Parenting Without Parents

by Michelle Talsma Everson
Originally Published: 

Today was one of those days where I missed my dad… a lot. I had a doctor’s appointment where I discussed some minor health issues and some big hopes for the future, and wanted to call him to tell him all about it. We used to talk several times a day—granted, a good chunk of it was bickering—but he was still always in the loop about my life. In fact, he was the first one I’d call throughout my pregnancy after every check up. He had nicknamed my son Nicholas “Ocho” (Spanish for “eight”) because he looked like the number eight on an early ultrasound. It’s crazy to think that the growing baby in my belly that I updated my dad on constantly just had his third birthday. My dad wasn’t there for his first.

I’m one of the many parents out there parenting without any input from their own moms and dads. My mom passed away on December 13, 2008; just a few short months after I graduated college and got married. She was only 50 and died from liver failure due to a lifelong battle with alcoholism. Because of her addiction, I kept my distance the last few years of her life, but made amends before she passed. I watched her take her last breath; and a couple of days before she told me how she regretted not being there for me enough and didn’t really want to die—she wanted a house of her own, a dog, and for me to be her best friend. I told her to not worry; that I turned out okay. I asked her if she thought I’d be a good mom (she did). I wasn’t so sure that I had turned out okay or that I’d be a good mom, but I believed both as much as I could.

My dad passed away nearly two years to the day later on December 15, 2010. He was 70 and died of kidney failure, heart issues, liver issues, and a myriad of other conditions. He and my mom had divorced when I was younger than my son is now, so I grew up with him partially in Arizona (where I was), partially in Colorado, and partially in his own world. Any addictions he may have had were gone by the time I was born (he and my mom were nearly 20 years apart), but he was a hard man; loving and hurtful all at once. Nevertheless, we talked daily—often fighting—but I felt more of a connection to him as I got older. He made it to my college graduation, wasn’t able to see me get married, but perhaps, most important of all, he met my son. He moved to Arizona a few months before he passed and turned my life upside down (caring for an infant and an ailing parent is a whole other topic altogether), but, looking back, I’m so grateful at least one of my parents got to meet Nicholas—the love of my life, my mini-me.

As you can probably tell, Nicholas was born between both parents passing. My life seemed to go “death, life, death.” Add in graduating college, getting married, buying our first home, first “real jobs,” and more, and my (poor, patient, awesome) husband and I have been through more in the past few years than I care to recall. But—I digress. Parenting with no parents; that’s what this is about.

Parenting with no parents… it’s lonely. I can’t text photos of my son to my mom; I can’t call my dad when he does something new. As he grows, his grandparents will be my husband’s parents… mine will be “oh, my mom’s parents died before I was born/when I was a baby.” The part that complicates it is that my mom was an alcoholic; I’m not 100% sure how much she would have been involved anyways. My dad was in poor health and had way different parenting philosophies; he wouldn’t have been hands-on either. But, now that they’re both gone, what’s the point of maybes? I hope to keep their memory alive through photos; pictures of my mom as young and healthy. Pictures of my dad holding him as a baby. I’ll tell him that his grandpa nicknamed him “Ocho” and that his grandma believed in me and would have loved how he looks just like me. I’ll also warn him about my family’s history of addiction; and that he needs to be both responsible and smart. The gorier details? Not needed; at least not in my mind. (Also, how to explain death to a curious kid? Not sure on that one either!)

On the brighter side, parenting with no parents (or siblings for that matter; I’m an only child) gives me an opportunity to learn to accept love on behalf of myself and my son. My in-laws are amazing grandparents and live within walking distance. His G-Ma (my mom-in-law) watches him several times a week and his G-Pa (my dad-in-law) and he are weekend warrior buddies, tagging along with my husband to conquer the children’s museum and local playplace. My aunt (my mom’s sister) said that he could call her grandma (her grandkids and Nicholas eventually called her Mimi) when he was just weeks old; she was there when he was born too. He also has an aunt (my husband’s sister) who is excited to take him on his first trip to Disneyland and countless honorary aunts and uncles who love and spoil him too. I may not be able to text a parent photos of him; but my patient family members and friends get daily photos of his every move! And the first person I call for parenting advice? His G-Ma.

Overall, lots of kids grow up without one grandparent, or a set of grandparents. He’ll grow up with it as his normal. Grandma and grandpa are my husband’s parents. Mimi lives in Mesa with all of his cousins. The hard part I believe is for me and accepting what is my normal as well. Like all parenting experiences, it’s about accepting the darker parts and being grateful for the blessings in disguise.

Will my dad ever go fishing with him? No. But, he left him a blue kid’s fishing pole I intend to dust off when the time is right. There’s a pink one too… because, well, you never know what the future holds.

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