Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is your spouse a bad parent?

22 March 2010

The definition of a bad parent is very subjective. It could be someone who neglects, abandons or abuses his children. Or it could even be a parent who provides financially but isn't there emotionally or psychologically for the children.

If you are reading this article, chances are you think your spouse isn't committed enough to the children or isn't spending enough time with your kids.

Family life educator Charis Patrick says it does happen and it's not always the dad, too. Even mums are sometimes guilty of this.

She explains that sometimes it is because the parent feels they are not ready for a baby and would rather run away from the responsibility.

“If your marriage is at a stage where you can communicate then I would suggest you talk it out with your spouse.

“Tell him or her that this is your child and you can't cope by yourself and you both need to take care of the child together.

“If he or she still cannot be bothered then I think you have to carry out your parenting role the best that you can while continuously trying to bring your spouse in,” says Patrick.

Assign tasks

She advises the responsible parent to study the strengths of their spouse. If the hands-off parent is not good at changing diapers or managing the child's meals, then perhaps give him or her some other task such as taking care of the money.

This means that when the child starts going to school, the job of liaising with the school will fall on one parent and the job of giving out the pocket money will be the other parent's job.

“Don't suddenly give your spouse 10 tasks to do. He or she will be so overwhelmed. Perhaps you could start with three things to begin with that you know he or she will be quite willing to take up. Or ask him/her: 'I know you feel overwhelmed with childcare, what are the three things you would like to start with?'

“When your spouse feels it is possible maybe he or she will feel motivated to come in and join you in this parenting journey,” she adds.

If your children are already schoolgoing they will tell you if they think dad or mum isn't spending enough time with them.

However, for smaller children you would be planning their routine and it would be up to you to monitor if your spouse isn't spending enough time with them.

“A very common scenario is when you want to take the family out but your husband does nothing about it and seems disinterested. I would tell the woman to plan and propose the outing and get him to approve it. Just tell him the time and date, tell him when to take leave and then make it happen. And, really hope that he enjoys that time so that he will be motivated to do it again the next time,” says Patrick.

Alternatively, you could tell him to plan the next outing. That's another way to get him involved.

Don't overdo it

If your spouse is assigned to plan an outing and he fails to plan anything, don't drive yourself crazy trying to organise that outing for him.

Let the whole family go through the consequence of him failing to plan the outing.

“As much as you guide and support, sometimes you just have to let the family enjoy the natural consequences so that he will sense the disappointment of the children and he will be motivated the next time to do better and not disappoint the whole family,” says Patrick.

She warns parents, especially women, not to overdo it when it comes to planning routines and outings for the family. There is the risk that you are so good at planning that your spouse acknowledges it and insists you keep doing it.

She explains that typically women tend to do too much in some families. What happens then is that the wife/mother is so efficient that she does all the tasks herself, not leaving space for her husband to play his role as the father.

Patrick: 'If you step back will your spouse step in to do more?'
“You have to see the dynamics. If you step back will your spouse step in to do more? And if your spouse is really quite bad at parenting, then you may have to maintain a lot of the responsibility for a while for the sake of the children. Meanwhile continue that negotiation with your spouse. You won't know how he will respond until you try so maybe you should learn how to take a step back. It's quite difficult for some women who have an overperforming role.”

Golf and holiday dads

How about the once-a-year-holiday dads or the golf dads?

Patrick reminds parents that relationships are not built on once-a-year vacations. Building a relationship is a daily affair. The same goes for golf dads who work hard and then play golf on the weekends, leaving the wife to handle the family.

“Honestly speaking it doesn't take a lot for a golf-playing dad to just make sure when he comes back from work every day that he connects with his child. If they are small, read to them a bedtime story. If they are teenagers, talk to them about their world views, their thinking or about their day. And that will be the great connect when you go for your annual vacation.

“It doesn't work if you have not been connecting day to day and suddenly you go for a vacation together. You won't know how to be together for 24 hours a day in a resort. It is meaningless if you go for a family holiday when you're all off doing your own thing (instead of spending time together).

“If you ask me if taking a family vacation will make up for the lost time on a regular basis, I will say no,” says Patrick.

If, despite all your efforts, your spouse still insists he or she has no time for the children because he or she has to work, then there needs to be a conversation between the husband and wife.

Perhaps a compromise can be met whereby your spouse agrees to come home early once a week. It needs to be early enough to see the children before they go to bed.

“Those who have a choice need to make their children a priority. Some families really have no choice because they need to work hard and work overtime because they need the money to keep the family going.

“The wonderful thing is that if the child knows you are working super hard to pay the bills and therefore you have no time for them usually they will understand. If you have a choice to come back but prefer to be out or spend time with other people, they will know that you don't care about them,” she explains.

What if your spouse really does want to do more but he or she is really bad at certain tasks that even your child prefers you to do it? For example, your child might prefer you to do crafts with her because dad just messes it up.

“For me, as long as he's prepared to step in it's a very good sign. It may not be up to your standard and perhaps you will just have to suffer that lower standard for a while. Whether the child is happy or not is less important than dad's involvement because his involvement is a long-term plan. He needs time to grow into that role. Unless you give him the time and space to grow, mature and be good at that, he will never learn and the last thing you want to do is push him out of that role.

“I think men need a lot of encouragement for the small achievements. Don't put them down.”

The ex-spouse

What happens if the hands-off and non-committal parent is your ex-husband or ex-wife? It could be that they're not spending enough time with the children or they want to take the children out for a treat at 10pm on a school night.

Says Patrick:

“If the 'bad' parent is an ex-spouse, I will explain to the child that because daddy and mummy live in different households, we have different families and different rules now. You could perhaps say, 'I know that when you go there you are allowed to play games the whole day and indulge. Because that is not my family anymore, I can't say anything but I want to let you know that when you come back to my family, my rules apply.'

“The child needs to know that. If the child is mature enough, I will try to explain the consequences to all the things that they are allowed to indulge in at the other parent's house.

“I would be very honest and tell the child that I have no control on what happens on the other side but perhaps they might want to think it through on their own and make their own decisions. This way, if your ex-spouse wants to take them out late on a school night, they can then choose whether to go or not. At least you plant that thought in the child to let him or her know that they have a choice.

“I would never attempt to change the other parent who is an ex-spouse, but I would let the child know that when they are with me my rules still apply and they have a choice when they are in the other parent's house. And I would remind myself not to say bad things about the other person.

“If your ex-spouse wants to take the children out on a school night when the child is with you, then I would put my foot down. The child needs some routine. Explain to your ex that the children would love to go out with her/him but not tonight because it's a school night.

“It may not be easy but if I have custody then I would do what's in the best interest of the child. I would then say 'No' and the other parent has no right to come and take my child because it's outside of their visitation time/rights with the child. Still, be very cordial about it. It's important not to get emotional because that's when it's very bad for the child because the child will feel very torn.”

She says that parents should never try to explain or make excuses for the other party because you can never be accurate. Even if you manage to, you'll probably be half lying and the child will know it.

If you are divorced, it is best not to try and control what happens when your children are with their other parent.

Your children will eventually realise that you have very little say in what happens on the other side and when you're transparent and honest they will really appreciate you.

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