Gay Dad Gets Real About Parenting Challenges in Anonymous Essay
A gay dad gets real about his struggles with depression, parenting as an introvert, and more in this anonymous essay.
Full disclosure, this post is being written anonymously. I've written several blog posts about my family that aren't too deep or confessional but for a long time now I've been wanting to touch on some topics that are more personally revealing and not so sunny. And that's where being someone who is typically an open book bumps up against needing to consider the privacy of his loved ones, and so this is being shared anonymously.
What is it I've been wanting to get off my chest? My daughter is often my worst parenting nightmare.
Parenting as an Introvert
Ok, yes, that's an exaggeration of course. But when thinking about my three biggest trepidations while planning to be a parent, she's come to embody them all. It's like she was created by someone using a checklist.
The introvert and the extrovert:
When my husband first suggested having kids one of my main concerns was that I'm an introvert. There's no way I could parent 24/7, to be constantly 'on' for my kids with little to no alone time to re-charge. Most people think being introverted just means being shy and withdrawn. It's doesn't. Without going into too much detail, introverts just process external stimulation differently than extroverts. That difference requires ample quiet time that doesn't involve interacting with others. So being around kids who are a constant source of stimulation is not a healthy situation. Unfortunately, society frowns upon the idea of a parent not wanting to be with their children at all times, which is why I feel the need to not be too open about this issue. Introverts as parents specifically, and the concept of parents needing time away from their kids in general, are aspects of parenthood that seem to get very little coverage.
We managed to come up with a way to mitigate my introversion as an issue which has proven quite successful. And it's a good thing too, because our older daughter is an extrovert with a capital E who craves near-constant interaction. I won't lie, without the arrangements we'd made in advance, being a parent would suck for me more often than not. Which no one should interpret as meaning I would love my kids less. It has nothing to do with them and everything to do with my biological make-up.
And speaking of biology, that leads into…
Challenges of Being the Bio-Dad
Bio Dad and Non-Bio Dad:
It was my husband's idea to have kids in the first place and the original plan was that he'd father them. And then we learned he couldn't have kids biologically so I provided the genetics for both. So what happens? Our older daughter ends up being someone fascinated with her family history and in general shows a stronger affinity for her biological heritage. And that was always a concern of mine, that the kids would favor me over my husband based on that genetic connection (our younger child is indifferent on this matter). I also sometimes feel a twinge of guilt because she and I do seem to share some kind of deeper connection, an understanding of each other that's hard to put into words. The guilt comes from feeling that it's not something that's been earned, the way my husband has earned, IMO, being the better parent through actual deeds and effort. He's proof that biology isn't what makes someone a great dad.
When we first started planning for kids, one of the things that excited me was the thought of little offshoots of my husband running around. I never had any desire to pass on my genetics. That was mostly just because it wasn't an urge, but it was also out of concern that I'd pass on my family's penchant for being depressive.
Which leads to the next item on the parenting-fear checklist…
I've closely watched my kids for any signs that they might have inherited this annoying genetic glitch. Ever since she was old enough to speak my daughter has said things that have been red flags. She's described thoughts and exhibited traits that have reminded me a lot of my own at her age.
She's now a tween and during a recent conversation I casually mentioned my depression. She hadn't known about it before and was immediately curious. Not long after that she slipped me a note asking me about the symptoms and listed a few things about herself that she was concerned about. We did some quick google self-diagnosis and she said that most of what was on a long list of signs of depression applied to her. They're all things I've witnessed in her and many are how depression manifests in myself.
I'm careful to not dwell on it too much so she doesn't become overly concerned, while also being sure she knows the topic is not taboo and should not be repressed. We're now searching for a therapist to not only provide a definitive diagnosis one way or the other, but to also provide general support and guidance with all the typical social and biological changes that girls her age need to navigate.
The Benefits and Dangers of Social Media
All of the above are things I would be more than willing to share openly and would be even more detailed about. I'm a proponent of the power of sharing one's personal issues so that others know they're not the only ones facing a particular challenge. I've personally benefited due to the candor of others, and I credit being able to open up about anything with almost anyone with how I've personally worked through issues of my own. It's something I get from my mom and that I'm trying to teach my kids.
But being honest about things that carry a lot of social stigma such as depression or admitting to feeling anything less than 24/7 joy about being a parent opens one up for a lot of negative feedback. If I only had myself to think about with such online confessions, bring it. But my daughter and her friends are hitting that age when more and more of them are starting to enter the world of social media. And anything on the internet could find its way onto anyone's smart phone or laptop, so I can't open the kids up to one of today's biggest challenges – social media backlash that can be potentially life ruining.
For most of my life being open and honest has been one of my coping mechanisms. I hate using a pseudonym; it feels like lying or hiding. But I have to dial back much of my trademark candor for the sake of the kids while doing my best to teach them how to stand strong against unrealistic social stigmas. Hopefully they will grow into a world where their family's history of depression and the relatively mild imperfections of their family – such as a father who openly admits to needing time apart and that his world doesn't revolve around his kids 24/7 – won't be grounds for their peers to potentially mock them or shun them. Have I not mentioned that this is another fear of mine?