I remember with specificity the types of things my dad taught me growing up: how to track mileage on a road trip, how to budget and save money, how to change the oil and filter in my car after rotating the tires, how to use the edger and weed whacker, how to color in circles to make my pictures neater, how to take care of my hamster, and how to finish my teenage bedroom in the basement. I remember these things so clearly because learnings from my dad were special. Time with my dad was special. My dad taught me things my mom didn’t. My dad talked to me differently than my mom. My dad simultaneously steeled and softened me.
This past weekend a friend of mine struggling through divorce was sadly relaying to me that he was “allowed” only 6 hours with his two young daughters on Father’s Day. This man is a devoted dad, who passed on a Pinterest tip to me to make glitter balloon balls after they were wildly successful with his own daughters. I couldn’t help but wonder why this mom wouldn’t “allow” her daughters to spend an entire glorious day with their dad.
I shudder to think about if my childhood circumstances had been different and my parents had divorced. What if my mom had decided that because she was a stay-at-home mom, that my dad somehow had less value to me and my life and had decided my time should be limited to six hours on a Sunday. What if my dad had not been afforded the opportunity to take me to the hobby shop on the Air Force base and teach me about car maintenance or to play raquet ball with me? My mom and dad are very different. They parented me differently. They were respectively better and worse and different parenting teachers. But I am a whole person because I benefited from the strengths and weaknesses of them both.
I find that very often in the midst of divorce, parents are so at odds with each other and focused on protecting their children that they become shortsighted in seeing the harm in monopolizing time to the detriment of the other parent. If parents thought back to their own childhoods and thought “What if my dad had been absent?” Or if he was, would you have wanted it differently? If the father of your children wants to be an active and involved dad, what is the harm to your child? Is your fear for them, or about you? Is the worry that they will be harmed or is it that they will like dad better? Is it that he doesn’t do it right or that his doing it differently will be okay?
I know these fears because I have held them myself as a mother of divorce. What if they like his house better? What if he is more fun? What if he has more money to do things? What if on their first skiing trip they break their legs? What if they learn to ride a bike and I miss it? What if they like his cooking better? What if he yells at them and I am not there to comfort them? What if he doesn’t make them wearing matching socks? (He never did.)
I encourage all parents to critically evaluate their motives for denying the other parent reasonable access to your children. What are your “what ifs”?
My daughters never wore matching socks from dad’s house and they didn’t break their legs on the ski trip. What if I had stood in the way and as a result, they hadn’t figured out their own sense of style or tried something new that their mother still hasn’t been brave enough to try? I would have deprived them for the sake of me. I would have denied them their special learnings from their dad. I would have stripped away the coveted place of being daddy’s girls.