I found becoming a single parent scary and intimidating. No matter that I was used to handling the kids on my own, it was the fact that there was no other parent in the house with whom I could tag team. Gone was the parent who could respond to one child while I was helping the other and lacking the ability to be in two places at once, I had to learn that it was OK to ask for help.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to my next guest, Kyle Bradford who’s known on the web as “ChopperPapa.” Kyle was married for just under seven years and at the time of his divorce, his two children were aged two and nine months. He found that caring for his children was much less of a challenge than dealing with other people’s reactions. Here’s Kyle:
First off, it was mortifying. I relied heavily on family. All of the friends that we had when we were married were with her—I literally walked out of my marriage with maybe three friends total. I was at a loss there. It was a very humiliating experience for me.
I can still remember this day and it’s going to be sad, but it’s the truth. I remember early on, taking my kids to dinner somewhere at a restaurant and at the time when your kids are that young, if one of you has to go to the bathroom, you all have to go to the bathroom. You don’t just leave them sitting there.
“I’ve got a girl and a boy. I got a girl, where do I go? What do I do?”
She came with me. She went into the men’s room. What choice did she have?
I would find a stall. I’d have to always do a stall and fortunately I would usually find the handicap stall, because it’s really big and I would put her in the corner. I would tell her to turn around and look in the corner for a moment. My son was giggly in his car carrier. Not kidding, in his car carrier sitting there on the floor next to his sister while I used the bathroom. It was painful.
I remember imagining a time that I was a widower, that their mother had died. I’m not lying, because I was humiliated that I was a single father with two children as young as they were. With that mindset, you can probably well imagine what it was like having to rebuild and do all these things for my kids.
I’m a proud person anyway, it’s just humiliating. I felt like a failure because I was a single dad with two young kids who just couldn’t keep it together.
Fortunately, I was pretty involved when I was a married dad, so I knew the size of the nipples they needed. I knew how to make formula. I knew how to do all of that stuff. It really wasn’t a situation where I was caught like in a deer in headlights. It was just a matter of having to go out and do it. I remember going out and buying the Diaper Genie and all that other stuff.
My daughter now is in middle school, so there’s not anything to do there. It’s a little bit uncomfortable, because if you take a look at the progression of divorce when it happens, you don’t see a lot of kids whose parents divorced when they’re in the first and second grade. When they get to the eighth and ninth grade, it’s a completely different situation, right?
Half of them are divorced by that point. But in elementary school, it’s not like that. So, it was very uncomfortable at least for me, because she was dating someone else, they got engaged and they got married, so they had kind of set up their own little family. I would go to their school, either for parent teacher conference or any sort of like school event, play or concert or whatever, I always felt like the outsider. Always.
There’s probably few things more depressing than meeting one of your kids’ friends parents for the first time and them asking if you’re the uncle.
I can tell you that over the course of years I have been everything from the uncle to the friend. Even today while it doesn’t happen near as much as it used to, several people still think that their stepfather is their dad, their real dad.
Bear in mind, I’m going to this school to lead and do stuff like that and they’re like five and six years old. Who in their right mind gets divorced when they have a kid nine months and two years? Who does that?
I think that it was just the rarity of it that threw so many people off. It’s like, “Oh really, you’re divorced?” I know the next thing they think to themselves, “While your kids are so young,” but you know, it’s a very humiliating and humbling experience, but I’ve got to be frank with you, I’m glad I went through it.
The conversation with Kyle brought back lots of memories of bathroom trips managing a toddler and an infant and yes, my son too has been in his car seat on the bathroom floor in a stall in the Ladies room. He was eleven when we divorced so by then was too old to use the Ladies room. That meant letting him use the men’s room while I stood around nervously outside hoping he was OK and not getting abused. Seriously, those were the thoughts that would run through my mind especially in places like airports and malls.
So I have a question … if a stranger offered to help you by taking your daughter to the Ladies Room or your son to Men’s Room, would you accept the help? What if you saw a parent on their own with two kids, would you offer to help?
I have never been asked if I am anyone other than my child’s parent. I’ve never been mistaken for an aunt or other relative. Has this happened to you? I’m wondering if this is a situation that is more likely to happen to Dads than Moms and as Kyle suggests, is it more common when a child is younger when having divorced parents is less common?
I think the moral of Kyle’s story is not to make assumptions …
Kyle Bradford is a divorced father and founder of the website ChopperPapa, ‘High octane observations on manhood, divorce, relationships, fatherhood, and other intellectual roadkill’. He also hosts a monthly podcast, FatherhoodWideOpen, ‘Intelligent conversation on issues facing fatherhood and masculinity with the people who think and write on them.’ He lives, writes, and works in Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo Credit: 2014© Mandy Walker