It happens every day but it is no less heartbreaking. When a couple splits up, and there are children involved, the father (it’s usually the father) must leave the family home. Sometimes they’re not blameless. To get back at him, some mothers start to block his access to the children or stop him from speaking to them. The father may call to speak to his child and be told: Junior can’t come to the phone right now, he’s busy. To the child, she’ll say: “I told you your father doesn’t really care about you. See! He never calls you.”
Forty-year old father of three (two boys aged 20 and 17 and a daughter of seven months), James Smith, tells a familiar story, but from the male point of view. (Names have been changed).
I wanted to share my experience, not to cast blame, but to show that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not about who’s a better parent or who does more for their kids, but co-parenting.
I was 19 when I had my first child! I was only a kid myself but I thought I was a grown up. I met my ex (Sharon) on a hot summer’s day in Walthamstow, East London. She was with her friend. I was with mine. Being young men we introduced ourselves and we all exchanged numbers and in the weeks to come we stayed in contact. At first everything was good, we started dating. We got on quite well and we spent a lot of time at Sharon’s mum’s house, chilling out. Sharon’s mum was really nice and welcoming, she would always want to see that we were ok. In time though, I noticed that Sharon and her mum would argue a lot and Sharon started to swear at her mum, something I couldn’t condone. I didn’t interfere but I let her know that I didn’t agree with it. After about a month, our relationship fizzled out and we ended the relationship and went our separate ways.
Two months later, Sharon contacted me to say that she was pregnant! At the time I couldn’t be sure if the child was mine but I decided to stand by her, even though we were no longer a couple. I should have set her straight from the beginning because throughout the pregnancy Sharon wrongly believed that we were still together. It wasn’t a pleasant time. She was very argumentative and always wanted things her own way.
When she finally went into labour I, along with her sister and her mum went to the hospital. However, it was a false labour and it was recommended that she stay in the hospital just in case she went into labour overnight. Everybody but Sharon was in agreement, she wanted to go home. I’d lost my phone a couple of days before and so gave her sister my friend’s number with strict instructions to call me if anything started to happen.
I met up with a mutual friend the following morning, and during our catch up, and out of the blue, he said: “Oh yeah, by the way congratulations, Sharon’s sister phoned me earlier and said you had a boy!” My heart sank. I raced to the hospital and when I arrived my boy had already been born. I missed his birth and to this day I regret that, but that all went away when I held him in my arms! I would be wary of any man that didn’t cry or felt emotional when they held their firstborn for the first time. I happened to catch a cold look from Sharon as I held my boy. To this day she blamed me for not being there. She would say this to my boy, when he was older. That I didn’t want to be there.
In the months after his birth I tried to help out with baby care as much as I could. I was still in college and working part time. In my head, Sharon and I were not a couple but I would spend hours at hers to be near my son. When my son was about 13 months old I met a girl called Karen through a mutual friend and we hit it off straight away. I fell in love with Karen, but this only brought fresh confusion into my life. Here I was with someone who I wanted to be with, but I also had a child with somebody who I no longer loved. I did the guy thing and carried on seeing Karen.
The peace didn’t last long! I remember this day quite vividly. I had arranged to take my boy shopping, but forgot that I’d arranged to meet up with Karen. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. Karen had never met my boy before and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity. So we met up and she helped me pick up a few bits for him. After shopping I took my boy back home. I asked Karen to wait around the corner as I didn’t want any arguing from Sharon knowing how volatile she was. I needn’t have worried about Sharon, because her sister comes walking down the road and spots Karen, me and my son together. She casually says ‘hi’ and carried on her way. Little did I know she’s run home to tell her sister that she had seen me with another girl and her baby. When I finally got to the house, things turned ugly. Sharon attacked me. She slapped me in the face, spat on me and things got physical on her mum’s doorstep. I’m ashamed to say that I retaliated. Things were never the same after that. From then on, Sharon went out of her way to make sure that I had nothing to do with my boy. She never accepted my apologies, blocked my phone calls, and would never let me have him, nothing. She turned really bitter, spiteful and resentful, and this continued for many years.
A year after this, I had my second child, a boy with Karen. We were in a committed relationship but had Sharon’s vengefulness to deal with. She would play games on my phone, call and be silent, send the police to my house for no reason, scream at me on the street, and disappear when I went to collect my boy. She disrespected my whole family. She’d even cussed out her own mum and sister for speaking positively about me and the need for me to be involved in my boy’s life!
My relationship with Karen was completely different. We enjoyed being parents together and there was no competing for our child’s affection. There was no game playing or silly immature arguments. In spite of this, we grew apart and four years later we broke up. But we still worked together to bring up our son.
Today, my first son and I have managed to repair our relationship and I am proud of the young man that he has become. But I’m very sad to say that I could see the difference that the different parenting approaches had on my boys. There was a difference in the behaviours of my boys as they grew up and their interactions, not only with me, but other people and children. It was clear as day that a hostile parenting environment does nothing for children other than confuse them and make them become introverted and vulnerable.
Everyone has their own back story when it comes to bringing up their children, but for me, positive and encouraging co-parenting is the way to go whether you remain as a couple or part and become exes. Children need love, stability and support from both parents. You need to have your child’s best interest at heart. It is better to co-parent rather than compete.
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