How do you manage as a single parent when your children have very different experiences with their fathers? Single mum of three Naomi shares her story.
I have three children. My daughters are nine and six and share a father. My son is two and his father is different. With different fathers comes different experiences.
My daughters see their father for a few hours every other Saturday whilst my son usually spends two nights each week at his dad’s house. The disparity in contact has caused quite a lot of friction, as my older two children have often tearfully asked why their daddy doesn’t see them as much as their brother sees their dad or why they have never slept overnight with their dad.
This has been hard for me to explain because to be honest, I really do not want them to know that the reason that their dad doesn’t have them as often is simply because he doesn’t want to. Instead I go down the ‘Daddy is busy’ route and at the moment that seems to pacify them, although I am aware that the older they get, the more my girls might start to question me.
Both of my children’s fathers have new partners and this adds another layer of complexity to an already complicated schedule. Any plans that are made for me and my children occasionally have to be checked with the diaries of not only my children’s fathers, but their new partners, and other children’s schedules.
In lots of ways it has worked out well for me that I have daughters with my ex-husband and a son with my ex-partner because when my son is with his dad, the girls and I tend to have a girls night and do the kind of things that their brother isn’t keen on.
We watch the kind of films we like, paint our nails and make all kinds of face masks using the contents of the kitchen cupboards. We do all of the things that are usually harder with a toddler at home. (This also includes eating all of the dairy in the world as my little boy is dairy-free, so we often avoid it when he is home meaning that pizza and ice-cream is always on the menu for girls night.) I hope that having lots of special time with Mummy helps to lesson the blow of not spending as much time with their dad. I’m really not sure how this would work if my youngest was also a girl.
One of the hardest things for me about having children with different fathers is having to parent in two completely different ways.
I really do not want them to know that the reason that their dad doesn’t have them as often is simply because he doesn’t want to.
My daughters’ dad has always been hands-off, even when we were married, so I have never had to involve him in any parenting decisions. To be honest, I doubt he knows what school they go to, and until recently he didn’t know where we lived as we had moved and he wasn’t interested in finding out where to. (Handovers are done in a public place away from my home.)
With my son, it is very different and his father is very involved in his life. Having to share the decision making process is new to me and it has caused some issues as I often forget to consult his dad because it’s just not something that I am used to.
My daughters’ father does not and never has contributed financially towards their upbringing. By contrast my son’s father pays a set amount of monthly maintenance and when we split, because my ex works full-time in contrast to my part-time, we also agreed that he would additionally pay for everything that my son needs with regards to clothes, shoes and any bigger purchases.
The main reason that we came to this agreement was because my son’s dad knows that as I am the only person providing for my daughters, sometimes I struggle financially. My ex-partner paying for our son’s items means that my funds only need to be split two ways instead of three and also means that I can provide my girls with everything they need and some of what they want.
Whilst this approach is appreciated, I do wonder how my kids will see it when they get older. Will my son resent me as I rarely buy him anything because I know his dad will meet his needs and I need to provide for his sisters? Will my girls feel left out because their dad doesn’t buy them anything? There are so many questions that I just don’t have the answers for.
Different fathers means different extended families and different values. My son has a large extended family whom he sees regularly, whereas my daughters have had no contact with their paternal family for over six years. As materialistic as it sounds, this makes Christmas and birthdays a little difficult as it appears that my son is inundated with gifts, whilst my girls have less as their gifts only come from my side.
To combat any unnecessary hurt, the agreement in place is that anything that is given to my son by his dad’s family stays at his dad’s house. As my son gets older this may be tricky to manage, but I hope that as my girls will be teenagers then, it might be easier for them to understand the differences even if they never accept why they do not have a birthday gift from Daddy, when their sibling does from his dad.
Will my son resent me as I rarely buy him anything because I know his dad will meet his needs and I need to provide for his sisters?
The fact that my three children have two different fathers and, if you count the inclusion of mine, three different surnames between them, is something that I admit I am not entirely comfortable with. I felt that all of my kids deserved to know who their father is and have a link to him. This is a personal choice that I often struggle with because as my children look so alike that it isn’t usually noticed that they have different fathers until their names are written down.
I love all of my children equally, and there is no concept of half-siblings in our house, but I sometimes have a niggling feeling of shame that I found myself a single mum with two ‘baby daddies’. Often, I laugh at myself in a self-deprecating manner as a way to deflect the embarrassment that I feel. Yet I’m pretty sure that my ex-partner, who has exactly the same family set up as me, probably doesn’t get judged in the same way, proving that once again the stigma surrounding single mothers is as prevalent as ever.
I try hard to ensure that even though their experiences with their respective fathers are vastly different, all three of my kids experience equality in Mummy’s house. Each child has their own special 1:1 time with Mummy during the bedtime routine and family days out are arranged for the days when we are all together. Nobody misses out.
The theme of equality runs through my house and I extend this to how I treat and refer to my children’s fathers. Whilst I am not exactly best friends with either of them, I have to be honest and admit that I have a lot more respect for my son’s dad, primarily because he is a good father.
I find it really hard to think kind thoughts about my daughters’ dad when I consider the daily challenges he brings to my life and the way that he consistently lets my kids down. However, I try to mask my personal feelings as I wouldn’t want my girls to think that I hate their dad – he’s part of them – whilst I love their brother’s dad. Both dads are spoken about in the same way. I am civil and polite to both. I do neither of them any favours and contact/collection/drops are organised in exactly the same way. Both of the fathers have the same opportunities to see their children, it’s just that my son’s dad takes them whereas my daughters’ dad does not.
Until their brother was born, my girls didn’t really realise that their dad was as absent as he is. It wasn’t until they saw how much their brother sees their dad that they realised that there was a possibility of seeing your dad for more than a few hours every other week. I worry that this will affect their self-esteem and they will grow up feeling abandoned in some way. Right now I feel helpless and as if all that I can do as a mum is to notice the differences and do everything in my power to counteract them as much as possible.
Read more from Naomi on her blog, Naomi Jemima.