Uninvolved Dad Worries Mom

architect dad waves away son. uninvolved dad concept

Q: My husband isn’t involved at all with our kids. It seems that all the parenting duties fall on me. He is rarely around and, when he is, there is tension in the air. I worry about what having an uninvolved dad is doing to my son and daughter as they approach high school.

Let’s start by defining the kind of parenting that provides the essential needs for children.

We know they need:

  • Warmth, shown by caring, responsiveness, and acceptance (of who they are, not always what they do.)
  • Monitoring of their activities and whereabouts, more at certain times than others.
  • Good, solid discipline, often referred to as logical consequences, other times referred to as authoritative discipline: Setting age appropriate and clear limits, rules and expectations; firm, not aggressive, discipline that is consistent.
  • One parent who can listen and talk, do projects and homework, and play actively with the children.

The next step would be to think about what hurts children. Research shows that conflict that puts children squarely in the middle of the parents is damaging. Examples of this kind of conflict occur when parents ask children to carry negative/critical messages to the other parent. Asking questions of the children about their other parent rather than dealing directly with the parent is equally discomforting. Parents need to make sure they do not act contemptuously or in a demeaning manner toward the other parent in front of the children. It is equally important not to ask children to keep secrets from the other parent or hide their feelings about the other parent. All of these actions put children in the middle of conflict, a bad place to be.

No family is without conflict, and handling it well can be a good learning experience for children. As you consider the conflict in your family, be aware of the intensity and focus of the conflict. Conflict should never come through the child.

Children benefit from the presence of buffers such as a good relationship with one parent, caregiver, or mentor, parental warmth and sibling support. They also fare better if parental conflict is periodic rather than constant.

So we know what children need, what they don’t need, and how much conflict is too much for them. The question is how do you cope with the feeling that “parenting” falls on your shoulders and is not shared in the way you had perhaps imagined?

Resentment can be a problem for both you and your children. Are you doing a good job of balancing the roles in your life? Do you have friends for emotional support? Do you pursue the special hobbies or activities that are important to you? Make sure that you are taking care to meet your own needs and not waiting for someone else to make that happen. Remember, this is not only great role modeling for your children, but also reduces frustration that you may be directing toward your husband. If you need help doing this, ask for it. Counselors and life coaches can make a big difference.

I will assume that you have already told your husband that you want him to be more involved, and for whatever reasons, he hasn’t responded in a way that has met your requests. Approach you husband with the assumption that he wants to be a good parent, even if you don’t see it. Doing your best to invite or increase his participation might involve making sure you let him know the fun you are having with the children. Share the best of the parenting so that he sees what wonderful children you both have. Make sure his lack of involvement is not ruining your time with them.

Are there certain things he has enjoyed with the children in the past? Is it possible that he could do those things when you aren’t available? You might even set something up and have a conflict at the last minute so that he will need to follow through for the children’s sake. He may need some one-on-one time with both or one of the children to increase his comfort level in actively parenting. No matter what goes wrong, focus on what went right in any of his parenting involvement. He might need to increase his confidence as a parent. You might need some help distracting yourself from a pattern of conflict about his level of involvement with the children. It hasn’t worked so far, so let it go.

Does he have any favorite memories of what he did as a child with his father? Would he be willing to do any of those activities with one or both of the children? Can you stay out of any planning he does so it is all his and he isn’t being instructed on how to be a father? It may be surprising to learn that in trying to be helpful, you may be perceived by him to be controlling. Staying out of it may be difficult and even prove to be problematic at first, but your children can help your husband in planning, if needed.

Do you have any friends with children the same age as yours? Could the dads plan some activity while the moms do something else? Your husband might find it easier to parent in a group with other dads. If he didn’t have a great dad for a role model, he could learn from his friends.

Is there an issue that your husband might be able to help regarding raising the children? He might be interested in reading a current book on raising children in today’s culture. He could be the expert in an area that isn’t your territory.

You know from the research what healthy parenting you want to provide. You also know that putting children in the middle of conflict is something you want to avoid. If any of the ideas for increasing your husband’s engagement with the children works, you will have made movement in the right direction. Just remember, they will do fine with you as the primary caregiver, but make sure you are taking care of yourself as well. Good luck!

Categories: Infant/Pre-School, Little Ones