When my children’s father left the home, I stood in the half-empty house, staring down at the innocent faces of my then 12- and 8-year-olds. I didn’t have a job and hadn’t worked full time in years, but looking at those sweet, heartbroken, angelic, yet frightened faces, I knew the first order of business was figuring out how to provide for them. Today, after nine years of ups and downs taking care of my babies, one lesson is sure: If it’s not coming from your own provisions, don’t “expect” anything.
We see Court shows all the time with deadbeat parents getting dressed down for failing to be responsible for the support of their children. It’s encouraging to a struggling single parent to know that the system really cares; or does it? For us, it was a nightmare. Before I knew what was happening (as I was trying to get my foot back into the workforce), we lost electricity, water, phone, a home, and even possessions. My children were deeply disappointed and scared to death of what might happen when the Ramen noodles ran out. Outwardly, I was in control. Inwardly, I was a shamed failure. I knew that nothing else mattered except making sure those babies were supported.
I filed for state help in locating and serving their father, but he was pretty good at dodgeball. Knowing I couldn’t count on him for anything to help -not even a winter coat to keep the kids warm- I did what all parents must do: Clutched my babies close, took the bull by the horns, and started forging our way back out of the abyss. You see, kids need continuity to be as well-adjusted as possible, and when one parent slacks off or disappears altogether, it’s not enough to wait for help. As a parent, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to ensure those kids have their needs met.
Within months, I got a menial job and went back to school. I had learned not to expect anyone to come running to their aid, including their father. If these kids were going to eat, have clothes, and play ball, it was up to at least one parent to make it happen. Ideally, children should be provided for by both parents, but at the end of the day, nobody promises you (the custodial parent) anything. They’re yours and it’s your responsibility to figure it out first and foremost. Priority one is taking care of those babies. Priority two is ensuring the other parent does the same.
Over a year later, “dad” was finally located and served (paid for with the scraped-together $25 fee that took from my children’s mouths). We finally went to Court. Imagine my surprise when he was not only NOT ordered to pay the 13 months’ arrearage (we could have really used it), he was also given another couple of weeks to start paying anything! Since then, it’s been a back-and-forth battle to get basic child support on a consistent basis, not to mention help with Court-ordered medical and dental bills I’ve covered. And extras like school needs or a dinner out? Nonexistent.
In my quest to support our kids, I managed to get my bachelor’s degree a year ahead of schedule while working, coaching, and home schooling the kids. I did get a good job and a nice place to live with enough food and entertainment to try to repay the things of which they were callously robbed over the years. And I did run myself in the ground, getting very ill and feeling very guilty, while pursuing the all-important goal of providing for our kids. But I also managed to get (most of) the bills paid, keep the kids involved, and provide some niceties the kids long deserved. Yes, it was with a little unreliable child support, but considering his chosen absence from their lives, it was the least he could do. I’ve been back to Court numerous times with him being found in contempt on child support issues, but it appears he’s not bothered in the least. We’ve come to learn not to count on his obligated support; when it comes to the kids, I know it’s ultimately my responsibility to ensure their well-being in the face of parenting alone.
In a perfect world, both parents participate in and financially support the lives of the innocent children who never asked for the family’s breakup. Providing for children isn’t optional; it’s necessary and not only a legal obligation, but more importantly, a moral one. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s this: They’re my babies and they deserve my support. I can’t control anyone else’s actions but my own, so to ensure the children receive the support they deserve, I am the first place to start in taking control. Expect nothing from anyone else because a gap in support can be the difference between eating and not eating. Support takes two parents, but at the end of the day, you must rely on yourself and do whatever it takes to provide for the kids. You don’t have to say a word about it. They have eyes and will see for themselves (which has left my kids very bitter). What’s important in the end is that they know you did the best job you could do. Child support -from both parents- is the least a child deserves.