It’s around the time of Father’s Day in Australia. Australians love their celebrations, and families all over the country mark this occasion. A traditional nation that protects the notion of family unity; there are family gatherings, get-togethers and shared meals, perhaps even a steak on the barbie. The shops are full of displays of Dad-friendly gifts and kids can spend their pocket money on shaving kits, garden-trinkets and the like. Even schools get into the spirit, where Father’s Day stalls are the norm.
It is a much more expansive approach than the modest custom of card-giving and lawn mowing I am used to in my country of birth, England, and it is challenging for more isolated families, particularly those headed by a sole mother.
Sole parent families comprise 15% of all Australian families and the majority are headed by women.
These observations are similar in England and the USA. Apparently, nearly one third of marriages end in divorce, and a large number of children are born within de-facto relationships, or to un-attached women.
However, in spite of their significant presence, and modern society’s egalitarian goals, sole mothers are still frowned upon. Communities can stigmatise sole parent families, and withhold the inclusion and support they need.
Father’s Day can be a confronting when the father in question is absent. Women struggle to fathom why some fathers choose not to be involved with their children, and that lack of involvement can be complete: on the financial, emotional and geographical level.
Sadly it seems that, somehow, it is those mothers left with the parenting responsibility who are subtly held responsible.
So how do we compensate for an absent father and male role model? On the whole, women are creative and capable creatures. On a day-to-day basis, sole mothers instinctively learn to play a ‘dual’ parenting role. Practically, and energetically, we provide a masculine input:
• We are the head of the family – we can sit at the head of the table ☺
• We are the sole provider - many absent fathers avoid paying child support
• We develop and exemplify stereotypically ‘male’ traits: leadership, independence and strength
• We become ‘handy’ – we learn basic DIY
• We wash the car, keep it serviced, insured and on the road
• We make financial decisions and pay all the bills
• We take out the bins ☺
• We set boundaries and discipline. All the time.
• We engage in physical play – something which men do more often – the tickling, the chasing, the rough and tumble
This week, I shall send my daughter to school with money to buy a gift for her Dad, who lives overseas with his family of origin and sees her roughly every three years. I will do this because she wants to, and I support the tenuous link between them because, in my view, something is better than nothing at all. Children can feel responsible for their own abandonment by a parent and I am desperately keen to
And, in acknowledgment of the paternal aspect of my dual parenting role, I will present myself with a box of plain chocolates I have bought from the ‘Gifts for Dad’ display at Coles.
To all the other dual-functioning Sole Mothers out there: Happy Father’s Day!