Can you be both Mom and Dad?
Long before I’d ever heard the more appropriate term Solo Mom, I’d been forced by the Army to loosely identify myself as a “single mom” on many occasions. I put the term in quotation marks because by no means do I understand what it’s like to be a true single mom. I shoulder the entire parenting gig for extended periods of time, true; but I do so with a breadwinner, albeit an absent one. I “single parent” with the luxury of knowing that it won’t last forever, therefore Solo Mom feels like a better fit and description.
One of the things that I have heard over and over through the years as I have dealt with separations is, “Wow, you have be the mom and the dad while your husband is gone, huh?”
That’s not how it works.
I am the mother of three boys, and when their father leaves, it’s true, I do become the dad. But the mom? She just disappears.
I don’t know what it is like for a mother of girls, but boys—particularly teenage boys—need a father figure. When our house has two parents in it, the patterns are predictable and gender-specific. For example:
- Mom hugs a son who twisted his ankle at a soccer game and tells him to rest. Dad tells him to shake it off and get back in the game.
- Mom will tell a son who has girlfriend problems to communicate his concerns to her and offer apologies. Dad will say, “She’ll get over it. Go hang out with your guy friends.”
- Dad will ignore a passive-aggressive, sulking child, but Mom will rush right in with “What’s wrong? How can I fix it?”
- Mom will call the school if her son is having issues with a teacher. Dad will tell him to work harder and talk to the teacher himself.
- Dad will take his son hunting or fishing for large doses of quality time. Mom takes her quality time with her son in smaller increments as she’s driving him to wrestling practice or while she’s teaching him to do laundry.
At least that’s how it is in our house when Dad is home. It’s a balance. My husband and I are a team with the same goal of raising quality young men, but our approaches are on opposite ends of the hard–soft spectrum. Dad is all “harsh truth,” “stand up for yourself,” and “guns and strength.” And I am all “understanding and hugs” and “talk it out over pancakes.”
But when it is just the kids and me alone, something happens. It’s not a conscious decision, but . . . I don’t know. All of the “softness, understanding, and sweetness” takes a vacation.
Maybe it’s because I just don’t have time to make any damn pancakes, but suddenly I become this person:
- The driving instructor with nerves of steel teaching a teenager to drive stick shift.
- The mechanic helping one son learn to change his oil and fix the brakes on his car instead of taking it to the shop.
- The person frantically googling YouTube videos during school hours to learn how to tie a Windsor knot for prom.
- The harsh-truth harbinger telling my youngest he smells bad and needs to wear deodorant, and then teaching him how to shave.
- The crazy coach yelling at my middle son to run faster at track meets, and then letting him beat himself up when he comes in second. Sorry, no hugs. If you don’t like to lose, then I guess you better win.
- The frat brother giving girlfriend advice. “Suck it up,” “get over it,” and “nobody likes a whiner” come out of my mouth daily.
- The unflappable advisor answering the male anatomy/puberty questions fired directly at me. Thank-you, Internet, I have done my research, so I spout answers like I have a penis of my own.
- The landscaper organizing work details for all of the “dad tasks.” I am more knowledgeable than Home Depot when it comes to using a lawn mower, leaf blower, or weed eater. What? It’s out of gas? You better go get some. No excuses. Accomplish the mission.
I’m not sure why it happens, but it does. Maybe on some level I realize that while hugs and comfort are a nice bonus, boys need someone to impart male wisdom. They need to figure things out themselves. They need to be tough. And one parent just can’t give it all. So the sweet and comforting mom has got to go. Now it’s not all harshness. We have fun. But fun for us is fart jokes, butt-scratching, and yelling at the TV while watching football with our feet on the furniture. Slipping into the alpha-male role happens naturally, easily, even for a self-professed girly-girl like me.
The house? It’s a disaster. But the nontraditional family unit struggling to make it while dad is gone? We’re doing just fine. (Sidenote: if you want to do something nice for a mom with a deployed spouse, hire her a cleaning team.)
So do I become the mom and the dad while my husband is gone? The answer is no.
Leigh Timmerman is a former Army Brat, current Army Wife, and Mother to three sons. She is a retired event planner, a fledgling entrepreneur, and plans to eventually complete one of the many books she has begun writing. Leigh has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of North Georgia.
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