31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Is It Worth A Fight?

Single with Children: Some have to fight to stay involved

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 01/09/02

There are many aspects of the holiday season that are wonderfully warm and more than a few moments that can melt your heart.

Last week, however, I received an e-mail from someone reminding me of a topic I have seriously neglected discussing.

It wasn't that I went out of my way to avoid it, I just needed someone to help me try and understand what life for a noncustodial parent might feel like - because, for every welcome reunion between fathers and the children they rarely see, there is always a gut-wrenching goodbye a few days later.

This e-mail, in fact, came not from a divorced father but a married father of two who is an adult child of divorce and is, at present, dealing with his own marital discord. This reader expressed the angst of possibly losing his place in the lives of his two young daughters, saying, "Of course, should we spilt, as a man, I'll lose my girls and not have the comfort you seem to take for granted."

He went on to say, "The clock and the calendar indicate that we are nearly 50/50 in time spent and care given. I am a parent."

I couldn't ignore or push aside any of the things he shared from his experience. It gave me a peek to the other side of the parental fence and offered an important, vastly different, perspective.

I also have a dear friend, a divorced father, who has spent tens of thousands of dollars for the chance to see his children more often than every other weekend and one day a week. I always knew this was a difficult situation for him. But I never really took the time to think about how it must feel to have to pay attorneys copious amounts of money to earn the right to remain an active part of the lives of the children who are a part of him.

I'd never really given serious thought to any of this because, in my own situation, it was never really an issue. I had an ex-husband who moved often, and we always knew that it would be impossible for our children to follow him as his career took him to different parts of the country. But I'm discovering that this isn't the norm. I'm realizing that many members of broken families do stay in the same city, sometimes within miles of each other.

As I considered the limited options of many fathers facing this dilemma - and the fertile breeding ground it creates for animosity between ex-spouses - I realized it must feel terribly unfair to have to fight and pay for the right to be more involved. In fact, a lot of really wonderful fathers out there must feel pretty beat up when it's all finished and they're relegated to becoming, many times, a shadow in the lives of the children they helped bring into this world and love with all their hearts.

The fact of the matter is that our court system usually grants the mother primary custody, and I'm not going to deny that I'm thrilled and blessed to have the opportunity to live with and see my children most of the year.

However, as the reader's e-mail pointed out, I probably take this reality for granted. I tried hard to imagine what it would feel like to have to schedule visits with the children I saw born in the delivery room, who share my DNA, and to whom I used to have 24/7 access.

I have to be honest. As hard as I might try to understand, I can't really "know" what that experience feels like because I haven't lived it. I must tell you, however, that it would make me miserable to have to consider trying to deal with such circumstances. I know I wouldn't be a very happy person.

So what is the right answer? I know from my own childhood that fathers are an integral and essential part of the parenting equation. I can't imagine what it would have felt like to only see my own dad on alternate weekends and a couple of extra days a month. Even the best and most dedicated fathers can't pack two weeks' worth of parenting into two weekends a month. It's simply an impossibility.

There are so many questions about how to make this work, and the answers seem awfully sparse, grossly inadequate and, yes, even unfair. I know many custodial mothers who generously share parenting time with the fathers of their children. But I also know many who seem bitter at the very idea of giving up anything, even if it would be in the child's best interest. It's a very complicated question, and because of the conflict involved between divorcing parties, resolution can be a very elusive but, I still believe, attainable goal.

Feelings are hurt, hearts are broken, and families get bruised. Many times, the best of intentions get tossed out the window because of the pain involved. The result is that many wonderful, dedicated, loving fathers lose an absolutely vital place in the lives of their children. There are no easy answers, just ever so many questions. I have no doubt that, not only do the fathers suffer from this injustice, but, of course, their children as well.

I'd like to hear from more parents about how they handle this delicate issue. I would like to know how solutions are found and matters are settled fairly, to everyone's satisfaction.

I'd also like to say that, if you find yourself in this type of situation, in which "time with Dad" is a matter of contention, as hard as it may be - and I know it can be very hard to overcome personal pain - remember children thrive from being tended by both people who brought them into the world.

A child needs the wisdom, attention and love that fathers provide just as they need those things from the mothers with whom they usually live. When our children grow into adulthood, their family albums should contain many happy photos not only of adventures and times spent with Mom, but with Dad as well. It's worth whatever you have to do to make that happen. Balance is difficult to achieve but so essential in raising our children to reach their full, glorious potential.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

Click here to return to story:

© The Amarillo Globe-News Online

No comments: