Photo: Chelsea Burgoyne

Simply put, parenting is HARD. There are books and classes about birthing, feeding, diapering, and LOTS of lists… list about things you should be doing, shouldn’t be doing, and how we are probably messing up our kids right this very minute. But, what about the things they don’t teach you? Where are the books and lists for when plans fail, life gets messy, and we just need to survive the day, or the hour, with our children? It’s in these moments that we find ourselves searching…. searching for answers, glimmers of hope, and discovering the kind of parents our children need us to be.

The first time I thought to myself, “there isn’t a book for this!” was when I was face to face with the reality of single motherhood. I was twenty years old and had a toddler and an infant and I found myself taking a stand against domestic violence, not even for myself, but for my children. In that moment, I knew this was not the life I wanted my children to know; there had to be a better choice. So, for the next year, I dove head first into the messiness of motherhood and did my best to keep my sanity. I worked two jobs and spent my nights studying for college classes, my two babies never far away. What I lacked in sleep, I made up for in snuggles, belly laughs, and lots of coffee. Father’s Days came and went without a thought, until my world was turned upside down.

Jon came into my life so unexpectedly and without any expectations. He walked into my brokenness and, for the first time, I experienced companionship without the pressures of  trying to “fix” me. You see, I wasn’t really broken. I was a fighter- a fighter for my life and the lives of my children. I knew the kind of mother I needed to be and the kind of woman I wanted to become. What I hadn’t thought about, in those early days, was what parenting with another might one day look like. I assumed their biological father would want to be better for them and would change; I was wrong. What came as a deep blow turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I just couldn’t see it yet.

He treaded lightly and respected me as a mother. He always offered to help, but never imposed. He knew I was holding on to hope and that only time would reveal the truth. Then, one day, it hit me all at once. It wasn’t an earth-shaking moment, but a small, quiet moment… so small, I hadn’t even realized its importance until after it happened. He had come to spend the day with us and offered to take my son outside to play. From the kitchen window, I could see him pushing my son around the yard on his little red bike. A bike that had sat, untouched for 6 months since he unwrapped it at Christmas. The smile on his face was one I’d never seen before. In the midst of trying to survive, I had lost these little moments. These were moments that didn’t exist in our former life. In survival mode, there is little time or mental energy to let your hair down, to play and be fully present in the moment. I cried as I watched them, circling the yard for nearly 20 minutes, laughing and smiling. In that moment, I remember thinking, “This. This is what fatherhood looks like!”. I’d never seen it before.

One year later, I struggled to help my now 4 year old work through feelings of anger, rage, and confusion as he asked questions about why his biological father no longer contacted us. On a particularly difficult day, I remember feeling helpless as my son kicked and screamed and spewed “I hate you!” after yet another failed attempted visitation. As I sat on the floor, crying with him, Jon intervened and my heart nearly stopped. You see, when someone has lived through domestic violence, strong emotions are usually precursors to loss of temper. I was scared, but knew in my heart, I could let him help. He picked up my son, kicking and screaming and sat down on his bed. He sat him in his lap and wrapped his arms around him and whispered, “It’s okay buddy. I love you. Please don’t be so angry. It’s not mommy’s fault. I love you.” Almost instantly, my kicking, screaming, hurt little boy melted into his arms and, in that moment, I knew he only needed love. He needed to know he wasn’t broken, that this wasn’t his fault. He needed to know someone else cared.

Today marks five years since we met and one year since we said “I do”. We have added another baby to our family and have shared so much. In five years, I have learned so much from this man, about building a family, about real love, and He’s taught me that parenting doesn’t come with a play book. He refers to those early days as “insta-dad”, going from single bachelor to a family man seemingly overnight. Through the brokenness, we found healing and learned that fatherhood is about the ones who stand up in the midst of the chaos, the ones who kiss booboos, build blanket forts, and fix bad days with ice cream and hugs. Sometimes, there isn’t a book for the problems we face, and that’s okay. We take it as it comes and cherish every moment because it’s in those little moments that we find ourselves and see our partners for the wonderful fathers they are. We no longer overlook Father’s Day as just another Sunday in our house now. Today, we celebrate it, in all its cheesy glory, complete with snuggles, ugly ties, handprint cards, and lots of bacon.