Let's find the chase and cut to it: It is very hard to replace what a parent brings to a child's life. In today's society of separation, custody arrangements, visitation and the like, dealing with parental placement in a child's life is nothing new. What I'd like to focus on, however, is the word parent and what it means to be one.
- A parent supports the development of their children;
- A parent supports the other parent to the degree the other parent supports the development of their children;
- A parent is present when it matters, both literally and figuratively.
A lot of people that have children do not exude these qualities. In these cases, I do not refer to them as a parent. I take the same approach to how I define a man versus a male or a female versus a woman. The attributions of a male are strictly anatomical, but to be considered a man, there are a set of traits that must be present. Is he honorable? Does he SWIM backward a.k.a say what I mean and mean what I say? It is a privilege to be a man just as it is to be a parent and not everyone is, shall we say, privileged. Of course, these are my humble views, and while I would love to wave a wand and make them the views of the masses, the reality is, we keep people in the parenting picture regardless of what they do (or don't) and how present they are in the lives of their children. There are a few reasons for this.
- We believe in second, third and fourth chances. In this, it is the view of some that everyone can change.
- Children love unconditionally and are not always reticent of what's really going on. They want their mom or their dad, and parents want to abide.
- There still are societal views that what mom does cannot be replicated by dad and vice versa.
I will take a detour and note my absolute disagreement with the third reason noted above. In the workplace when we associate specific traits to genders and identify workplace roles and competencies accordingly, it's discrimination. At home, we chalk the same generalizations to gender roles, comforts, science and social traditions. It is a dangerous position to relegate the capabilities of an entire gender based on antiquated views. But back to the matter at hand. What do we do when one half of the parenting equation is not, in fact, parenting? What if they are, in fact, damaging the family unit? Do we keep them around and, if so, to what degree and to what end? And, what are the impacts in doing so?
Children witnessing poor parenting and poor personhood in action can have a significant impact. Growing up, children believe what they see and believe what they hear. What do we allow our children to witness and model when we keep the 'parent' in the picture? Some refer to this as the subtraction by addition factor. Simply put, exposing children to a bad 'parent' can actually subtract from their positive development because of the influence and aforementioned modeling. We like to believe that any time between a child and their father is positive or 'better than nothing,' and yet there are reasons why there was a breakup or divorce. And yet, there is a reason why we second guess their involvement and participation in our child's life.
What about you? Do you want to have the father in the picture for your kids? This is an easy yes if he is a parent and a man. If, on the other hand, there are more doubts than assurances, more negatives than positives, that's a bird of a different feather. If you're having a difficult time making a decision about this, have a presumptive conversation with yourself. Let me explain. Presumptive communication is the act of putting an end state (keeping the 'parent' in the picture for example) on the table, presuming the potential effects and exploring them to determine the disposition of the end-state.
Potential end state: "I'm going to let Mark see Nathan and Jennie every other week on Tues and Thursday nights"
- "What if Nathan never does his homework on those nights because Mark doesn't establish boundaries and rules?"
- "What if Mark started off punctual and engaged but it trails off quickly? How would that effect Jennies psyche? Will she think it's her fault?"
- "What would I tell my parents if something happened to Nathan because Mark was being reckless? Worse yet, what if I knew that Mark had these tendencies? What would I tell myself?"
- "Will I have to ride Mark all the time about talking to his children when they are together? He's never seemed that interested in their lives or development before?"
If these sound like questions you are agonizing over after putting the end state on the table, you want and need to think long and hard about pushing to have that person you had a child with into the picture. And yes, I've reverted to not calling them a parent because in some cases, they have not earned that privilege.
photo credit: A Mom and Her Twin Girls via photopin (license)