When my daughter, Addison, was younger, she said to me, “I don’t ever want to get married.”
I thought, skrrrrt! I’m a single mama but I am not a “men ain’t sh—” sort. So I said to her, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on. You don’t want this, trust.”
I am not trying to send this message! I don’t know if it was some sorta show of solidarity or just the model she had. I told her, “Yes, we’re alright but this is NOT ideal. I would love to have a partner to share my life with and to share you with. It just so happened not to work out that way.”
Or not work out, actually.
I explained to her that love is beautiful. It’s a feeling like no other. At first, it feels like your feet don’t touch the ground. But most important, love should not hurt.
It was so important to me to break the cycle. My mom was divorced. My dad was…my dad. I was so disappointed when I was unable to avoid it. All you want for your kids is to do better and be better than you. That includes the way they give and receive love.
So this past Valentine’s Day, I wanted to delve into the greatest love of all – our babies. There is nothing that compares to the realness, authenticity and intensity of this love.
Speaking for myself, that’s asking hard questions and doing the work. This includes owning my mistakes. How do I shape and mold her so that the trauma is kept to a minimum and the true love experience is at a maximum? How would I have loved and been loved differently?
I also wanted a single dad’s perspective. So I spoke with a friend, Rodric Miller, a single dad of two. His son lives with him while his son’s mom lives in California. His daughter lives in New York State with her mom.
For Rodric, the two primary pillars of parental love are presence and protectiveness. As a divorced parent, he did not want to be perceived as “typical” or, most certainly, not absentee.
“The presence of the man in the lives of our children [makes a difference]. My model was of divorced parents. I’m 46 years old and my mother never said anything negative about my father. Therefore, I could keep a relationship with him. I would see my father, we would hang out.
“But, in high school, at basketball banquets, for instance, I felt his absence. … Fathers are there with their sons and you’re there with your mom or by yourself. That’s something you can’t run to get at Dillard’s. So when my kids were on the other side of the country, I was determined not to be just a paycheck, but to be in his life and leave an imprint. … the same for my daughter. I fought for that right and it cost me dearly. But it’s a price I would pay again.”
I felt and do feel the same need with my daughter’s father being in Brooklyn. Being present and available for her has always been important.
Protection has been ingrained into our collective psyche as black parents since we landed on American soil in shackles. All parents are protective, but for black parents we seem to carry that historical trauma from generation to generation.
Being a parent to a coming-of-age black girl means keeping a watchful eye. I truthfully worry more about grown men than boys. And at whatever age, it means being an advocate at the doctor, at the school, in the community. She knows I got her back, front and sides!
Rodric elaborated, “The imagery of seeing your children’s father whipped, or tarred and feathered finds its way into the parenting model that lingers to this day. It’s survival. I tell my son, don’t wear a hoodie, you better have on a belt, hold your head up and be very clear and visible.”
One area that always creates a Mars-Venus dissonance is the way in which we communicate. Men don’t have time for all of those words! I talk to Addison all the time. She can always talk to me, even if I won’t like it.
I talk to her as honestly and age appropriately as possible about her dad and me. … She has to know that she was conceived and born in love. I also stay out of their way. My way of loving is for her to have ALL the love available to her from us both.
Another part of my approach is to make sure she stays close to her dad. I stay out of their way and let them have their time. … Dad is the first man to love you. He’s the blueprint.
If I am honest about my own dad, I was probably looking for love in all the wrong places, as the song goes. He loved me but not out loud if that makes sense. I didn’t know how much until after he died. … I don’t want that for her.
I WILL, however, be honest with her. This is her normal now, but I believe that she can flip the paradigm if we continue to carefully pour into her. What I won’t do is pass on the damage.
I posed this question to Rodric. How do are you demonstrative and how to you communicate the love to your children? Is it different with boys and girls? His response: “My son was my first born. Every man wants a mini me. So yes I do understand love but [with a daughter] it was like bold and underlined. …
“My daughter’s love language…it was so pure. She simply wanted to be with me. How can you not fight to be in their lives and to have that [purity]? She wants to be close to me, wanting nothing but my presence. …”
So the million-dollar question for us is how to you model love and healthy relationships if you’re not dating seriously or remarried? We want them to love and be loved better. Shaping that outlook starts early. Modeled behavior extends to your choice of partner too! What we ain’t gone model is THIRST, which leads to a string of “uncles” milling about. Nope.
Moreover, having a good relationship with the other parent is important as is working together and presenting as a team. Addison’s dad and I butt heads occasionally, but not in front of her. We want the same things for Addison but approach it from opposite poles! However, if you keep the kids as the bigger picture, then you can do it.