‘Your mom is NOT your dad!’
“Happy Fathers’ Day, MOM!” read a Facebook status update on Fathers’ Day.
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“Happy Father’s Day, MOM!” someone wrote as a Facebook status on Father’s Day: in that update, written with a tinge of defiance and a challenge at convention is a heart-wrenching salutation to a woman who has, in the absence of a participative father, taken on the role of raising her children.

However, it is also the revealing and sad window into the broken heart of a child who had to grow up without a father. When I was in primary school, our teachers would hand out Fathers’ Day cards for us to colour in and present to our dads; I never took a card; my biological father was not around. Having decided he was not really interested in being a parent, he checked out of my life until I met him when I was a teenager. Whenever I didn’t take that card, my teachers would look at me pityingly and squeeze my shoulder reassuringly.

In the playground, when, with the generally accepted cruelty of children, I was teased for being a nerd, I would vow to tell if they didn’t stop. “What who are you going to tell; your dad?” was the devastating question that would see me sitting back and taking the teasing and ridicule like the little bastard that I was. It was always devastating.

A fatherless mom to fatherless kids

Fast forward to the present and I witness my kids writing “Happy Fathers’ Day to my mom!” and it shatters me just a bit. Not because my kids cannot take part in the celebratory tone of the day. It shatters me because no matter how much I comfort myself by thinking they are better off without a father who doesn’t care; I have come to believe that every child deserves and needs two parents.

Parenting is hard. It is hard for couples who have strong marriages. It is both hard and terrifying for single parents. It is minefield for divorced couples. It’s hard. But women continue to put themselves in situations where they are likely to end up being single parents; with seemingly no consideration for the future psychological well-being of their children.

That sounds like a crass generalisation but it’s true. I know my mother resented any questions I asked about my dad, so I stopped asking them. I realised that I was hurting her; I was telling her she was not doing enough. In every question, I made her feel like she was failing me. I know this now because those are the feelings I experience when I have to explain why my loser ex is no longer around. But while I was trying to protect my mother’s feelings, I denied my own. I wanted to know why he hadn’t wanted me; I needed to know it was not my fault. And so now I am paranoid; those experiences taint my parenting. I worry that I am overcompensating.

Literature shows that the children of single parents are often spoilt. I can attest to this, I was incredibly spoilt. And in turn I have to be extra vigilant in my own parenting, but who could blame me if I want to make up for the lack of another parent by spoiling my kids? But I know doing that would be a disservice to them.

Financial "fathers"

I have seen young women, just entering the job market, get pregnant. Due to their age I am forced to believe theychoose pregnancy without the benefit of marriage or even a strong relationship. I have seen them fighting for meagre child maintenance from a man who quite frankly couldn’t give two hoots about parenting. Yes he will pay, because the law requires him to, but at the end of the day he will not be a father to that child. He will have merely reduced his child’s importance in his life to a column of numbers on a ledger.

That child, despite a mother’s every effort, will grow up with scars and mistrust and struggle with feelings of low self-worth because one of the people who is responsible for bringing them into this world did not value them.

Acceptance and freedom

I know many single parents resent this kind of thinking, I resent it as a single mom; but I have been on the other side of this fence and I know it’s true. Maybe the next time you want to be both “mom” and “dad” to your child you can pause to acknowledge that you can’t. Allow them to accept that emptiness, and show them that it is alright, that it is not their fault. You may find yourself a better mother for having removed from yourself the burden of shouldering a role you were never meant to carry. I can only hope that at the very least, my awareness of how much the absence of a father affects a child, will help me help my children cope better than I ever did.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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