Parental Major / Parental Minor

During the initial stages of divorce you are forced to break down parenting duties into very impersonal numbers; “child 1 and child 2 are henceforth declared to be in the custody of parent 1 65% of the time and parent 2 35% of the time”. When you’re married you are simply a parent. There is no real break down in time or responsibility. Even if I have to work from 9 to 5 to pay the bills with only evenings and weekends to hit the park scene or build a Lego death star, I’m still considered an equal parent to the stay at home mom that suffers through multiple mealtimes and pickup patrol throughout the day.  I am the dad, with the sacred privileges and duties that come along with that. No matter if I’m bread winner or caregiver, my parental role is unique.

Once those impersonal legal numbers of are defined though everything starts to change. The distinction now is painfully evident to my kids. I can no longer emerge from my office to scoop them up for an adventure in the backyard or crash a tea party already in progress. Now, just as they are getting settled into whatever is keeping them entertained at mom’s house they are told to stop suddenly, pack up a few precious possessions and prepare for the trip to dad’s house. Their attitude for this transition I’m sure is mixed; sometimes they may really look forward to the change and sometimes not so much (I gauge this only from my experience on the other side). For my older son he can vocalize either reaction, but also we had enough experience together under the same roof that out relationship is pretty well established. My younger daughter though probably does not remember much before the divorce, so daddy is someone who lives outside her home. In her mind mommy is the main parent. Not only does she spend the majority of her time with mommy but there’s also the obvious bit about younger ones just needing that mommy-bond. Ok fine, mommies are always number one at that age right?! But again it’s different when the distinction is made so evident. When you’re under the same roof, the little ones may be thinking, “Who is this other person who gets me stuff and lets me drool all over him. He’s not my mommy but mommy seems to like him, and we’re ok with anything mommy’s like”.

Things start to get even more interesting once we introduce more parents into the mix; step parents. A title already made prickly by so much bad press, becomes more pokey when viewed from both sides of the split. In our household, we try to embrace the title for each others’ kids. We want to give them some label to attach to our new partners without stepping (pun intended) on any toes. I don’t want them simply calling me by my first name, but I also want to keep sacred the name and title of “daddy” for their biological dad. That all seems perfectly rational when I’m the one making the distinction but any mention from my kids of their “step-dad” makes me break out in hives,… and by hives I mean an irrational juvenile anger that spawns competing desires to either kick him in the balls or deeply embarrass him with a well-timed pantsing.

They say a child benefits from every additional person that loves them. That’s all well and good, and I guess on the surface I really have no problem with that part. For me it’s more about my ever diminishing role as dad for my own kids. How is my youngest supposed to understand the distinction now? It’s one thing for me to be their only dad, and just living outside their home, but accepting that the role of dad, in any degree, is now being played by someone else when they are not with me just grates on my happiness.

Really though it’s not his fault; No matter how appealing the groin shot or the public humiliation I need to consider that he’s doing nothing wrong. As far as I know he’s not actively trying to diminish my role or steal my title. I need to keep this in mind and be empathetic on both sides, understanding how hard it must be for the father of Nicole’s kids being away from his kids and understanding that the step-dad to my kids is doing the best he can. It’s my own damaged ego that’s really at play here anyway. I am mad that my ex, through her actions, has forever altered the relationship that I will have with my kids.   It’s different now and I just need to accept that.

Back here on the home front I am the minor parent with my kids but share the major parent role with the other kids and so I’m the minor parent to the major parent (or in Office terms my title is not “assistant major parent” but rather “assistant TO the major parent”). My authority and jurisdiction are bestowed on a case by case basis. Often times I’m no better than the 7 year old “informant” who just tattles on the other kids and suggests, in a passive-aggressive way, that they get severely busted. Granted I never envision myself as the “Father Knows Best” head of the family type who sits behind his desk in the study and dispenses justice to his wobbly kneed offspring who have been sent in after repeated threats of “just wait until your father gets home!” I don’t want to be the “bad cop” in this scenario. I’m fine with “passive-aggressive, tattling cop”.  And I guess underneath all the ego/anger issues I’m really ok with all of the parental roles I’ve been given. I just need to focus less on the numbers that label me a lesser parent and instead focus on how much I can give to all the kids in my life with whatever time I share with them.

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