And the one thing they can't do.
It's Father's Day again. A few years ago on the third Sunday of June, I posted this snarky comment on Facebook: "Since I'm a single mother, does that mean my kids have to make me a cake on Father's Day?" Lots of people -- especially my fellow single moms -- thought that sentiment was soooo cute.
This year on Father's Day, I will make a cheesecake for my sons and their stepfather on his first official Father's Day. My son's biological father chooses not to share this day -- or any day -- with his older two children.
Here's what I've learned parenting two sons full-time on my own for several years. Single mothers cannot be fathers. I'm not just talking about biology. I'm talking about the facts of life. I'm not both their father and their mother, and I don't want to be. I just want to be the best mother I can be.
Here are 10 things single moms can do just as well as dads:
- Make a cake for your children on Father's Day.
- Work hard so you can afford the 17 gallons of milk your teenage boys drink each week.
- Watch Avengers movies with your teenagers and play Minecraft with your tweens.
- Read to your children and force them to listen to NPR on long drives.
- Look stern but secretly rejoice when the boys transform the kitchen into a model rocket factory at 1:00 in the morning or when you come home from work to find that they have built a working kiln in your backyard.
- Have that extremely awkward "This is a banana, and this is a condom" talk -- early and often.
- Teach your kids to work. You work all day -- they can do the dishes and fold the laundry. They can even iron their own shirts.
- Resist the urge to buy your children every single thing they ask for.
- Teach your sons to respect everyone, but especially women. If your sons respect women, maybe the next generation of children won't be raised by single mothers.
- Love your children. No matter what.
And here's the one thing single moms can never do just as well as dads: Be your children's father.
Few women sign up to be single mothers voluntarily (see #6 above). I certainly was not one of them. I never expected to be celebrating Father's Day with my sons and without their father. This is why the one piece of indispensable knowledge I want to impress on my sons is that if and when they decide to become fathers, they must understand and embrace the life-altering nature of that commitment.
Children need their fathers. Even when the fathers stop loving their partners, fathers should never abandon their children, not for any reason. When single mothers denigrate the male parent's vital role (the horrible "sperm donor" moniker comes to mind), fathers have less incentive to take responsibility for their children. Even something seemingly innocuous, like my Facebook post about deserving a cake on Father's Day, can send a potentially harmful message to our children about the active role fathers should play in children's lives.
To my amazing, brave, hard-working single-mom girlfriends, you can't be your children's father and mother, and you should stop trying to be. But you can be -- and you are -- your children's mother. Instead of dad-bashing this Father's Day, encourage your children to celebrate the men who have made a difference in your children's lives. I'm thinking of the scoutmaster who patiently worked with my son who has mental illness, or the father of my oldest son's best friend who takes him along on ski and biking trips, or my husband, who has no biological children of his own but has graciously made space for my children in his formerly carefree life.
What should a single mother do on Father's Day? Do something that makes you feel good, of course. Last year, I treated myself to a pedicure with hot pink nail polish. Then I took my boys to see a sci-fi movie we all loved. It's good to be a mother on Father's Day.
Note: The picture is of my father reading to me, something both single moms and dads can do for their children.