Being a Parent … even through Divorce

Posted on | July 26, 2012 | 6 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a parent lately.

Because it’s about more than just birthing a child. It’s more than having a child residing in your home, or paying child support, or showing up or planning birthday parties.

I seem to read a lot about what it isn’t… how not to act… what not to do.

But what DO you do as a parent? How do you act? What do you say? How do you prepare yourself or others for the responsibility and the undertaking of raising a child?

For a long time, I thought being a parent meant putting your child first, always. I thought it meant putting yourself on hold and doing whatever you had to do to, well, do everything for your child. But that’s not right… that doesn’t make sense. Because if that were the case, why would anyone ever want to be a parent? It doesn’t sound very healthy. It doesn’t sound very conducive to anything other than a lot of resentment on the part of the parent and a lot of anger on the part of the child.

So instead of focusing on what I should be doing, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year making mental notes on what not to do, as I watched both myself and J’s father muddle through the uncharted (for us) territory of co-parenting from a distance, co-parenting through divorce, and co-parenting through a lot of individual anger. There are a ton of checks and minuses on my parenting score card. Tons on both of our cards. But at the end of the day, what I’ve discovered through all of this is pretty simple:

Being a parent isn’t about always putting your child first.

Being a parent is about always doing what is BEST for your child.

It’s a huge distinction. It’s an important difference between being in charge of a child and being a parent.  Because being a parent isn’t a responsibility… it’s a privilege.  Raising a child isn’t a chore or a burden… it’s a gift and an honor.  And if you don’t see it that way, if you break your child’s life down into dollars and cents paid in child support or miles traveled or birthday parties attended?

Then you’re nothing more than an egg or sperm donor.

Having a child doesn’t make you a parent.

LOVING a child makes you a parent.

Last night, it dawned on me that in J’s life, there is only one parent.

I don’t mean that to be a slap at my ex-husband. He loves J the best way he can… he just doesn’t love him as a parent.  I don’t mean that statement to be ugly… I don’t mean it to be anything other than the truth and reality of my existence… of J’s existence.

At this moment, at this point in time, there is only one parent in J’s life.

But you know what?  I’m not giving up on J’s father.  I’m holding out hope that in the future, he will grow into his role in J’s life.  I’m hoping that he will re-evaluate how he’s making his decisions, re-educate himself on what it means to be a father, and re-engage with his child. 

Not because he deserves a second or third or fourth or even thirty-fourth chance at being a parent…

But because J deserves a father.  Because that’s what’s best for J.

And because as a PARENT, it’s my job to do what’s best for my child.


6 Responses to “Being a Parent … even through Divorce”

  1. kreeper611
    July 26th, 2012 @ 9:38 am

    The last few paragraphs make you the bigger person. You are right – it isn’t about J’s dad. It is about J needing a father. I’ll hope with you that he comes around & becomes what J needs him to be.

  2. KeAnne
    July 26th, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    You are so right about the distinction between having a child and being a parent. I hope that J’s father comes around too and realizes the amazing gift he is missing and that the two of them will be able to have a good father-son relationship. My husband and I both come from divorced families and in both cases, our fathers sort of…checked out. His more so than mine. I don’t understand why this happens.

  3. EK's Mommy
    July 26th, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

    Yes, yes, and yes. I agree with all of that… even though I’m still muddling through the part of doing everything for my child vs. doing what’s best for her. I hope this improves as she gets older.
    As for the rest of that, you are right… and I hope he gets it before it’s too late, before J realizes and resents.

  4. Abigail Gorton
    July 26th, 2012 @ 11:15 pm

    Well… I am coming to think that it is a gift and an honor that comes with multiple small chores and burdens. And the physical chores – wash, clean, cook, pick up – are ironically less burdensome than the emotional and intellectual responsibilities – to keep kids polite, interested and active and to say no even when you can afford it. Maybe your ex will become a ‘disney dad’ with weekends of endless ice cream and lax bed times. That would be a pain, but better than being completely absent.

  5. Karla Porter Archer
    July 26th, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

    oh my heart. I so relate…I have struggled with writing our reality. I kept quiet in my blog posts for the last 3 yrs, out of fear. But I’ve always talked with my children when they ask questions. For a long time, my struggle was that I equated being honest with ‘bashing’. I was also trying to reconcile the fact that he really was an absentee father, and how do you explain that to a child without them thinking it’s their fault?

    Being honest with them (and knowing that one day they will see what I wrote) means that they have a better understanding of the “whys”.

    They are smart enough to see through the “Disney Dad” bit… I don’t ever want them to think that they weren’t good enough for him to love. I’d rather them understand that he loved them (regardless of how it looks to me, as a jaded adult) and just did the best he could.

    My job is to make sure that they know that they are loved, secure, safe, and whole. Regardless of anyone around them, including their own dad.

  6. Jo
    August 6th, 2012 @ 2:22 am

    My recent revelation came from a child of divorce who said that while her father wasn’t around for 15yrs, he showed up later and now that she is an adult, they have an amazing relationship. And this just hit me in the gut in so many ways – the Happiness that she does have a relationship with her father and doesn’t harbor issues with him, and So Many thousands of questions for her mother and the 15yrs that the mother battled an attempt at co-parenting with someone just not there.

    I hope my resentment and personal pride will allow my son’s father to be there, when/if he decides to change his life and be more participant than his maybe 20hrs a week with this amazing child that is our son.
    Right now it seems an impossibility that he will change; it also seems improbable that I will be such an evolved adult to take it and love it when/if it comes. But I’m hopeful on both accounts.

    I certainly hear you, is what I mean to say.

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