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How to deal with an absent dad

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Not holding up his end of the bargain

If your child’s father isn’t doing his part financially, physically or emotionally for your child, you may be shaking your fist at the sky — but also wondering what else you can do. There are ways for you and your child to cope.
Parents in conflict

Being a single mom is hard work, but it can be a lot more difficult if your child’s father isn’t a part of his life, both for you and for your kids.

Most dads are great with their kids in the cases of separation or divorce — helping financially, weighing in on important decisions and sharing the physical parenting duties. But when that support is less than agreed upon or completely absent, you may wonder how to cope, and what to say to your kids.

When it falls apart

You may have had an amicable split, but what you’d agreed on simply hasn’t come to fruition. Dad doesn’t show up to take the kids for promised outings or visits, and your child support checks are coming few and far between. Other moms report that their former partner states outright that they won’t be helping support their children. As Becky, mom of two girls, reports, “My ex-husband said, word for word, ‘I’m not giving you anything... I've supported you and those kids for the last six years. Put your big girl panties on and handle it yourself.’”

Tame your expectations

While not all exes are as blunt as Becky’s, it’s a good idea to let your child’s father set the tone of what his contributions will be. While child support can and will be enforced by the courts (although the results are often less than spectacular), visiting times, especially when there is no formal agreement, are often left up to the parents. Encourage your former partner to uphold his end of the bargain — but realize that you cannot force him to spend time with his children if he doesn’t want to.

Be honest with your children

Kids will understandably be upset when promises are broken, so be sure to explain to them exactly what has transpired. If you don’t know why Dad didn’t show up, that’s what you need to tell them — avoid speculating if you can.

Try not to badmouth

As tempting as it is, try to not speak ill of your child’s absent parent. Your child can and should be allowed to form his own opinion, so let him be free to do so. Listen with kindness and compassion and don’t chastise him for his anger or tears. If his father continues to ignore his child, the correct opinion will form on its own. Keep in mind, also, that your child is of your former partner, and any badmouthing may inadvertently reflect on your child too.

Be proud of yourself

Raising children with a partner can be hard — doing so alone can seem impossible. During the hard times, take pride in each day you get through. Take time to grieve a relationship that didn’t last, but look ahead to your new life. Also, don’t forget to live in the present. Enjoy the unique individuals that your kids are and surround them with love. You’re doing awesome.

More on single parenting

Single mom no more: Parenting with a partner
How to balance life as a single parent
7 Dating tips for single moms

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