My Ex is Very Inconsistent; Should I Just Tell Him Not to Call Anymore?

Mother with new baby suffering from postpartum depression
JGI/Jamie Grill

Question: My Ex is Very Inconsistent; Should I Just Tell Him Not to Call Anymore?

Sheryl asks:

I believe very strongly that it's best for children to grow up with two involved parents, and even though my son's father and I never married, I hoped he would always be active in our son's life.

However, Evan is now 3, and his father has basically become an absentee parent. He has a new girlfriend, has "moved on," and doesn't seem interested in seeing Evan anymore. In the last year, he's only seen him a few times.

Now I'm starting to wonder if having a father who is so inconsistent might be even worse than having one who is just not involved at all. Should I just tell him to stop calling altogether?

Answer:

I agree with you that, in general, it's best for children when both of their parents can be actively involved in their lives. However, you can't force your son's father to be the involved parent you want him to be. At the same time, though, there are some things you can to create optimal conditions for a healthy, connected relationship between your son and his father.

What is particularly frustrating is that this should be something that your son's father is doing on his own; maintaining their relationship shouldn't be only your responsibility. However, I imagine that the behavior patterns you are seeing did not develop overnight, and it will require a lot of effort on your part to disrupt them. It is worth it, though, when you realize that your son really needs and enjoys his father, and you focus on what he gets out of it. Here are some questions you can begin to ask yourself to discover small ways you can change the current relational patterns you are seeing:

What do I want?
This is an important question. If you're really hoping that your son's father will disappear, he probably will. On the other hand, if you have a picture in your mind of your son's father being someone he can share fun times with, talk to, and learn from, then that ideal begins to become a possibility. Sometimes the first step in changing the outcome is envisioning a better one.

What is in the way?
Why doesn't that ideal relationship exist right now? Is your son's father unsure of his parenting abilities? Does he feel like you don't want him to be involved? Does he need time to grow up and accept responsibility? If it's at all possible, talk about these issues together so that you can get to the root of the problem.

Is there a reason why he is choosing not to be involved?
It's possible that he just isn't sure how to make this work. Under the circumstances, he may not want to tell you that; but it could certainly affect his willingness to be involved.

Am I contributing to this issue in any way?
This is a tough question, because it's likely that you've been hurt by this person in the past, and that's why you're not together anymore. However, in order to enable your son to have a positive relationship with him, you're going to have to ask yourself honestly whether you could be consciously or unconsciously adding to the problem.

What needs to change before a more positive, consistent relationship between them can become a reality?
This could be something that you need to change; but it could also be something that he needs to change.

Have I communicated with my co-parent about how I'd like to see their relationship grow?
If you feel that you've tried to communicate your wishes for their relationship, but you're just not being heard, consider writing your thoughts down in a letter. Sometimes the same message you've been saying for months or years can be "taken in" when it's written down in black and white.

Have we sought the help of a counselor or trained mediator if communication has become ineffective?
If you're serious about repairing the relationship between your son and his father, consider working with a counselor or professional mediator.

How would my son benefit from having a healthy relationship with his dad?
This last question is really key. Under the circumstances you described, facilitating a positive relationship between your son and his father will require a lot of work and sacrifice on your part. In order to have the resolve, then, to do that hard work, you're going to have to really know in your heart how that relationship will benefit your son. With that in mind, it becomes easier extend yourself beyond what you "should" have to do and focus on what what you need to do for your son's sake.

If you have a question you'd like to ask, please E-mail the Single Parents Guide.