There Is No Box

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There is No Box

Fit neatly into the little area we have reserved for you.  That’s the general message.

It’s abundantly clear, though, that there is no box to fit into for parenting.

On a regular basis I comb the internet, magazines and news subscriptions in an effort to plumb the information superhighway for ideas for my weekly column for Rene Syler’s Good Enough Mother.  I’ve started to see a trend.  Not a trend that has a pattern of how things are done.

The trend is the lack of a trend.

“Helicopter Parents, You’re Grounded!”  That was one headline.

“Why I Make No Apologies for Being a Helicopter Parent” is another.

“Gwyneth Paltrow Parenting Tips” or “North West left to Babysitter” crowd in there at times, too.

I started to notice something a few years ago that I really had thought was just me in the throngs of grief over-reacting to things.  I’ve decided, after much deliberation, anger, acceptance, resentment, thought, debate and many other emotions and actions that it’s unfortunate but true.

Right after my wife, Andrea, passed away in 2011 the closest of our friends were there to help us.  I don’t mean help in terms of take over the house and do everything for us I mean help in the close, dear friends who want to make things right kind of help.

The most common thing I got, though, was a barrel full of assumptions.  The most of them referred to my parenting.

The majority assumptions were that I would or was already failing.  It wasn’t because they knew how I acted, reacted, or understood the task ahead of me.  The world basically has the wiring that single parents will be overwhelmed, tired, and face an impossible task.  If you’re a single Dad with full custody of your kids or – as in my case – raising the kids alone due to your spouse’s death, then you’re just doomed.

I got a lot of comments like “Abbi (my oldest daughter) must do just SO much for you!”  She did.  She did not, however, become surrogate Mom for my kids.  Abbi wanted to help but the reality was my kids went to an after school program until 6pm.  My daughter picked them up, brought them home, and then I was home in a half hour.  I cooked, cleaned, hugged, dried tears, fixed wounds – both physical and emotional – and started all over again the next day.  Abbi’s biggest help was the fact that she could drive the kids from place to place.  That’s no joke.  It was worth it’s weight in gold, that driver’s license.

The assumption still hangs.  “Did you help your Dad get a Thanksgiving dinner?”  This is the question my kids are asked.  “No,” is generally their answer.  “Dad does almost all the cooking.  He’s a good cook!”

The incredulous looks they get frighten me sometimes.

I learned from amazing parents.  I was told to learn to cook and forced to learn by my mother.  I’ve never been so thankful for it in my life.  I know how to clean, cook, do laundry, all of that from the examples given me.

When Andrea passed away I was certainly shaken.  At a certain point, though, I came to the table.  I wasn’t going to let my kids falter or fail and I was going to give them the example that just because bad things happen doesn’t mean the world has ended.  We may have suffered loss but we could see a rebirth, taking the loss as a jumping off point to walk another path.  We couldn’t go on as we were so why should we try?

My kids have been frustrated for some time because there’s an assumption that things are just awful.  There’s an assumption, my sons have told me, that I must just be going mad trying to do it all.  Sure.  I do go mad, but I was doing that when my wife was alive, too.  If anything, loss and single parenting taught me that you just have to sacrifice some things to get by.  They also see that as much as we are together, sometimes I need to do things with other adults.

The assumption is that a Dad isn’t wired to do this.  Not enough caring, listening, Venusian knowledge (or is it Martian?  I never read the book) to do this.  They already beat down single mothers.  Single Dads cannot possibly know how to do it.  That doesn’t fit in the box.

But after looking for inspiration for articles I came to the conclusion that nobody has a real idea.  Doctor Spock didn’t even have kids when he wrote the damn books.  Movie stars have chefs and nannies.  Some over-schedule, some under-schedule and others cater to every whim of their kids.  None of them are wrong is what I’ve determined.

It’s what works – works being the key word – for you that’s important.

There is no box.

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