The Gifts of Hindsight and Being Equipped with the Right Tools
This guest blog is from one of NFRC’s adult parent peer counselors. Her story is compelling and powerful, and out of respect for her family’s privacy, we will call her TC.
When my daughter’s father and I separated, the first thing I did once I got my breath, was look at the statistics. As an African-American child from a [now] single-parent family, they were dismal. I made the decision then and there that since she had no input and no control over ending up in the situation that she currently had found herself in, I would do my best to make future decisions that took her outcomes into consideration as well. And the most important choice that I could make that would ensure her most favorable outcome was to make sure she maintained a relationship with her father.
“I desperately wanted to retaliate, to withhold her interaction with him, but even as I savored the thought, those statistics had an annoying way of popping up to the forefront of my mind.”
Over the years that has not always been easy. The first hurdle came when her father stopped paying child support after only six months. This action only served to reinforce my reasons for leaving and fuel my still bubbling stew of anger. I desperately wanted to retaliate, to withhold her interaction with him, but even as I savored the thought, those statistics had an annoying way of popping up to the forefront of my mind. I’d seen enough Maury Povich and Judge Judy to understand that there was a connection between demanding child support from an errant father and lack of a relationship between said father and child. So I held back. However, still dissatisfied and searching for a happy medium, I sought advice from people who had gone through the same situation. The story that resonated most profoundly came from my sister-in-law, whose father left almost before she could remember and who seemed to effortlessly manage my beloved brother’s most off-putting ways. I was drawn to her emotional healthiness and knew I wanted the same for my daughter. She told me her mother had made decisions that many women would not have supported, which included paying his way so that he could see his children even when she and the children moved from Haiti to the United States. It seemed extreme to me, but I craved that emotionally healthy outcome. So I chose not to pursue the child support payments and not to withhold contact.
“. . . but I craved that emotionally healthy outcome.”
Over the years I have paid for that decision— literally, emotionally, and spiritually. My daughter, however? . . . not so much. She is currently a high school senior and until a few months ago, although she still didn’t have the ‘longed-for’ and ‘ideal’ father-princess relationship with her dad, she did have enough of a relationship with him to be well equipped to face the world. Academically strong, socially conscious and outspoken, and emotionally stable though still somewhat fragile when it comes to him, I’m proud of who she’s become. And as I look back the choices I made seem uncomplicated. They served to shield my child from the ravages of life before she might have been ready to face them.
We’re in a different struggle now and writing this blog has helped me put a face to it. What was a child-friendly decision at seven, may be a child-adverse decision at 17. As she stands on the threshold of adulthood, is the best decision to continue to shield her, or is it better to allow her face the storms and offer support as she struggles to find her own umbrella? I am beginning to see the benefit of the latter, as we navigate our most recent struggle. It involves both of us as parents, for the first time, includes her as a participant, and centers around the next steps in her education. I am a bit rattled, seeing her stressed beyond her comfort zone in this arena. I don’t know how it will be resolved, but I have come to understand that at this point, sometimes the most appropriate child-focused decision may be to allow her to make the decision and support her through its ramifications. In the end, having a full set of skills to gracefully weather storms is probably the most child-focused gift I can give her.