Judith Fleming adopted on her own. This month she wonders who’s the daddy her son made his Father’s Day card for?
My heart leapt into my mouth. I forced a smile.
The moment really brought me up short. Then I remembered myself, took the card from him and beamed about how beautiful it was. I mean, it really is a feat of engineering. I didn’t think that much glitter could stick on a card. But not for the first time I was forced to consider this unusual family I’ve created.
I adopted my son on my own. Not only is our single parent family unlike a ‘typical’ nuclear family, our single parent family isn’t even like other single parent families. We have no daddy to give the card to. There isn’t a daddy at home. There isn’t one my son visits at weekends. There’s just no daddy.
The card has lain on the windowsill ever since. Part of me wants to put it up and celebrate the endeavour that went into it. Part of me wants to claim it as mine – after all I am doing both jobs.
It’s not useful here to go into all the things my son will miss without a dad. Of course he needs role models, if for no other reason than someone needs to teach him to pee standing up. But what are the ups and downs of parenting alone?
“When I started the process of adopting, the enthusiasm from friends and family was in indirect proportion to the likelihood they would be asked to babysit.”
I live resentment-free. Of course, it will always be my turn to cook dinner. Ditto stand in the rain for football practice. Ditto everything else. As the poem goes, ‘Ask not for whom the child yells. It yells for thee’. But at least as I’m doing everything, I won’t be resenting my partner for not pulling his weight. I won’t be muttering ‘Seventh time in a bloody row I’ve done this. Seventh time’ under my breath as I yell my support from the sidelines.
I get my own way all the time – from what socks my son wears to which school he goes to. Luckily, this is wonderful because I am an excellent chooser of things. I never make bad choices. I mean, sure I’ve made a few slightly poor decisions in my time. I’ve had to be flown out of war zones because I’m not very good at not going on holiday in war zones. But I feel confident on choosing socks. And how important is school really?
There is no time off. There’s not a single weekend when my son is with his dad. When I started the process of adopting, the enthusiasm from friends and family was in indirect proportion to the likelihood they would be asked to babysit. Casual acquaintances thought it was a magnificent idea. My mother looked wild-eyed at the mention of it, as if I were suggesting donating my liver to science.
I can see her point now. Every time she bails me out (endlessly, constantly), I’m reminded that my model for single parenting simply hadn’t factored in that other single parents can share the care. It might be awkward (understatement), but it can be done.
“I chose to be a single parent. There was no terrible day when my partner walked out on us. And because of that, most of the time I forget I’m a single parent because I was never a coupled parent.”
The upside is that the bond I have with my boy is fantastic. People who know about separation anxiety and attachment say they can’t tell he’s adopted. The intensive time we spend together has rebuilt his sense of security. Poor boy can’t escape me.
I don’t get to share the tiniest moments of his childhood with someone who feels as passionately about my boy as I do. Social media has taught us that we don’t really do things for the doing of them, but for the sharing of them. My son likes to deliberately scatter Weetabix crumbs on the floor at breakfast just so he can justify getting the hoover out. It’s annoying. It’s really annoying. But I think this is probably one of the things I’d find funny if I were watching it with someone else. Probably. Maybe I’d just resent the fact that it’ll be me putting the hoover away again for the seventh time.
Reading this back, I recognise that I’ve unwittingly put a positive spin on all of this. I think that choice plays a large part in this. I chose to be a single parent. Nobody deserted me. Nobody left me holding the baby. There was no terrible day when my partner walked out on us. And because of that, most of the time I forget I’m a single parent because I was never a coupled parent. And through what is a pretty intense process, a large group of experts deemed me to be the best parenting option for my boy.
So, I know I should end this by saying that I’ve realised I am enough, that love is enough and that this lovely glitter splattered card reminds me of that. That I’ve now put the card up. But I haven’t done that. It’s still on the windowsill. Because no matter how much I might rationalise away the harder parts of our lives, this card serves as a reminder that no matter what I do right, there is a gap in my son’s life.
And that’s the hardest thing. One of the things I struggle with is when people tell me how lucky my son is to have me. He’s the most terrific boy. He should be in an enormous family with mums, dads, brothers, sisters, dogs and rabbits all overwhelming him with love. It’s hard not to feel inadequate.
All the love in my heart – with which I smother him every day until he squeals at me to stop – doesn’t feel enough. Maybe my son is lucky, but I wish he were luckier.
Catch up on the first part of Judith’s column here.
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Judith is one of those actor/writer/comedians you get nowadays.