(This post was written pre-COVID and during my original paternity case)
This morning, my daughter, yet again, wasn’t ready on time. She’s barely five. This happens, right? All parents know this. Right?
She suddenly doesn’t like going to school. Might have to do with her father and I finally splitting for good a few months ago. Might have to do with the preschool having her do more writing. Might be because she’s five and distractions are like air – everywhere and urgently necessary. Might be all of these things in varying amounts.
As parents, we adjust, right? When this was a problem two years ago, I started getting up earlier to allow more time for her to get ready. To minimize conflict and make mornings easier overall, even if I cursed my alarm with a new, vibrant vigor each morning. Even if her dad said, “Why would you do that? Just make her get ready on time.”
Here we are again. New year, same-but-different problems. She won’t get up earlier. No way. That’s one of the new parts of the problem: she now covers her head up with her blanket and says go away so she can try to lay in bed longer. And her bedtime is already between 7:00 and 7:30pm because I gave birth to a little Golden Girl who loves early suppers and early bedtimes. So what to do?
The last week and a half, I’ve been using nothing but natural consequences. I don’t nag or cajole or allow the tension to escalate (that and fighting about it doesn’t work anyway). I remind her of the time left and that whatever is left undone (eating, tooth brushing, hair brushing, getting dressed) will just remain undone and she will go to school in whatever state of readiness she is in when the clock says it is time to go. I’m not alone in this approach – her preschool reinforces the idea of natural consequences. We just went over this at her parent-teacher conference last month (where, by the way, I was her only parent to schedule and show up for a meeting).
Natural consequences: Life is full of them, am I right? I hear all you moms saying Amen. I do hear you.
This morning, she hid from me twice, playfully, instead of getting dressed. I went on with feeding the dogs, taking the dogs out, making breakfast, reminding her what needed to be done before leaving. When it was time to eat, she finally started getting dressed. As she ate, between bites, she dug out some pictures to look at, pulled out two Barbies to make dance, got an unfinished drawing out and asked about finishing it. She danced to the radio as she slowly chewed.
I gave ger time updates and reminded her I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, be late. I set a timer for the last five minutes as she nursed her last bites, choosing to finish eating over quickly brushing her teeth (I gave her the choice of what to leave undone).
Meanwhile, I could feel my own anxiety surfacing in my body, like a charge just under my skin. I took note of it and stayed calm and steady in my approach
It was the one day a week her dad picks her up and takes her to school, if he remembered (he did). For once, selfishly, I found myself wishing for his forgetfulness to save me the drama of his negative reactions to any kind of actual parenting. He would certainly have a scathing comment about whatever was left undone and would absolutely make sure he made some comment to me, either sideways or at full volume.
It’s been a rough time with that one. I’m currently compiling the evidence for a defamation case kind of rough. He’s had to carry my daughter away kicking and screaming for a visit because of the hostility he shows up with at pick up kind of rough. The judge had to actually tell him to stop leaving signs big enough for people across the street to read on my front door kind of rough.
And after a horrible few months before court, I had enjoyed a few weeks of just regular run-of-the-mill with him kind of rough, until he ramped it back up because I dared to ask to meet the woman who he has had for all the long holiday and birthday visits with my daughter, whose presence has made her cry in my arms in confusion and sadness in a way she hasn’t in at least two months. Because I dared to remind him that it’s too soon and also to call bullshit on this woman deciding to insert herself in my daughter’s life in such a big way but then say, of meeting me, that she’s “not ready”, he’s started the offense again.
She’s five. It’s been just over three months. It’s too soon. I hear all you mamas and your Amens. I do.
I also had started calling him what he has, sadly, proven to be: a deadbeat. I am awaiting completion of my child support case to see the first penny from him in months to help support his daughter. Not all fights are worth having, especially with someone who not only lies to play the victim, but enjoys hurting anyone he sees as trying to control anything, I am holding him accountable and doing that whole call a spade a spade thing because to not just enables this false image of himself (and me) that he’s worked for months and months to curate. Being held accountable means he’ll do what he always does when that happens: lash out.
I’m tired of my silence, in the name of higher roads, enabling his lies.
So I am left with even more uncertainty of what I will encounter when he shows up in the middle of some real life parenting.
As I felt the time slipping away and knew she was going to fight leaving on time and unready, I knew there would be a price to pay beyond the stress of the moment with her.
I knew that if I had to carry her out against her will, he would not only make false accusations of ‘abuse’ (seriously, no joke, any kind of real parenting inspires those kinds of emails from him to me and my lawyer), but that he would tell her something harmful and unnecessary. At best, he would tell her that he will fix everything (spoiler alert: he won’t, he never does) and that mommy is mean. He counters, even (especially) when he has no idea what is going on and the thought of what that has done and keeps doing to my daughter is what makes my chest ache and keeps me up at night.
The big betrayals? The big and small lies? So, so many of all of them in the years we were together. Those all hurt. But I am past the sting of them and can see that he is broken in some fundamental ways that hurt the people closest to him. I am past the pain of wishing he were someone else, for me. But I am still mired in wishing he was a better person for her sake. I am working on moving past that wish, too, as it will go the way of all birthday candle smoke and I have a child to raise and a life to resume now that he is no longer part of my personal life.
It’s this betrayal that hurts the most: the way his inability to understand what parenting actually entails makes his children confused and slower to be able to learn how to operate in the world, how to be good people, how to know what to trust and how to find the edges that parents are supposed to hold up for them. This hurts even more than the way I betrayed myself when I decided to have a child with him, not seeing this about him, along with the betrayal of him not doing the hard stuff ever.
That I have to make split second decisions about doing what is best, in the long term, for my child or giving up on that this one time so he doesn’t have ammo to fill her head with hurtful things, so my morning will not be harder just because he was there to hinder instead of help. That I have to weigh out which is worse for her: no lesson or the lesson that comes with a side of countering Dad’s bad talk about Mama.
I’m tough. I can take what he dishes out at me. He’s thrown his best and I am still strong – certainly stronger now that I am not fighting his attacks on the daily in my own home. But what his inability to see the long term goals does to his daughter, my daughter, is the toughest to endure.
Doubtlessly, she will ask me tonight about something he told her about me or my parenting and we will have another of those discussions I now regularly have with a five year old that I had hoped would never ever happen until she was an adult. (Last week, it was talking her through Daddy’s statement to her that “Mommy lies all the time”.)
For now, today, I will do what’s right and then weather the fall out. Even though he does start in on me the second he sees us come out the door, her crying in my arms as I get her into the car seat, because she doesn’t like the natural consequences. I will not be bullied out of giving her the best I can and so we will do the right thing no matter how much he gets in the way.
Each day I say this to myself to hold at bay the horrible knowledge that he will say absolutely anything about me to try to pull me down in the eyes of anyone still listening to him, especially his daughter.
It’s ok that she was crying when we left because she wanted to have brushed her hair before we left. It will have to be ok that he will tell her something that will slow down her learning the very natural lesson that if you don’t get ready in time, then you won’t be ready when it’s time.
Breathe, mama, breathe. Your little girl is learning another lesson at the same time as the one you are teaching her, one you wish she didn’t have to learn yet: that some people aren’t good at helping other people, especially when the helping is tough. She’s learning and you will keep on teaching her what’s right and helping her navigate the other stuff that unfortunately, for her, comes along with it.
Breathe, mama, you are doing just fine.
Can I get an Amen?