I have a friend, a single-mom, who anguishes every time she's about to collect her girl from a weekend with Dad. Dad has more resources than she does. Her little girl comes home angry and unkind. She'll soften and settle in, but the initial rejection is devastating to my friend. "I can't compete," she moans.
Boy, do I get that. I couldn't compete either... with him or with her.
Roy was my ex. The fun one. He had the kids for short periods of time that tended, for the first few years, to be devoted to recreation. Later, they helped him build a house. But Roy could make even tarring a building into a happy memory. Meanwhile, I had them for the daily grind.
Diane was my stepson's mom. The perfect one. She died when he was three, and it hurt when I heard my husband tell my stepson that no-one would ever be able to fill her place. I believe I was willing. I didn't believe I was allowed.
I couldn't compete. But parenting is not a competition. It's ministry. It's not about my need to be affirmed or validated. It's about their need to be loved, grounded, nurtured and prepared. And they need to be surrounded by the love of both their parents, not torn to bits by competing claims.
Fortunately for both my stepson and myself, his mother had been my friend. I had some pretty strong assurances that I was the one she had chosen to raise her boy in her place. And that she was trusting me to give her love to him, like in the Michael McLean song "God's Arms to My Arms to Yours." I learned that I could be a channel for her love. At times when I was feeling hurt by conflict with my stepson, I could give him a hug from his angel mom. And he could accept it. I could give him presents on his birthday from her, as well as from me. And then he had the love of two moms. The perfect one who saw everything he did and just loved him. And the imperfect one, knee-deep in mortal concerns, who got to help him with his homework and correct problem behaviours. He needed both.
Not so with Roy. He had been my best friend; I had adored him. He'd become my enemy; I was afraid of him. When we split, he was unstable and I, full of terrors. For years, when I sent my children into his care I was so afraid for them that I could hardly move. I sat for hours, overwhelmed by the crushing weight of that fear. At first, supervised visits gave me some security, but Roy proved himself to the supervisors and gained unsupervised access. That terrified me and when the children started asking questions about our breakup, saying that if I didn't tell them, they'd believe what Daddy was saying, I panicked. I couldn't tell them those ugly details without damaging them. But silence threatened to damage their trust in me.
I took recourse to the scriptures. I was struck by the Lord's directive to "resist not evil." I couldn't protect my children by trying to combat their dad. I could only protect them by establishing righteousness. I couldn't control what happened in his care, but I could surround them by so much light and love when they were in mine that they would be able to discern right from wrong, day from night. And then I could pray for angels to be with them when they were outside of my care. That was the best I could do. It gave me a great deal of peace.
I also learned that part of establishing righteousness was helping them to connect with all the good in their dad. And there was lots of that. Much more than I was able to see at the time. I could honour his love for animals, and his kindness to the homeless. If I could go back, though, I would honour more. I hope I'd be better at swallowing down my frustration if, for instance, he took them on a grand vacation while falling behind on child support. I'd like to say, "Wow. Your dad is so fun! Isn't it great that he makes his time with you so special?"
That would not have been teaching them that it's okay to neglect your obligations and spend your money on fun. Sure, that might be how I'd see the situation, but the kids wouldn't need to know that. What they needed was to be free to appreciate what he was giving them. And they needed to see me appreciating it too. They needed to hear me rejoice to see his good qualities reflected in them.
The good news is, it's not too late. Roy is still in their lives, still has good qualities, and probably still feels at least as threatened by me as I do by him. In fact, my writing this blog is, itself, a threatening act. So, lest I place my children in jeopardy once again of having their loyalties torn to pieces, I'll be working doubly hard on appreciating their Dad and letting my kids know it. Because parenting is not supposed to be a competition. It's about closing the gaps; securing our children in love.
(Originally posted April 16, 2020)