Ah, baby daddies. You can't live with them, and you can't make babies without them. Whether you're still romantically linked with the father of your child or not, he's an important part of your kid's upbringing. We spoke with marriage and family therapist Dr. David Simonsen to hear his tips for troubleshooting your co-parenting concerns when your baby daddy's choices veer from annoying into terrible.
First of all, let's define "terrible"
Sorry, moms — even if you have ongoing parenting disagreements with the father of your child, that doesn't necessarily make him a terrible parent. Disagreements about the ins and outs of parenting are just par for the course. For example, conflicts about bedtime, food choices and free time call for communication and compromise, because they're questions of preference rather than safety.
Some disagreements, however, truly surface from terrible parenting. "If the father of your child is doing something that could be harmful in the long-term, it definitely needs to be addressed," said Dr. Simonsen. Anything that endangers the safety of your child deserves intervention because it is, in fact, terrible parenting.
How to triage your concerns
According to Dr. Simonsen, all parenting concerns need to be looked at in light of danger to your child. Danger, moreover, encompasses more than just physical safety concerns. If your child's father puts your child in any of the following types of danger, you need to intervene.
- Physical danger. If your child's father is physically abusive with his discipline or neglectful of your child's physical safety, you need to intervene swiftly and forcefully. Placing your child in physical danger is terrible parenting and requires quick action.
- Mental and emotional danger. An emotionally-abusive father can also cause long-term damage to your child. If you've seen evidence of manipulation, name-calling or any type of threatening, then this behavior also calls for intervention.
- Sexual danger. Of course, sexual abuse needs intervention and a revocation of the father's parental rights. But sexual danger is more nuanced than sexual abuse. If Dad has a succession of women circulating through his house, has multiple affairs or uses your kid as a surrogate spouse (inappropriately leaning on your child for emotional support), this can cause emotional and sexual turmoil for your child.
If your child's father makes choices that are more annoying than dangerous, then your approach needs to be different. Spend some time thinking about whether or not you're scared for your child's safety prior to intervening.
Ideas for troubleshooting bad parenting
Intervention for terrible parenting will look different between parents and scenarios. Once you're triaged your parenting concern, consider the following options.
- Old-fashioned communication. Dr. Simonsen suggests basic communication for the parenting questions that are annoying rather than dangerous. "So many things grow and die on the issue of communication," said Simonsen. "Parenting issues will never be addressed adequately until mom and dad, regardless of their relationship, can figure out how to communicate." He suggests developing a parenting plan with a marriage and family therapist if communication around annoying concerns seems impossible.
- Tapping friends and family. If your child's father is humble and teachable, Dr. Simonsen suggested talking to a mutual friend or family member about your concerns. Unfortunately, moms sometimes find that dads don't take their concerns seriously until they hear it from another person. He suggested finding someone that your child's father trusts, and asking that person to speak on your behalf.
- Legal involvement. "While not ideal, attorneys and a court-ordered parenting plan can take care of your concerns," said Simonsen. "The safety of the child takes priority over the feelings of parents." With the help of an attorney, you can craft a parenting plan and custody arrangement that specifies the types of parenting behaviors that will and will not occur with your child. You can also push for sole custody if you feel that your child is in ongoing danger.
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