Splitsville: When To Cut Ties With An Irresponsible Ex

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Welcome to Splitsville. This weekly column will focus on parenting after a divorce, break-up or one-night stand that didn’t end like a Katherine Heigl movie.

A couple weeks ago, I talked about the long wait for my daughter in between visits with her dad. When we start hitting that third week, it becomes difficult and emotional for everyone in the house. There are times, when my daughter is upset and confused, that I hate her father. I hate him for hurting our little girl. I hate him for being irresponsible and thoughtless with our baby’s heart. And every once in a while, in my most desperate moments, I wish that he would just stay away forever. I wish he would just let us deal with him being gone, because that seems easier than all this inconsistency.

But then, I try to remember that my daughter benefits from having a solid relationship with her dad. Whether she sees him or not can’t be my decision. It’s one that I’ve always thought that she deserves the right to make when she’s older. Because I want her to have the opportunity to bond with her father, I work very hard to be supportive and optimistic. All of that anger I feel when he no-shows, I refuse to let her see it. 

However, one commenter has passed the point of standing by, hoping that her ex will turn over a new leaf and get involved. Chels commented on that piece and said,

“What about the times when the Daddy is missing for a month or so every few months or half year because he’s an alcoholic and is back in rehab? This has been happening with my son since he was born, and he is now 2 1/2. Pretty soon he’s going to be keen to what’s going on, and as a Mother, I feel as though I should protect him from this sort of behavior. I’m supposed to be supportive of my child’s father’s inconsistent parenting? It feels more like I’m standing by helplessly as my child’s emotional well-being is being destructed, which goes directly against a mother’s natural protective instincts. Why should we be enablers of this sort of behavior? When DO we stand up and say either be a parent or don’t, but stop messing up our child before it’s too late?”

 She brings up a valid and difficult point. There has to be a line drawn in the sand, where supporting a struggling relationship turns into exposing your child to continued heartache. Your child’s needs always have to come first, and there may come a time when it’s not worth the effort to keep building a relationship that an ex might not want or value.

I’m can’t tell you exactly when that crossover happens, because it’s going to be different for every family. Another commenter had a great point that the most important issue might be honesty. There’s a difference between being supportive and optimistic and lying to cover up your ex’s bad behavior. I can truthfully tell my daughter, “You’re daddy is really busy with work,” because I know that he has a demanding job. But can a mother lie about addiction and rehab? I’m not so sure. I’m not advocating that someone tell their child, “Your dad is a bad person whose addicted to drugs,” but you could honestly say, “He’s sick and needs to be in the hospital right now.”

As our kids get older, we’re going to have to discuss the issues and problems with them honestly. Everyone who wants to be involved will need sit down, and make a commitment to be supportive and truthful. The older they get, the more that children will demand a say in their visitation schedule and parental involvement. Before kids are able to make those decisions, should primary caregivers be encouraging or on the defense? Well that’s a question that every parent will have to answer on their own, in whatever way works best for their kids.