So today I felt like the world’s greatest dad. Got the kids ready on time, managed the day fairly well with regards to meeting some deadlines and appointments, even prepared a home-made beef tips and rice dinner complete with microwaved broccoli with cheese sauce. I even arranged for a fantastic sitter to stay with the kids so I could slip away for a little me-time with the softball team.
So, after four days of single parenting, I think I’ve got this. I’m good. Single parenting, though challenging, isn’t so hard.
And anyone who says otherwise is either lying or not telling the truth. Sure, I’m doing pretty well, certainly much better than I let on (because hey, it’s not as funny to say “Everything’s fine!”), but the truth is I’m struggling, folks. And I’ve been blessed with the help of my father, who’s babysat Jon everyday this week with the exception of Monday, my mother, who helped me with the kids during our revival at church, a gracious employer that allowed for me to have some very flexible office hours, and a wonderful friend/babysitter named Haley Davis who’s stepped in to help me regain some semblance of sanity.
In other words, I’ve had it easier than a career politician.
I cannot imagine, literally CANNOT imagine, what it would be like to do this act truly solo. No help from family or friends, no gracious bosses granting flexible hours, no church providing two meals out of five for the week. I mean, can you? Unless you are a single parent, trying to live off of whatever income you have with whatever resources you can muster, there’s no way to know.
Trust me, I know not every marriage is a picnic, and there are some folks out there who have spouses who might as well not exist. I get it, and it’s a tough row to hoe, and in some ways even tougher. But at least your kids have another person to go to on occasion. At least there’s another person there that you can talk to or discuss things with – even if the discussions end up in screaming matches, at least you were able to speak words into the air for another human being to hear and have to consider because they share your predicament.
But for someone who’s single, there is no one else. There’s only you and the kids and the walls. And the walls don’t give a crap if you can’t pay for them, because they go on being walls whether you live within them or not.
I had a good day, but only because I have a lot of help, and because my kids, by the grace of God, are pretty well behaved and easy-going. Sure, Ella can put me through the Death of 1,000 Questions, but when I tell her to clean her room, she does. When I tell Jon to sit down in his chair, he does (at least 75% of the time). What if my kids weren’t so easy? What if they had a learning or physical challenge to overcome? What if one of them required constant watching because without it, they would hurt themselves?
What would I do then? Where would I turn?
I know I don’t have it all together. I don’t even have it all in the same room. I mean, seriously, look what I did to my daughter’s hair tonight before ballet:
Does a man who has it all together do this to his child? Sure, I would probably get better with practice, but my gracious, look at her! I mean, Lord love her, she took my hand and smiled and said, “It’s perfect daddy! Just what I wanted.” But seriously, wouldn’t a mother know how to make the pigtails at least even on the child’s head? And I know for darn sure that her mother wouldn’t have made her wince in pain as many times as I did; you’d have thought I was giving her a jailhouse tatt with pencil lead and a rusty nail, she cringed so often.
And to make matters worse, when we got to ballet, she explained to her teacher that I did her hair. The teacher smiled, told her she looked beautiful and once Ella was out of earshot, looked at me and said, “Not bad for a dad.”
Not bad for a dad. You may think, “Hey, nothing wrong with that.” But the look in her eyes (that sad, knowing look that women get whenever men venture into historically feminine territory) combined with the tone of her voice told me all I needed to know: “Not bad for someone who doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing.”
And there’s the truth. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m winging it, hoping to heaven that I’m not hurting the kids in some unforeseen psychological way. I’m praying and trusting that my motives are clear: that I love them and would die for them and will do whatever I can to make sure their lives are good and clean and include broccoli because you can’t just eat crap all the time. I’m doing the best I can, only I know that my best isn’t – and could never be – the best there is. There’s a reason why men and women tend to drift towards one another and flirt and woo and fall in love and settle down and make a home and have 2.78 kids.
Because that’s the best – for the kids, for the individuals, for the world. It doesn’t work that way in a broken world unfortunately, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it. It just means that we should treasure it when we see it, thank God for it when we live it, and shut up and grant grace to those who maybe weren’t so fortunate in their lives, but are now doing the best they can with what they have.
Because I guarantee you this: if it ever happens to you, you’ll understand.