Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Fragmented Families Can Be Good

You can have extended family begging you to “stay together for the kids”, but sometimes, a marriage ends. Not always. Some couples manage to find a calm channel through the currents that overwhelm others. Some couples cope with living past each other, others seem to be able to hold hands until arthritis makes it difficult to do so. But when a marriage ends, it’s not the dissolution of a couple when there are children, but an entirely new dynamic of shared responsibilities.

It’s really hard sometimes to think about how many days I have missed of my children growing up and experiencing new things. Sometimes I discover new developments in their lives by default, as they babble happily on about new friends, or a sport they have taken up in the new school term. I manage to mask my surprise and dismay, and look for clues about how they decided to do this, and whether it shows some of their future personality in the choices they are making now.

Of course I’m supportive- anybody would be; it doesn’t make me an extra-special dad because I want to hear about who they are. That’s one of the basic rules of parenting: Listen to your kids. And on reflection, when I was parenting as part of a marriage, huge swathes of time could pass in a blur of breakfasts, laundry and distraction without me noticing a change. Perhaps it’s not so bad, then, that I see them every other week- when they are sick, or sad or talking about something new, I’m that much more able to see it.

It’s a little like maintaining a house- you have a series of spotlights in the ceiling, and one goes out, and unless you sort it out immediately, it can peer blindly down at you for months before you have a bit of home-making epiphany, and find the five minutes it takes to replace the bulb. Or going on holiday and looking at things from a different perspective. Children can be like that. When you are with them constantly, it’s possible to start to miss the microscopic changes, and sometimes even the most fundamental ones.

I’m not advocating spouses separating, or divorced parenting as the better choice, but what I am saying is that rather than sit and mope about what I’ve missed, I’m going to think about all the changes I have been fortunate enough to see, and how my children never look at me as less of a parent because I feel like one. And you can be just as observant within the context of a marriage, of course.

And I do get cross with them, sometimes. And shout, and react rather than respond, and get irritated at mealtimes, and so on… Cos I’m their dad.


  1. That's right and no matter what happens in their life or your's you will always be their dad. Parenting never ends no matter how old they or you get. so enjoy every minute you have now because before you know it they will be all grown up in the blink of an eye.

  2. @kambabe: Thanks, friend. As always- any advice from such a good parent is taken seriously.x

  3. There are so few "traditional" families left - you are spot on, just look for the shiny side of the life you've got. :) You're doing great.

  4. wow, as a single mom this hit home - nice to hear it from the other side - found it very sad for some reason, probably because i see what my kids are missing too @wooze66

  5. Its very easy to talk maybe this is all your own fault and now you are trying to rescue or shift the blame somewhere except on your own shoulders people dont just grow apart its people that make people grow apart giving the wrong advise when you should have listen long time ago to the feeling and honour of a man of men, people screw people up, so stand up and be a man who admit that we make mistakes and correct them HONOUR and RESPECT the marriage elationships of others and you might find that theres more to life than just friends and friendship

  6. @Di I don't disparage traditional or nuclear families at all, but can't penalise he children for my own failings. They're great kids, and I respect my exes role in that, too.
    @wooze66 It's terribly sad to dwell on missed moments, but then I realy am grateful for the opportunity to be involved and see them growing up...

  7. @anonymous No. You seem to have the wrong idea. I accept that I have made wrong choices, but I won't penalise my children for those choices. I will also not beat myself up for those choices, because, really, I do honour and respect my ex, and her parenting abilities. If I sounded arrogant or proud, then fair enough, but parenting is the most humbling experience I can imagine. It is an honour. And as to the choices of others in their own relationships? I can only encourage people to work at them, and be there for them as a friend if they need support.

  8. I can read so much pain but also (not arrogant!)pride in your post.

    I support your last comment, Scott. Everyone makes individual decisions at times when those make the most sense. There is no ONE solution for everyone. We all make mistakes, anonymous, whether we admit to them or not. The challenge is to live beyond the mistakes and manage the results as best you can. No one has infinite life experience and no on knows how to handle every situation perfectly. We are all learning, all the time!

    Keep up the good work.

  9. Sometimes I think we are too hard on ourselves as parents. For years thought less of myself as a parent because I was young, single and had the child I hadn't planned for.

    Your words are so true, they don't see us as
    less of parents because we feel like it!! Instead I think we try harder, improve what we can about ourselves to be better for them, because of it!

  10. I still think it takes a special kind of dad to even notice the differences.


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