We're so excited to share with you the experiences of our first #BeThereBeYourself champion, Jenny.
Our new campaign, The Big Monster Mashup, confronts gender stereotyping around fatherhood. We're sharing the message to father-figures across Scotland, to “Be there, be yourself”, to encourage them to celebrate their diversity, to feel supported when discussing their emotions, to feel empowered to embrace a care-giving role, and above all to find joy in the little things - and to be silly! All with the help of My Happy Journal. You can find out more about our competition here.
Jenny's daughter has drawn her as a superhero monster, flying across town day or night to help.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Officially I’m the ex-stepmother of my daughter who is almost reaching her teens, not her birth mother, and I’ve not found many people out there with that CV. My daughter’s mother and I were in a civil partnership when we had our daughter but we unfortunately separated within a year of her birth and 2 years later we dissolved our civil partnership, with my daughter’s mother taking full custody and I maintained a day a week of unofficial time with her. My ex and I are on good terms but it’s been hard work over the years, probably from both sides.
I work full time in Edinburgh, and therefore the weekend time together works for me. I get to give my daughter the best of me because of that, with no distractions.
How would you describe your parenting role?
I’ve come to accept I have the easy job really, as I only see my daughter once a week and for that day I give her my undivided attention. I don’t often get any of the difficult jobs like putting her to bed on a school night, rushing in the morning to take her to school, giving her into trouble or trying to juggle household tasks, or work with her in tow. I am lucky to have a day a week of fun and excitement and I sometimes help with homework or other activities to support her development. She knows I will always come to see her every weekend and I think she gets a chance to expand her world having both her mum and I give her different opportunities.
How do you feel that gender stereotyping around fatherhood has affected you as a parent?
When I am out with her, as I am female, everyone assumes I am her mother, we both wear glasses and even that makes people jump to conclusions that we are related. Sometimes we both just let that pass, and giggle to ourselves, but it can be awkward at times. It’s usually not worth explaining everything, it’s just too complicated. I do feel that I have the fatherly role, but it’s not quite like that. I don’t really fit into a box that society can relate to. I think she sometimes finds it difficult to explain to people who I am, but I know she values our relationship and wants me in her life. She understands her story and that’s all that matters.
What are the assumptions made about you that annoy you the most?
People assume I am a bad mother if I say I have a child but I have split from my ex and my daughter lives with ‘them’. Sometimes I don’t want to have to explain I was in a lesbian relationship at that time, why should I? They assume I am the birth mother and how dare I abandon her and why doesn’t she live with me, all these negative assumptions, I see it on their faces. I never left her, would never have left her if it had been my decision, and that annoys me. Strangers are always quick to judge.
How do you feel that services could better serve you as a parent?
When my partner and I first split up and they both left the family home, I tried to engage with services but was immediately shunned. No one was interested in my thoughts, opinions, worries or concerns except if I was worried about the safety of my child, which I wasn’t. I was left out of the picture and discarded, and at that sensitive time, that behaviour – or lack of compassion from services, could have been very damaging to me. Health visitors and the like that had visited us as a family in our home wouldn’t talk to me about the situation, they sided with the birth mother, as was the way then. I hope that has changed. I was strong enough to get through that time on my own, with the support of friends, but looking back I don’t really know how. I just took it a day at a time and looked forward to the happy times despite having no professional support.
What has your experience of parenthood been like, to date?
Parenting is the best experience ever, nothing can beat it. Every time I see my daughter I smile and feel happy, and nothing else surpasses that. At first giving her back after my few hours of time with her was immensely hard, and I cried and it was painful. It’s become easier over the years but I still feel I miss out on the day to day events that I don’t get to see or get to be involved in. Being a part time parent is not easy but I’ve learned to appreciate the time I do have with her. I now have the opportunity to take her on short holidays, I have plenty of overnights with her and overall my involvement as a parent has improved. I find it hard to be strict, I don’t like giving her into trouble or saying ‘no’ as our time is so valuable. She understands the concept of this precious time, but hasn’t yet learned to take advantage of it, so I need to get stronger before the wild teenager appears.
How supported in your parenting journey have you felt?
How easy do you find it to be ‘present’ in your child’s life?
Until recently I was only seeing her one day a week, so it was hard to be properly ‘present’ but now, with mobile phones I do get to have a little more communication mid-week, it might just be a random cat gif, but even that is better than nothing. My ex hasn’t encouraged any mid-week input, for fear of too much distraction or confusion I think, but I believe with my daughter getting older that may change. The weeks pass by quickly and I pack in work, and then the weekend comes round again. It’s almost like I have 2 lives running in parallel but never really crossing over. I talk about my daughter to my partner, friends, colleagues and my parents so she is never far from my thoughts. I know she thinks about me too, but like all kids, probably not as much as we’d like.
What makes you laugh most when you’re together?
We have silly things that we do, like most parents do with their child. Things that only we do, guessing games, names we call each other, she says the funniest of things. One time we went on holiday and when going to bed and getting tucked in she said ‘I’ve brought spotty (a wildly coloured big eyed soft toy), who have you brought?’ that made me laugh. She sees me as an equal, like a big kid that is her friend and we do more ‘scary’ or ‘brave’ things than she does with her mum. I am glad I give her that reassurance.
What five words would you use to describe yourself?
Dependable, Trustworthy, Sensitive, Fun, Forgetful
What five words would your daughter use to describe you?
Forgetful, Playful, Soft (as in I let her off with things too easily), Determined, Reliable