What does it mean to be the "lesser" parent, and is there such a thing? Well, no, of course there's not such a thing in reality: if a child has two active parents in the aftermath of divorce, they are both equal and worthy and the child is lucky! Of course, if you have been divorced, are divorced, or are going through a divorce, you know that in our minds there is this fictional construct of the "lesser" parent. The lesser parent makes less money and can take the child on fewer or no vacations than the other parent. The lesser parent cannot make a grand Christmas or birthday, while the other can. The lesser parent is the more broke parent of the two. The lesser parent is the one looking around aimlessly for helping hands, while the other parent has plenty of support.
The lesser parent feels just like that: less of a parent than he or she was before divorce. Less of a parent than the other coparent.
This isn't a reality, though. Your child doesn't have a scoreboard that lists all the times Mom bought him this and Dad bought him that. He's not writing down every time you struggled to find a babysitter while perhaps Dad has a whole team of helping hands. Your kid isn't tsk-tsking his father who lives in an apartment while perhaps Mom still lives in the marital house.
There is no contest with a winner or loser. Your child/children love both of you. But sometimes it doesn't quite feel that way.
Sometimes it feels as if you, the fictional lesser parent, are always losing. Always in the red.
Here are some reality checks to get you out of thinking this way, from me, a fictional lesser parent.
Money Isn't Everything
If someone bought you a present every single day but never bothered to speak to you, would you be happy? What if your husband or partner sent you on vacations every Mother's Day but treated you horribly the rest of the year? Gifts are nice, but they don't equal love. Money isn't everything. As parents, we want to do everything we can for our kids, and when a household is divided, the lifestyle changes. Lawyers say it shouldn't drastically change the lifestyle, but we all know better. Divorce screws everyone financially for the most part.
Do the best you can. Your love for your child isn't measured in presents and vacations. In fact, we all know one or two people whose parents showered them with cash instead of love, and we all know how that story ended: not happily.
The People Make the Home, Not the Structure
I just moved from our marital residence to a new place. My new place is a bit bigger, actually, but we are missing an outside like we had at our last place. As a kid who grew up in a suburban home, this was a tough reconciliation for me, but the place is nice, safe, and in a good school district. I know plenty of kids grew up or grow up in apartments, but it was hard for me, especially as my daughter misses having the ability to play in front of our house.
But does this mean that her father's house is more loving because he has a backyard? That my house is not full of love? Of course not.
The house is just the structure you live in; it's not a testament of the love you feel for your kid. A parent in a McMansion doesn't love her kids more than you do in your apartment. She just has better circumstances.
Don't knock yourself because right now times are tough and you can't give your kid every single thing in life that you wish you could. Work hard and do the best you can, and I am willing to bet that whatever your heart desires for your child will come true. Even better? Whatever you desire for your kid may not be as important as you think or what your kid really desires. Ease up that pressure!
Are you always desperately seeking a babysitter or help while your ex has everything under control with help?
It can feel pretty terrible. You may feel angry about it and wonder if your kid can sense the stress and desperation in your voice. He or she probably can, but this doesn't make you a lesser parent. It's just how the cards were dealt. Do your best to rally up whoever you can — friends, family, school teachers, etc. — to try to form a team of support. If you can afford it, go online and post an ad. Care.com is pretty popular. If you can't, just ask for help.
It's not easy. I know. You're doing the best you can.
Has Your Ex Moved On?
If your ex has moved on and now has a new little family of his own with your children and a new love yet you have not met someone, you are NOT the lesser parent! Family is wherever your heart is, so if you have your children, you have your family. Of course, I am sure you want to move on and meet someone like your ex has, but this doesn't make you the biggest loser parent because your ex has made a new nuclear family of sorts and you haven't. Don't feel pressure to give your kids a new family because your ex has.
Neither my ex nor I have introduced our daughter to anyone, but when the time comes, I am sure it will be a huge change. Your feelings may be sad and you may feel hopeless, but your child does not think you're a worse parent because you haven't met someone new. That's just your imagination.
It's not easy to not compare yourself when you're trying to move on from your ex and provide a life for your child, but do your best to avoid this imaginary competition. There are no rewards at the end of life for who was the better parent for any parent, married or divorced! You're doing a good job. Give yourself a hug and some applause.