A lot of single dads are stuck in the precarious position of co-parenting with an ex who chooses not to work. In theory, that situation is wonderful for children who benefit from the stability of having one parent home with them instead of bussing between school, daycare, and two separate homes.
In reality? Just because a parent is home full-time doesn’t necessarily mean that the children are getting more care and attention. And, worse, if you work a lot of hours, and so your parenting time schedule is restricted by your job, while your ex is at home with the children all the time, it can give your children the impression that it means that you don’t care about them and spending time with them.
Controlling the Narrative
It’s easy for someone to control the parenting narrative when they’re home with the kids 24/7. However, you can’t always assume they intend to make you look bad, even if that’s how it feels.
Sometimes they don’t realize what they’re saying is creating a bad impression. For instance, when a child asks mom why she isn’t working, she might say, “So I can stay home with you,” as a way to prevent the child from worrying about money issues. In the child’s mind that can turn into, “Mom says you don’t care about me because you always work,” by the time the child gets to your house.
It’s important to know what your co-parent is actually saying in those situations. Truth is, she might not know why your child feels that way. The important thing is that she’s willing to help correct it.
When Work Is a Weapon
Intense work schedules cause problems for many relationships, so there’s no wonder these resentments sometimes bleed over to co-parenting relationships. What can you do when your ex pretends you’re working because you don’t love your child?
Step one is determining whether you’re overdoing things. Some careers demand more than a single parent can adequately provide. If you never see your children, or if you’re so tired, stressed, and distracted by work that your time together isn’t meaningful, it might be time to find another line of work. That may sound extreme, but nothing is more extreme than losing your relationship with your child. Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle” isn’t just a moving song, it’s reality; listen to it if you need to refresh your memory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7OqwKfgLaeA
One dad on Reddit said he wanted to make the jump away from HVAC service because it was taking up too much of his time and his boss wasn’t willing to let him off for school or sports functions. He felt like he couldn’t switch gears because he’d invested so much time and money into training and didn’t think he could find a job that paid half as well in another field.
Many single dads are in the same boat. (Does your job allow for a good work-life balance, or does it interfere too much with your time with your kids? Let us know in a comment.)
Step two is talking with your ex. Point out that this kind of talk isn’t doing anything but hurting your children. If her concerns are valid, make it clear that you’re working to solve the problem in a way that won’t leave anyone destitute.
It’s not as simple, “I wouldn’t work if I didn’t have to pay child support,” and saying that won’t do anything to help the conversation. Try things like, “If my income goes down, I can’t give you as much for support,” instead.
Ask if she’s willing to consider reducing support payments, even if only temporarily and, if so, be sure to have the court change the support order to reflect the new, reduced amount; if you do not do this, then it is not only not legally binding or enforceable, but you will be piling up back child support arrearages that the court or district attorney can enforce against you. Only a court order or an agreement approved by the court can change your legal support obligation.
Step three is talking with your child. Kids don’t care if you have to work more to support their lifestyles. They don’t care that someone has to pay for food. They have immediate concerns and fears about how you feel. So, when they show insecurity, make sure you respond with kindness and love. “I wish I didn’t have to work as much. I miss you.”
Also, make sure you spend the time you have together interacting with one another. One dad we know of makes every night at his house screen-free. Instead of spending the night on their phones, he and his kids make supper together and play board games. As a parent, you have to do what you have to do to show your kids you’d rather hang out with them than anybody.
Too many single dads work too much, have limited time to share with their kids, and get put to shame for it by a co-parent who doesn’t have a job. Practical solutions start with discussions and effective time management but can lead to big changes, like choosing a new line of work. If you’ve successfully navigated this problem, we’d love to hear your tips below.