Why we should not shoulder the blame for a man’s failure to parent
As a devoted ESME follower, I was moved to tears by the beautiful piece, “A Single Mom’s Lament,” that Sapphire posted. It was familiar, and sad. I thought about it a lot. And then I reread it. And I realized why it had felt so painful. Not only is this dedicated mother raising her child by herself (a heavy burden!) but also has taken on the sorrows caused by the child’s father. I want to reach out to her and give her a big hug, and tell her she’s taken on too much. Mistakes may have been made, but not all of them are hers. To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel: be for yourself or you can’t be there for anyone else.
Perhaps right now you feel you have to be the one to acknowledge the pain of being different and to worry about the scars of society’s judgment. I applaud your bravery and honesty. But a little reminder here: These children are not fatherless. They have fathers. Their fathers are daughterless. The father of your child may not have understood the joys and sorrows of being a parent. He is missing one of the greatest experiences of life. Maybe right now it seems as if all the pain is carried by your child and you, but his absence during these years will someday weigh heavily on him. And if it doesn’t? Still not your fault. The man has lost his way.
Believe me, I have been there with you. The pointless handmade Father’s Day class projects, the scrambling to find a friend for Dad and Daughter days, the open houses where you wander through classes by yourself, and every other couple shares their joy with each other. It’s not fun.
But no one can predict how someone will parent. And if they say they can . . . they are lying.
Reading your beautiful piece, Sapphire, I want to reach out and tell you that you made no mistakes choosing to bring this daughter you love so much into the world. You may not feel yourself to be perfect as a Solo Mom facing a world of societal misperceptions and slights, but you are not to blame for her lack of a father in her life.
Please, please, despite the pain, do not consider your child’s father’s absence a sign of brokenness on your part or a cycle of brokenness. How many lovely and wonderful children of single mothers grow into strong adults with a capacity for loving that may encompass not only children but a nation?
Your child is blessed because her mother chose to bring her into the world. She chose to love her. And she chooses to protect her. This love, this love of choice (which includes adoption and insemination), is a vital force for both Solo Moms and all mothers. It is not the ability to bear a child, or to conceive a child, it is choosing to love a child and raise a child that makes a Solo Moma force to be reckoned with. If anything, a child is branded not by her father’s absence but by her mother’s fierce love for her.
The nuclear marriage, and the two-person parenting system, is a relatively novel invention, as new as the atomic age. But motherhood? We have a strong tradition that dates back millennia.
I know that Sapphire’s strength, her empathy and her resolve are stronger than her child’s father’s neglect. And I want her to know that she has nothing for which to apologize. She can break that “cycle of brokenness” by acknowledging that she is one person parenting a future human being of the world with care and thoughtfulness; that she is an amazing parent.
As a Solo Mom, whose own children have not seen or spoken to their father (entirely through his own volition) in more than a decade, I often struggled with the pain and suffering I felt had marked my children. But the real fault is to ignore the difference, to mask the hurt, and to neglect the good that comes from one’s ability to choose to be there and to involve others in building a separate and different kind of family unit.
As Solo Moms, let us not carry blame and shame that is not ours. As hardworking, bighearted, and acutely conscious of our differences and of our Solo Mom identity as we are, we must not let a society, often prone to scapegoating a woman for her choices, force us to carry the father’s problems for him.
So thank you, Sapphire! And right back at you! We are the light! You are the inspiration. Sending you and your awesome child tons of hope and love!
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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