When I sat down to think about what I wanted to say in this piece, I felt a rush of insecurities. How do I talk about the challenges of parenting when I’m not a parent? I bathe, feed, cuddle, and play with a small person, but I’m not her parent. I buckle them into a car seat, bring them to the library, withhold treats until the vegetables have been eaten, and
listen to their feelings, but I’m not their parent. She has an Ima and a Mama. When she introduces me to people, she’ll say “This is my Ethan!”, sometimes followed up with “He’s my mom’s boyfriend.” How do we name our families when there are no words?
There are many moments of caregiving, whether challenging or joyous, when I emotionally retreat a bit. It’s clear that the situation calls for a primary parent action. I readily acknowledge that I’m not (nor want to be) this person’s father, and the intensity of parenting that is needed is not within my ability. This is not a question of length of time as a caregiver; I’m simply never going to be this person’s father. The disconnect between parental-seeming duties while not being a parent is something that needs more reflection. I want words that say “This is who you are to me” without taking the place of “parent”*.
Not having a specific name in this kid’s life isn’t an issue in a day to day way. I am a constant presence. We have our disagreements and our cuddle times. She asks when I’m coming back; I tell her when I’ll see her next and that I’ll miss her until we see each other again. I get annoyed with her behavior and love her creativity at the same time. She is excited to share things she’s learned at school, and I genuinely enjoy hanging out with her. We know who we are to each other, even if there is no particular name for it.