Friday, July 16, 2010

the perfect father

Lately, Liv and I have been struggling. We have been fighting arguing about everything from whether she should brush her extremely knot-filled hair before departing for the day to whether older sisters are 'allowed' to speak to their younger brothers in a hatred filled voice to whether it is her job to clean up her mess. She claims that my requests for daily self-care (teeth brushing, semi-clean clothes wearing, etc.) are demands upon her body which I have no right whatsoever to impose....and that this is exactly why nature has so much trouble supplying humans with their 'needs' because society has created an unreal ideal of human hygiene (If you are confused, don't worry - I don't totally get the rationale either).
I am holding my breath wondering what Liv is going to find issue with far too often for my liking. I am emotionally exhausted and communication/NVC/positive parenting deficient.

Recently, Liv has started to not just fly off the handle with anger over the injustice of expectations upon her body, the needs of others in the household or my desire to have a calm and communicative homelife....but at the idealized image she holds of her father and my perceived shortcomings.
She regales me with reasons that I am less of a favourable parent to her father. I don't play with her enough. I yell more than he did. I don't love her as much as her daddy did.
The ironic and most painful part of this is that although Jeff was a kind, funny and loving father, he was not always hands-on. He would wrestle with Liv. Or snuggle on the couch watching a movie. He'd occasionally make something with her in the garage. He loved to listen to her read or hear her tales of daily life on the phone weekly while he was fishing.
But I was the one who cuddled her to sleep and got up with her in the middle of the night. I wasn't holed up in the garage drinking beer and watching WWF. I was mixing the homemade playdough and kissing away 'owies'. I knew what size of shoes she wore and how far up she liked her coat zipped.
He was a fabulous daddy. But the image she has of him is just not accurate. And I am being compared to a 'saint'.
One evening of overly expressed dislike of my inadequencies as a parent I (remarkably) calmly told Liv of her father. I explained that he was a fabulous guy and my very best friend whom I loved with all my heart and wished with every part of my being that he would be back with us. BUT that he was a real person. He made mistakes and lost his temper and sometimes stunk like B.O. He didn't like how I loaded the dishwasher and ate pickles straight out of the jar. It doesn't mean he was 'bad' or 'mean' or 'unkind'....just that he was like the rest of us. 'Real'.
With horror on her little angry face, she told me that I was never to talk 'mean' about her daddy ever again. That he was 'perfect'.
And really, he was. He was perfectly him....But I hope that one day, and not TOO far away, she can see that I am perfectly me....and I am trying the best I can to do the job that he and I used to do together.

I do not want to take Liv's love or admiration for her daddy. I don't want her to ever stop thinking that he was wonderful and hilarious. But why does it have to come at the cost of her love and devotion to me?


  1. My daughter went through a stage where her late father was "perfect" and as hard as it was to set the record straight - I did - over and and over until she understood that while he loved her and was a great guy, perfection he wasn't.

    I decided early that he was not going to be put on a pedestal or the facts misrepresented because it was easier.

    And I put a cold stop to her playing the "daddy card" on me whenever I asked her to do something she didn't want to do or I reprimanded her. I pointed out that she was being unfair and manipulative and that she would not be using her dead father to control me. I was the mom; she was the kid. I win.

    And it was hard, exhausting and heart-rendering but she no longer plays those games with me.

    Patience. This too will pass.

  2. To be honest, I see this a lot in child welfare as well. No matter how well the children are treated by their kin parents or foster parents, the children believe that their natural parents (the ones they no longer live with often due to abuse, neglect, substance use ect) are much more loving, kind, caring and "perfect". This is a normal stage of grief for children (for death or separation, also seen in divorce). Thank you for this post and know that you are not alone. (I was typing out all these ideas and strategies however decided that it was unasked for advice and i should just appreciate you sharing this).

  3. Some day Liv will realize that you are and will always be there for her, and that her anger is the result of her daddy laving her.

  4. Oh my dear,
    I hope you know that you are an excellent parent. I am sure that you are doing the very best that you can.
    Perhaps the sainthood of daddy is part of Liv's grief - she may need to go through this and come out the other side? But she was so young when her daddy was part of her life that she may never have a full picture of him as a person. You can do that for her when she is older. Children see adults as pretty 2 dimensional until they hit their teen years when they can really fathom what it is to be a full human being. What a struggle this must be for you.
    I have a motto/mantra that I developed when my children were young and find that it still holds true today! Perhaps it will help you - it is really simple: "This too shall pass".
    Keep loving yourself.

  5. I, too, am waiting for "some day" to arrive. Some day, in the future, they will realized that I did a great job .... all on my own. Or at least that I did my best I could amid my circumstances. That's all I can hope for. Well, that and that they'll have children who will cause them to one day say, "Mom, I am SO sorry for all that I put you through!". Jim is on a very high pedestal for my teenagers. All of the negative aspects of his parenting have miraculously disappeared from their memory. He was a saint. I think that pedestal will slowly get shorter. Hopefully anyway. Yes, it will pass. Please, God! :)

  6. I am so there with you! I know my sons wish it had been me sometimes, instead of their dad who died. Then later, they secretly feel guilty about that. I know it, they've said it, we've talk about it and moved on.

    I am the parent that is present now, the parent who they hurl their anger toward...but it is not just because I am the only parent available to make the catch. It is because they know that I will love them no matter what and that it is safe to be angry toward me. I will be their target because they know I will always stick with them, just as your Liv knows the same.

    I often have to remind myself that my husband was far from perfect. I try to talk about things like his annoying habits at random, not in the middle of a heated conversation. It makes our thoughts of his human-ness more clear in the neutral moments and less defensive in the daily moments of difficulty and struggle.

    Hang in there!

  7. With this post you're my "sista from another mista" and have described my house to a "T". The fact that you are so aware of what's really going on tells me that you're more than on top of things...even though it doesn't feel like it and you (we) are exhausted. As many have already commented, your doing a great job and are an awesome mom and your daughter WILL one day acknowledge that. Meanwhile I'm praying my daughter gets married and has ten kids. :-)

  8. It is uplifting to see others in similar situations to myself! Okay, I am not saying it is great that we are all widows, but it is comforting to read others' stories and know that I am not alone. Sending hugs and positive thoughts to you all.

  9. It is so difficult not to put my husband up on that pedestal myself that I can see my (grown) children doing that too. We do try to talk about his faults (usually with humor) so we can all stay grounded. I'm so thankful my guys are grown and can be more realistic. I would also say "hang in there". It's hard enough to raise children without having grief play such a large role. If it means anything - I can remember those times when my boys were growing up where I loved them dearly; I just didn't like them very much at that particular moment. :-)