Part-time Dads. If you don’t spend quality time with your kids when they are young, don’t be surprised when they don’t want to spend any time with you when they are old enough to see what sort of Dad you are, and have been.
It’s never easy when you go through a divorce, especially when you have children. Coming from experience, I found the whole process really stressful and emotionally draining.
Most dads successfully share custody and are tuned into their children’s lives and needs, but there are some dads who find it very difficult to build a new relationship with their kids. It’s the novelty of been single again. It’s almost like they have turned the clock back twenty years to when life was so much simpler. I am not saying that they don’t love their kids, but for some strange reason, some dads get things the wrong way around.
The Classic Part-Time Dad
The classic part-time dad often turns up late to pick up his kids for the weekend, the excuse given that he was “tied up at work” or “at the obligatory happy hour”.
Dad may be really good at his job and work has always been important to him, and probably one of the reasons why his marriage hit problems. But he approaches time with his kids as mainly play time or a chance for his children to see his new house/flat, while he’s on his computer or phone or otherwise absorbed in his personal life or taking the office home with him.
Characteristics of a Part-Time Dad
The main characteristic of the part-time dad is he’s preoccupied with his own needs and desires, an unconscious self-absorption. He’s an expert at “skating through life,” aware of what pleasures he wants to take part in, and resentful of anyone who gets in the way.
For some of the time, he takes the kids along in his pursuit of fun and the kids enjoy that. He joins in with his kids, so long as they’re having fun (and it’s not too long). But when it stops being fun—what does the part-time dad do next?
What Does a Part-Time Dad do When This Happens?
It’s not all about fun weekends and having a good time. Yes, spending quality time with them and sharing those funny moments is part of having a great weekend. But once the fun is over, part-time dad detaches himself from the kids and tends to leave them to their own devices.
He doesn’t want to go much deeper than that and leaves most of the difficult, unpleasant, and emotional parts of parenting to their mother. Speaking from experience, I know how difficult it is to interact with your kids when you separate from your partner. Kids do have a good time with their dad, particularly when younger. Who wouldn’t?
Part-time dad has:
- Few rules.
- Not a lot of structure.
And most kids going to see their part-time dad will typically say:
- If we have homework—don’t worry about it, dad will probably forget.
- Don’t worry about wearing clean clothes or brush your hair or teeth. Dad won’t notice or care.
- Do you want to play video games all morning? See a PG-13 movie when you’re nine years old? Stay up late on a school night? Play on your iPod for hours on end? No problem.
And the killer excuse:
“Let the kids be kids,” say these dads. “They’re just having fun. How can it hurt? I’ve got to finish this email or take this call. I can’t entertain them all the time.”
What’s wrong with this, you may ask?
Well, think about it. Parenting is more than just having fun. Part-time dads cannot just pick and choose how they want to be with their kids. Talk to most mothers who are sharing the parenting and they will tell you why part-time dads are failing in their responsibility.
Most mothers are exhausted and worried. The kids aren’t getting what they need from their dad during crucial developmental years and the mothers are on the front line witnessing how it is affecting them. Most part-time dads have their kids just on the weekends, leaving the rest of the time spent with their mother.
Mothers need more help than part-time dads are giving, especially when teenagers are involved. Being a teenager today is far more difficult. You only have to see how social media has impacted modern day life to see how this can affect kids today emotionally, as well as physically. More than ever, kids need both parents to be involved in moral support and guidance.
Part-time dads cannot just walk away and absolve any responsibility for the upbringing of their kids. Most of the “not-so-fun” duties of raising the children are falling on these moms. They’re trying to re-enter the workforce or hold down a job as a single parent after divorce, and they’re drowning in responsibility.
Mothers have to pick up the pieces, the forgotten homework, missed events and appointments, problems with kids spending too much time on social media—the list goes on and on. And to add insult to injury, mothers are perceived as the “bad guy” while “Dad is so much fun!”
Have a chat with any kid with a part-time dad and they will paint you a different story. They feel disappointed by their dad, time and time again. They don’t appreciate this hands-off parenting in the long run. They want and need their dad to be more involved in their lives and also to take more responsibility for their care and development.
Children are intolerant in how they view their parents only up to a certain age.
As soon as they start to fall behind in school work, and their dad starts to miss sports days or parent evenings, when their dad isn’t there at events where other dads are showing up, kids start to notice. So where do they go to voice their concerns and to for help? Their mum.
“Mum, can you pick me up at Dad’s house so I don’t miss my game?”
“I need help with my homework and Dad is too busy to help me.”
“Mum, I don’t think Dad will make it to my swimming event so can you come?”
Parenting involves a hundred small tasks.
A part-time dad fails to master these small but very important tasks. Many of them are routine, boring, and unpleasant, but make children feel secure and cared for and which helps them succeed.
Tasks such as:
- Making sure they go to bed on time so they aren’t struggling the next day in class.
- Having clean clothes and remembering school homework on time.
- When doing the shopping, making sure to buy healthy options and not just junk food.
- Making breakfast instead of letting them skip it or eat a sugary breakfast bar.
- Taking an interest in their academics; getting to know their teachers and attending school events and conferences.
- Encouraging them in their pursuit of sports, music, drama, dance, science, or whatever else they are drawn to (and this includes setting aside time for lessons, practices, performances, exhibits).
- Following their sports interests—go watch them play.
- Making sure they have what they need for the weekend (schoolbooks, clothes, sports equipment) before leaving mum’s house.
- Taking them to the doctor or dentist when needed.
- Taking time off work when they are sick and need comforting to look after them.
But we live in a very different world now.
Being a part-time parent might have worked decades ago when parents had traditional roles—mum stayed at home with the kids and dad went out to work. Children were a lot more innocent in the 80’s and 90’s.
But we live in a very different world now. Most mums work and kids’ lives are more demanding. Part-time dads need to get a grip and start to share some of the responsibilities the way other divorced (and married) dads have.
This not about dad bashing, and it’s not about pitching mums against dads or men against women. This is about children—and raising awareness of the dangers of being just a part-time dad. And again, this not about dad bashing, far from it.
There are great dads out there who share every aspect of bringing up their children the right way and help their former partner. This is about recognizing those dads and perhaps noticing, Hey, yes I do need to do more!
Life is not just about your newfound independence. Children are just not a weekend hobby! Children are the casualty in all of this. In their early years, the boys may struggle with low self-esteem or depression because dad wasn’t around when they needed him as their male role model.
On the flip side, girls may do a bit better in adolescence since their gender role model is their mother. They start to date, and their boyfriend gives them validation, and as adults, they can have low self-esteem and poor judgment in their relationships with men.
Children who have or had a part-time dad struggle to understand why they feel so let down by their dad. They know that their dad loves them very much but—and it’s a big but—something is missing. And it’s only when they reach adulthood that they start to figure out what went wrong.
By then, the damage is already done.
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