Last week I frantically waved my left hand at the back of the kindergarten classroom hoping that the substitute teacher would notice me, and I could point to an empty ring finger in the hopes that she’d stop asking my 6-year-old to “be thinking of what you like to do with your dad because I’ll call on you next. I always like to call on kids when their parents are visiting us.” His head dropped as she reached down to tie his shoe and I heard her speak more softly, “that’s okay. You can tell us something you like to do with your mom instead,” but she never did call on him.
It’s the end of the school year. Time to make Father’s Day cards. Heart sink. I cringe with regret that I have let my boy down. I’m not good enough. I have not “given” him what every boy wants – a Dad. My boys probably deal with this issue more than I imagine. Given an age in which non-traditional family structure is becoming more and more common, it still amazes me that certain settings continue to function as if there is only one model of family. Elementary schools still have pre-printed materials that ask children to fill in what they do with their dad or with their moms as if it applies to everyone. Parent forms usually do not include a way to indicate single parenting or non-traditional parenting.
And I realize that even though I have wrapped my mind around the fact that we’re currently a non-traditional family, I don’t often talk about it with the boys. Yes, when they bring it up, I answer their questions. When Super Tall Guy blurts out, “You’re never going to get married, Mom,” I answer, “You never know.” But I realized a few days ago, that it might actually have been helpful to talk to Mr. Ornery about what happened in the classroom, to reflect with him, “I noticed your teacher kept asking about what you like to do with your dad. How did that make you feel?” I might be able to learn some from him and help him feel more aware and comfortable with our situation.
Instead, I process the experience for myself. How did it make me feel? What did I think? Well, I felt like I let him down. That I wasn’t providing enough for him. That I put him in an awkward situation just because I haven’t done the “typical” life cycle event of getting married. That somehow my poor kid is not living life to the fullest that he could be. Then I stop myself and remind myself that I am providing for these boys so much more than what the situation they were born into could have provided. We have a home filled with more toys than they need. They rarely experience hunger. They have an extended family who loves them and a wide social net around them. They play sports. They go to the pool. We take family vacations. I remind myself that I am doing my best for them and it’s pretty darn good, come to think of it. (Yes, they do need to be doing piano lessons….but I just haven’t gotten around to scheduling that yet, much to their delight!)
It’s hard to understand the world around you if no one explains it to you when you’re six. It’s hard to comprehend how families are different and how life is different for different people unless someone explores that with you. And as an introvert who is so used to internally processing what I see and hear and experience, I rarely think about making my thoughts “evident” to my sons. Huh. New parenting insight. “Think” more externally. Journey with them rather than apart from them.
Good thing I processed the situation! 🙂