Trump is not Like the Divorced Dads I Know
I know lots of divorced dads. I’m married to one, I co-parent my son with another, and probably half of my clients are divorced dads (or soon to be). As a divorce lawyer and a divorced mom, I know well the challenges that divorced parents (not just dads) face.
I admire Michelle Obama. I read her memoir cover to cover in a couple of days and was heartbroken when I missed out on tickets to see her at the Tacoma Dome. In general, I think she is a classy role model with loads of integrity and intelligence. But, as my teenage son would say, she really “GOOFED” a few weeks ago when she compared Donald Trump to a divorced dad.
In my opinion, the hardest part of divorce (if you have kids) is the parenting that follows. All the divorced parents I know – including my husband, my ex-husband, and me – try their best to stay connected with their kids, show them unconditional love, and make them feel comfortable and “at home” when they’re with us. But we do that every day in the context of knowing that the kids also have another home. Sometimes we worry that the other home is more fun or more comfortable. Or we fear the kids are more attached to their other parent, or would rather not be with us. It’s a particularly bad day when the kids actually say that, as they sometimes do (even if they might not mean it). Too often, it can feel like we’re competing with the other house – a tough position for any parent trying to be responsible and require chores and green veggies with every meal.
Perhaps to Michelle’s point (though not an analogy I would make to Trump’s presidency), I do know a few dads who work hard to make weekends with the kids really quite fun, with no vegetables or bedtimes, too much screen time, and little attention to homework. But that doesn’t just apply to dads: if one parent has been the primary breadwinner through the marriage, that role often will continue (by necessity or by agreement) for a period of time after divorce, limiting that parent’s time with the kids to a few precious weekend hours. If your kids spend the majority of their time with their other parent, I think it’s human nature to want their time with you to be fun and memorable.
Almost all of the divorced parents I know are navigating that exceptionally difficult balance between earning and parenting, trying to do both well. But it’s a lot harder when you can no longer divide and conquer, and you can’t take for granted a certain marital division of labor — that may or may not follow the old-fashioned norms of mom at home and dad at the office. Divorced parents are often doing twice the work, with half the help, squeezed into half (or less) of the time they wish their kids were with them. These are people to be admired for their effort, certainly not compared to our current commander in chief — who seems to get more at the golf course than any parent I know.
My larger concern with Michelle’s comment is that it continues to degrade divorced families. We are not “broken.” Most of us are no more dysfunctional than any other family. And no one I know walked down the aisle with the intention of signing divorce papers later. Life is complicated, and marriage is difficult. We all do the best we can, and if we’re very lucky and extremely committed, maybe marriage can work for a lifetime. But often it doesn’t.
Perhaps Michelle and Barack are some of the lucky ones. (Her book certainly gives that impression.) Regardless, we all could be more empathetic to how very hard life can be for divorced dads – and moms – even (maybe especially) if their weekends with the kids look really fun.