How to Engage a Partially Present Co-Parent, Husband, or Spouse

By most normal standards, I am a single mom. I’m the custodial parent.  I have assumed most of the responsibilities for caring for and rearing my son.  However, I choose to consider myself a fully present co-parent.  Thankfully, I have the capacity to work full time, actively parent, and maintain a reasonable amount of sanity.  I am finally able to acknowledge and accept the fact that not all parents have the ability to do this.  I’ve had conversation after conversation with women who feel like they are parenting alone, or they are doing it with a partially present co-parent.  For some of us it’s co- parenting with a workaholic dad who can’t put the phone down or step away from the computer long enough to throw a baseball or have a tea party.  For others, it’s the father who, after the divorce, only shows up for major events but can’t be bothered with the day to day responsibilities of parenting.  Maybe, it’s the dad who comes home from work and retreats to his man-cave or crashes on the sofa to watch ESPN until he falls into a deep, coma-like sleep.   Although each scenario has a vastly different set of circumstances, they are similar in that they leave moms feeling like they are parenting alone.

I’ll spare you all the gruesome details, but I’m a certified expert on dealing with a partially present co-parent.  His inconsistency, unavailability, and perceived lack of interest in parenting was about to drive me over the edge until I realized that changing my mindset about him and his parenting style {or lack thereof} was 90% of the battle.  One of my favorite authors, Max Lucado, says it this way, “You change your life by changing your heart.”  The moment I changed my heart toward my son’s partially present father, I freed myself from lots of anger, worry, and un-forgiveness … and replaced all those negative vibes with lots and lots of hopefulness.  These are not fool-proof ideas and they require a generous amount of grace and patience, but they have worked for me.

GIVE PRAISE

It can be difficult to praise a person for doing something they’re supposed to do or something you’ve done a million times without so much as a “thank you.” But, if you can muster up the courage to highlight even the smallest of efforts, you will send an affirming message that has positive ripples throughout your family.  You get to feel good about yourself for being so mature, the co-parent will have a positive response to your kindness, and your children will witness a healthy interaction between their parents. We all know what the opposite of giving praise looks like, and it can get pretty ugly.

CREATE CONVENIENCE

Go out of your way to make co-parenting work. Fight the tendency to make things difficult. Sometimes, when frustrations are high, we find ourselves refusing to be inconvenienced, go out of our way, or do anything more than our fair share. When dealing with a co-parent who is already struggling to be present, this behavior is sure to drive him further away. Instead, take steps in the opposite direction. Rather than requiring that everything be split 50-50, come to terms with the fact that you may always carry the larger load and make it a point to make visits, money exchanges, drop offs, phone calls, etc. happen with ease.

DON’T BE COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE

Although it is extremely tempting, try to refrain from phrases like “Finally” or “It’s about time you…” or “Well, look who the cat drug in.”  Although they might be true and accurate sentiments, they are not helpful. Engaging a partially present co-parent requires a lot of suppressing our clever little clap-backs and back-handed compliments.  I’ve mastered the art of tongue-biting because no matter how bad a person deserves a good tongue lashing, I never feel good about myself after I’ve issued it.  Sometimes, a peaceful conversation is the answer, and sometimes silence is golden.   

STAY FOCUSED ON THE BIG PICTURE

Don’t allow yourself to become so overwhelmed with the small details that you lose sight of the larger picture.  There are so many valuable lessons to be learned by your child seeing you model healthy interactions with his other parent. Your primary goal must be that your child knows that he is loved by both parents and that he has fond, loving memories with each respective parent. He must also know that his parents are functioning as a healthy, happy{ish}  team. 

We practice these simple principles in platonic relationships all the time. For example, with annoying co-workers or in-laws. But we sometimes struggle to introduce them into our family dynamics.  It’s not always easy to take the high road, and certainly not when we’ve been mistreated, cast away, or left to single-handedly hold all the moving pieces together, but it’s necessary.  Being mature, conflict resolving, solution producing co-parents will yield many positive results in the lives of our children.

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2 Responses to How to Engage a Partially Present Co-Parent, Husband, or Spouse

  1. Liz June 30, 2017 at 9:55 pm #

    Great message! Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. Amber July 1, 2017 at 9:12 am #

    This sounds like a lovely, peaceful life of inequality that I struggle to accept. How do you reconcile it?

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