Another way of saying it is: I’m soft. I don’t get upset by the 15-minute extension entreaty or the Hail Mary glass-of-water requests, and I always succumb to the pressures of “Please … just one more story.” Maybe it’d be different if I wasn’t co-parenting, but I don’t think so.
Most weeks Lola, my daughter, spends the night two to three times at my place. I cherish those evenings and mornings. Although there are plenty of things to get frustrated at, like her repeated refusals to brush her teeth, not wanting to get out of bed, and saying no to every breakfast option I offer. But it’s probably not too far off from how I was at 9 years old. I just sort of go with it.
On nights my daughter doesn’t sleep over the routine is a bit different.
Five years ago, when I entered into the co-parenting world, I vowed that my daughter would hear me say “I love you” every single day. It didn’t matter where I was or what I was doing—it was important for her to hear my voice, I thought. I guess you could make the argument that it was more important for me than for her, but it’s something I declared I’d do.
But five years ago I had a Blackberry and my daughter was only 4. So the daily ritual was just an old-fashioned phone call. I didn’t have Skype or FaceTime and Lola didn’t really like talking on the phone all that much. The calls were quick and simple. My daughter’s mother and I tried to make the timing of our phone conversation not too close to bedtime in hopes that it wouldn’t be a reminder that her parents were no longer together right before she fell asleep.
But as my daughter has gotten older and I’ve updated my technology, a lot has changed.
Just last Sunday, after a day that included 120 miles of driving and a tire blowout on the expressway, I settled in to watch the Oscars. That’s when my phone buzzed. It was my daughter, who was at her mom’s house, using FaceTime from her iPad. So of course I answered, and she just wanted to say hi. I paused the DVR on my television and nestled into the couch to talk to her. I knew it was close to bedtime so I figured it would just be a short, sweet, virtual tuck-in.
After a 20-minute FaceTime session of watching her play with her Littlest Pet Shops, I told her she had to go upstairs and get ready for bed. Her mother concurred in the background.
She called me back on FaceTime and we chatted some more. This time she was in her bed, but not ready to fall asleep. This went on for about 10 minutes.
This melted my heart. I couldn’t stop smiling. Part of me knew it was time for her to fall asleep—and I also wanted to start watching the Oscars. It was a tug-of-war between feeling selfish for wanting to end it and gratitude for feeling adored. Maybe a normal parent would have been able to resist responding to her last text, but I couldn’t help myself.
A few minutes went by, which I assumed meant she was brushing her teeth. I hit play on the DVR and was finally ready to watch the Oscars. And then…
It went on for another 20 minutes, and honestly, I started to get a little bit frustrated. It was time for her to sleep and I really wanted to watch the Oscars. It had been such a long day. Ugh! I felt like a bad father because I actually wanted to cut my daughter off.
This exchange made me realize a few things. In general I’m terrible at not responding to text or emails. I have to do it—and especially when it’s my daughter. When it’s her, I think part of my hesitation to be more firm is because it’s in print. It lasts forever. So laying down the law over text is more difficult, because she’ll always be able to scroll back and relive the moment when I was—in her eyes—shutting her out. Though of course, in my eyes, I’m just being a parent.
It’s hard enough to be firm about bedtime in person, but when we’re physically separated and missing each other, it’s even harder. At what point does my instinct to compensate for and protect her from what happened between her mom and me just become a logistical parenting problem? Whether her parents are together or not, she still has to go to bed at night.