There are two sides to every tale, which I guess is why Maury Povich drags both parties out onto the stage for every paternity test face-off. So when one parent contends that the other isn’t holding up their end of the responsibility in the tremendous task of raising a kid, it’s a pretty hefty accusation. But in many cases, it’s a valid one nonetheless. Heck, the term ‘deadbeat’ dad didn't enter the regular rotation of vocabulary words for nothing.
This much I do know — a smile should never slide off of a child’s face the way it did when my daughter found out that her father was not having the party of legendary proportions that he’d promised for her 10th birthday. Too proud to confront the disappointment caused by his abrupt change of plans, my ex avoided our little girl’s phone calls for two weeks after I broke the news of the cancellation.
It certainly wasn’t the first time in my child’s life that I was the reluctant bearer of her father’s broken promises. But it never gets any easier to watch her spirit balk, especially at the hand of one of her co-creators.
Of course, fathers who don’t live with their children aren’t the only parents who can be accused of capriciousness and undependability. Men often get the brunt of the bad parent finger-wagging, but after watching a dozen or more reality shows with horrifying examples of mothers, we see bold proof that there are some women who are quite capable of being erratic with their responsibility, too.
But countless real-life testimonies and in-your-face statistics prove that more fathers have difficulty living up to their obligations than their former female partners. Numbers crunched from the Census make it clear that almost 30 percent of kids in this country are being raised in a single-parent household. Of that number, 84 percent of them are living with their mothers. That makes the time they should have with their fathers even more precious. That makes the time they should have with their fathers even more imperative.
The disconnect between a deadbeat father and their word to their kids can probably be traced to one of several common factors: they lack the money to support their children, they maintain a tumultuous relationship with the kids’ mother, they are repeating the same cycle of abandonment that they experienced in their own youth. And those may very well be legitimate reasons — on paper. Even when a mother makes excuses to soothe her child’s hurt feelings, the effects of a father’s repeat abandonment can go beyond needing a fix like a hug and a piece of chocolate cake to make it all better. Those effects can be permanently damaging.
Dr. Jeff Gardere, a respected psychologist whose work has been splashed all over the parenting field, has said of the subject: “A child will start becoming cynical. They’ll become sad or depressed because there is no rhyme or reason to when they can see their father,” he noted, adding, “It certainly can affect a child’s self-esteem, a child’s happiness, a child’s sense of what a parent should be.”
Seems reason enough for a mother to step in.
At the risk of feeling like the dreaded ‘B’ word — or flat out being called as such — women have to step in to ensure their children aren’t scarred by their exes’ flippant attitude toward fatherhood. Kids may blame mommy for putting an end to daddy’s inconstant visits. And of course, mommy won’t score any cool points with the man she’s running interference against.
But Dr. Gardere says the situation calls for reform. “I truly believe that consistency in a relationship is the most important thing, so mom has to lay down the law,” he advises. “She has to tell dad that if he cannot see his child consistently or if he cannot follow through on his promises, then he cannot be in that child’s life.”
On our end, after a string of disappointments and issues that I did my best to smooth over, The Girl and her father are giving each other the silent treatment. They haven’t spoken since the holidays. I encourage her to talk about her feelings and I’m praying that they end up sorting their situation out. I can be a lot of things to her, but I can’t be her father.
Even in my willingness to overlook her dad’s sometimeyness, it’s my job to make sure nothing interrupts her progression into a beautiful, healthy young lady — not even her other parent.
Should a custodial parent cut off the other parent from seeing a child if they aren’t being responsible or consistent?
Image via Gustty/Flickr