Dare to Hope Again: Single Mom Jerdi on Incarceration and Parenting.

Today’s Community Blogger Jerdi writes a powerful, compelling account about the various ways in which her family is coping with the incarceration of her daughters’ father, their paternal grandmother, and other relatives. For single mothers of children with incarcerated fathers, Father’s Day can be complex and challenging. Our thoughts and support are with you this weekend and every day of the year.

This photo, taken during Camp Divas’ Daddy-Daughter Dance in the multipurpose room at Richmond City Jail in Rhode Island. “A Dance of Their Own” is the only program of its kind in the U.S., but incarceration impacts an ever-growing number of father-child relationships.

I’ve yet to meet a woman who set out to become a single mother, but if there’s anything life has taught me, it’s this: You make plans. You have hope, and then life happens. You dust yourself off, make new plans, and dare to hope again. It’s cyclical. 

We met when I was 16 years old. His mother and I worked together at a fast food restaurant. At that time, my relationship with my own mother was tumultuous, so his mom took me under her wing and showed me the kind of love I thought I needed. He and I were friends first, but soon moved to a physical relationship.

Within a few years, we decided to be as serious as a 19 and 21-year-old could be.  We discussed a small courthouse wedding, three-bedroom brick house, and a baby. We tried for the baby first, and in July 2002, our first daughter was born.

By June 2003, we had a second daughter, and our relationship was over. Having children was my catalyst for change, but it didn’t mean the same for him. The lifestyle we led was fine when it was just us.  We both had been in and out of jail for various reasons.  But, having children meant that I was responsible for someone other than myself, and I refused to let them down.

His mother left six days before the birth of our first daughter to serve a ten-year federal prison term. I saw firsthand how devastating her departure was for the family, and I couldn’t do that to my children. I’d have to find another way. For him, it was cause to double-down on his old habits.

Last month he and several other family members, including his mother, were indicted by a Federal Grand Jury on multiple drug charges.  He’s facing a minimum of 10 years in federal prison. His mother is facing a minimum of 20 years. The news shook me to my core when I realized I’d have to somehow explain to my wide-eyed 9- and 10-year-old girls that their entire immediate family was gone- and gone to prison no less.

For some reason, I always thought I could shield them from THIS side of things until they were adults, or at the very least teenagers.  At most, they knew their dad smoked cigars, hung out late at night, and didn’t have a regular job.  I only wanted them to know the redemption; I never wanted them to live through the pain of the process. The only thing I could do was pray.

I sat the girls down and explained that their father was in prison, that he’d be there for a very long time, but that they can write letters, talk to him on the phone, and visit whenever they’d like. I figured going with a positive approach (i.e. “You can talk to your dad and have his undivided attention now!”) would be best. Turns out it doesn’t matter how you spin bad news, it’s still bad.

My oldest daughter cried and she continues to cry about every other day. She’s also tried to runaway twice this week. The younger one hasn’t cried yet, but she is very angry with him. They both are.  [I’ve yet to disclose the status of their grandmother and other family members.]

I’ve watched my daughters carefully scan gym bleachers for their father at the championship game, and countless times I’ve run out of excuses for why he couldn’t be there. I find minimal comfort in the fact that, now, one reason for his absence will remain constant. Honestly, no matter how angry he made me over the years, I still held out hope that he would come around. I saw glimpses of an “aha moment” at the one basketball game he attended.  His eyes lit up when she dribbled down the court, he said how much he wished he had been there for other games, and promised to do better. I believed it was just a matter of time before he’d truly “get it” as a parent.

Some pain is inevitable, and all pain certainly causes you to grow. You find character and strength in the trenches.  I know these things.  But I’m not a fan of the lesson – not by any stretch of the imagination.

In the past month, I’ve questioned my own parenting and the choices I’ve made. Hell, I’ve blamed myself for the father I chose for my daughters.  It’s heartbreaking to see your children hurt, to watch them wonder how their love could return to them void, but I know that I’m not in this alone.

I find comfort in knowing that others have gone on to do this successfully.  I pray that at some point they will have a relationship with their father.  And I remain hopeful that even if they don’t, they’ll still turn out okay.  Countless children have grown up to become amazing men and women without their fathers being in their lives.  That is the truth I stand on.  But, in the meantime, I’ll continue to wrap my arms around them as they lie next to me, wondering why they weren’t enough.

Jerdi is the mother of two daughters, aged 9 and 10. You can follow her on Twitter and send words of encouragement and support at @justjerdi.

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