cater to their lackadaisical efforts.
There is no end in sight to the “advice” given to mothers — especially the single ones — telling them to be happy for the men who do the bare minimum.
Or, you know, far less.
Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of space for my daughter’s dad in her life. He’s been welcome from day one to participate and form a bond. However, we will not living our lives on hold for waiting for her father to become an active player.
She’s got a life to lead — with or without him. But it sure is sad to see a father willingly skip out on doing his part. Because our kid? She brings the kind of joy that I wouldn't give away for anything.
And she deserves so much more than the scraps he's been giving.