When it comes to parenting after divorce, the gold standard is co-parenting where both parents collaborate and support each other in raising their child. However, even co-parenting is a range with some couples being able to collaborate and agree on most issues at one end and other couples being able to agree on only a few issues at the other end. In high-conflict situations there’s parallel parenting where there’s little collaboration between parents. There’s also a third model where one parent is essentially absent leaving the remaining parent a true single parent. My current guest, Donna falls in the last group and in this post she talks about the impacts on her son of her ex not being around. Here’s Donna:
When we separated my ex was working out-of-state. Because his company will fly him back every two weeks I thought that he would come visit his son every two weeks and stay in a hotel. I envisioned that he would pay the child support because it wasn’t me deciding the amount, it was based on an equation. I didn’t think he would fight that.
It used to really bother me. He already is not showing a tremendous amount of interest in his son’s life. He’s only visiting him every two or three months. Even when he was visiting it was me initiating. It wasn’t like him banging at my door or calling on the phone saying, “Let me see my son.” It’s me calling him up, which I shouldn’t have to do, but I do it for my son’s sake. It’s me calling his dad up and saying you know, “Hey, he’s asking about you. Why don’t you come and visit.” Every time, that’s what triggers him to come visit his son. He never calls me to say, “Hey, can I come visit.”
There were a few times when he told me he wasn’t going to come and visit that it broke my heart for my son. My son is this a sweet, sweet little boy and of course I’m biased, but you couldn’t have asked for a sweeter little boy. Just to have a dad that doesn’t want to come visit him and spend time with him. It blows my mind.
The thing that keeps me going is that my son hardly asks about his dad or talks about him at all. I struggled with this issue for a while. I want the best for my son and it’s taken me a while to accept that, maybe it’s best that his dad doesn’t come and visit him. His dad is so self-centered that maybe it’s not all that bad that he’s not around him. I don’t want him to grow up to be like his dad. Certainly not.
I’m hoping he keeps doing Tae Kwon Do. He was doing Tae Kwon Do before and he loved it. All the masters there are male and they’re very good about teaching the kids respect for your parents and respect for others and adults. So my hope was that would be a good opportunity for him but he’s lost interest. If that doesn’t work, I’m going to have to look for other opportunities.
My dad visits every now and then, but both my brother and my dad both live four hours away so, I don’t get over there as often as I should.
He’s at that age where I think it’s really important to have a male figure. He’s not a little toddler anymore or preschooler that, is tied to, for lack of different phrase; mom’s apron strings.
The Divorce Coach Says
Dealing with an absentee parent is good and bad. Good in some ways because it significantly reduces the likelihood of conflict but bad because your child is wondering why his other parent doesn’t care.
The reality is that you can’t make your ex change his behavior and you can’t turn him into the parent you wish he could be. You can however, accept that he is being the best parent he can be, whatever that looks like at the time, even it means he’s a no-show dad.
You can also help your child to accept the situation. When your child says he wishes his dad could be more like his friend’s dad, you can express empathy but also explain in an age-appropriate way that relationships are rarely as perfect as they seem from the outside. His friend might get to spend all day with his dad doing fun activities because his dad has just got back from an overseas business trip and is leaving for another trip the next day. Your child may have more common with his friend than he realizes and you can help him focus on the similarities rather than the differences.
As Donna did, it is also helpful to seek out other role models who are the same sex as the absent parent. After-school activities, scouting, sports teams and church groups are great for this. And if you have time to volunteer with these groups all the better.
Where on the parenting scale are you and your ex? How has that changed over the years? How do you help your child accept that your ex is being the best parent he or she can?
Donna blogs about her journey at Elf Lady’s Chronicles including this fabulous post about facing your fears. The exercise that Donna went through here is an excellent one you can do yourself if you’re contemplating divorce but are afraid.
Photo credit: © 2012 Jupiter Images Corporation