Co-parenting when one parent is often absent

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-06-1999
Co-parenting when one parent is often absent
Fri, 08-09-2013 - 3:23pm

I wasn't sure which forum was right.  Parenting or relationships.  However, relationships clearly wins out on this issue.  Kids are part of the problem, but the issue is between her and I.

I'm a stay-at-home dad.  My wife is out making the big bucks.  Classic story in a sense.  She works about 70 hours a week (at night, on weekends, while on vacation).  She is a key player at her small company and things would fall into shambles without her constant guidance and input.  She's a brilliant engineer and I can't say enough good things about her in that regard.

I'm at home with the kids.  I help out in their school, meet with the teachers, go on field trips, sit down with them while they do their homework, prepare food for them, do the shopping, laundry, etc...  My wife helps out where she can, but between work and travel, she is not home enough to really be counted on to keep things running.  So I end up making the rules for the kids and keeping things running day to day.  Anyone with kids can tell you, it's a moving target.  Times change, needs change, desires change, kids change.  Rules need to change to keep up with the current state of the family.  I am constantly re-visiting what works and what doesn't.  If my wife is around and we have the time, we will discuss it and come up with a plan together.  However, it's impossible to keep her informed of every thing that happens day to day (I don't have the time to communicate it all, and she doesn't have the time to absorb it all).  I stick to telling her things that are really stumping me.  Such as our 8 year old daughter who appears to be turning 13.

Here is the issue:  When she comes home she feels left out.  I'm juggling it all, and she feels like an outsider.  Even her making simple decisions for the kids, such as "Can I have desert?", can break "my" rules and vex me.  She feels like she doesn't know the lay of the land and can't "be a parent", because she might make a decision in opposition to one of mine.  Then I will take her to task for it and the kids will figure this out and play us against each other.  Neither of us want that.  This "lack of role" in her own family, has been pushing her farther away.  Such that coming home to be with all of us is viewed as a source of conflict.  So she begins making a concious choice to spend her time elsewhere to avoid the conflict.  Since she is not needed/wanted, why bother coming home?

I have been proud that I can juggle so much and keep everything running, freeing her up to work/travel as needed.  I often give her permission to go out and socialize and enjoy her hobbies, because it reduces her stress and keeps her happy.  I have a saying at home "If mamma is not happy, no one is happy".  What I haven't realized is that mamma is giving up and becoming estranged from our family.  Lately her absence has become obvious and has led to a growing internal resentment on my part.  I am left feeling more and more like a single parent.

Any advice on how we find a balance?  How do we keep the family running like a well oiled machine during her long work days and travels, yet make her feel wanted/needed when she is home?  How do you step in and take over running the family, when you aren't up to date on all that is going on and how the house is being run?

This could tear our marriage apart if we don't start reversing this trend ASAP.



Community Leader
Registered: 08-25-2006
Fri, 08-09-2013 - 5:13pm

So glad to see you are addressing this now, before things get worse.  I wish I had some better advice for you.  But I do know that what you are experiencing is not uncommon when one parent travels or works those kind of long hours. 

So, it sounds like your DW really does want to participate and be mom, correct?  She is just frustrated and doesn't know how to change or what to do different. 

This is just my opinion here as a mom of 3 who has always worked outside of the home, has a direct selling business, and been divorced twice.  Your DW needs to find a way to delegate her work load.  A human being cannot be so integral to the business that they can't have a life.  I just don't see what else you could possibly do otherwise on the homefront.  You are already doing everything you can by being supportive, etc. 

I know it is hard for someone like your DW to let go.  I get it.  But eventually something has to give.  If it isn't work, it will be her homelife. 

Is she at least able to get a full day with you and the kids with no interuptions, like on Sundays?  Guessing she is missing dinner most nights?  Are you able to plan date nights or outings?  Is she taking real vacation time, like for a full week?  A business owner really, and I mean really needs a person on the payroll that can deal with pretty much anything that may come up.  At least for a few days. 

My boss is a workaholic and sure, like right now we are waiting for a very important phone call and he does need to take that call.  But other than that, I am not calling him.  I am to tell everyone he is on vacation and make use of our other employees if necessary. 

As I always say, there is no price tag to sanity.  Even if she continues to work into the evening, she has to take the weekend off.  Or if she has to work Saturdays, she needs to be home for dinner.  Because I don't see anyother fix for your quandry you are describing. 

Good luck and keep us posted! 

Serenity CL making a second marriage work

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Fri, 08-09-2013 - 6:51pm

I was trying to reverse the roles here so I wouldn't be making any sexist assumptions but I do wonder if that isn't part of the problem.  Men are raised to be the providers for the family so a man who is working long hours might feel sad that he's missing family time but he also feels that he's doing what he's supposed to do.  A woman who works long hours, I think has more of a conflict because not only is she missing out on the family time but there's probably a lot more guilt that she abandoned the role of "mother".  I could see this happening when both parents work a lot and most of the child care duties are done by a nanny.

But I also think that people have to make choices and live with the consequences.  I agree with Serenity--is it really necessary that she is always working so much?  I could see when you start a company maybe you don't have the money to hire as many staff people or if you have a special project, but people (even non-parents) can't keep up working 70 hrs a week forever w/o damaging their health--and ruining all personal relationships too.  I do know that the answer to not feeling needed by the kids (& maybe you) is not to escape even more from the family.  If she wants to be a vital part of the family, she has to participate in family activities.  At some point she has to make a decision to turn off the phone, not answer email, etc. and devote 100% attention to the family.

And I think that you have to watch out that you don't get into the frame of mind that you know best about everything and have to make all the family decisions.  We usually see that w/ SAHMs (not all of them) but the ones who complain their DHs don't do anything yet criticize them whenever they try to help out because they aren't doing things the same way.  If you feel that your level of resentment is growing, and you feel like saying "how do you know what the kids want cause you are never home?" then I think it's time for some marriage counseling.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-06-1999
Fri, 08-09-2013 - 9:51pm

The long term plan is to work less hours.  She's still fighting that one at the moment with a boss who is complaining that 70 hours a week is not enough.  She has on many occasions in the past taken personal time to attend school meetings, go on field trips and go to functions.  I'm sure she is being pulled in two directions and I don't want to add to that pressure.  Working less in the current situation will lead to more stress at work, and I don't know too many people who can take that sort of stress at work, then not let it effect their home life.  I'd rather have her home, but less stressed, less time, than home and more stressed more time.

So tell me about this issue you see with SAHM's where they get too controlling and upset with their husbands.  Right now that is a key issue with us.  She feels I take her to task for every decision she makes, to the point where she can't make any.  That's a terrible place for her to be.  Like she is a visitor in her own home.

I tried to make the comparison to a distant relative who only visits a couple times a year coming in and making decisions, but boy did I choose the wrong example and caused a huge amount of pain for her.  It felt like I was trying to stop a small cut from bleeding by hitting it with a large rock.

I've been very good about *not* resenting her time at work.  I totally understand it and support her.  However, her pulling away lately because of my taking her to task for making decision around the home is where my resentment is seeded.  I'm hoping if we can solve this issue, then we can return to a better balance.

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Community Leader
Registered: 01-25-2010
Sat, 08-10-2013 - 12:28am

  This is a classic problem.  Harder because in our culture men are supposed to be the ones out of the house.  I can speak to several item both from observation and living it.

1.  of course the kids will play the parents off to get what they want.

      A.  the parents need to set a guideline both will follow.

      B.  the most important thing is the relationship not the kids.

      C.   once the kids realize they can no longer divide and conquer that scam is over.

  As the stay at home adult you are HER emotional pillar of strength and her cheerleader.  She needs no wavering from you.  Her job is to bring home the bacon.  Period.  Home is for her to recharge.  Yes, you probably read all the pop psych about helping around to home.  Toss it!  Let her off the hook.  Remember the relationship comes first.   I have several friends and acquaintances who would love a short 70 hour week.   That means division of labor and intel.  Our culture gives her guilt of not being home yet also give her kudos for success.  That is difficult.  Recall that the homemaker's work is never done.  That old saw has some reality to it.  It is unfair to worry her about working less.  Success has a price.  Perhaps reading about other women with families in the working world would help.  IMO you seem to be struggling with that role reversal yourself.  

  What would be the easiest fastest and most efficient way of keeping her in the loop?  You will have to be her NSA & CIA of the home front.  Possibly a voice mail number.  I have one for about $5.00 a month.  That can be used very quickly and allows for the personal touch and voice recognition making it harder to foil.  Another is the speed of information so she is forewarned about any situation.



iVillage Member
Registered: 09-29-2010
Sat, 08-10-2013 - 4:12am

When I read your first post I assumed that your dw must be a part owner of the company. From your second post it sounds like she is just an employee? In that case, is the stress worth it to her?

Its important for both of you to realize that this is a choice that you two made, and all choices have some consequences good or bad. Possibly neither of you knew how things would go when this choice was made; but like kids change, so do work situations and marriages. You and your wife may be able to arrive at some short term agreement on this overall situation but clearly it is not sustainable....and if her boss thinks 70 hrs is not enough now, why would he be willing to let her work less than that?

My dh and I went through a period of almost 5 years when he was away for work more than he was at home so I understand the challenges of feeling like a married single parent. We were advised to allow me to set the rules and standards and for dh to accept and follow them when he was in town. I suggest that you and your wife do the same. Meaning that you don't ask or expect her to jump in and know what to do; but you could assign her tasks. So she should defer to you when the kids want dessert or permission etc.

However I would also suggest at least a couple of days a month that are Mom Day, a day when she sets the rules and takes the responsibility. You let go of your way of doing things on those days and defer to her. Since your kids have figured out that they can play you against each other they are also old enough to understand that Mom Day might have different rules than the other days, and roll with it.

I understand that your wife wants to be a hands-on mother and commend her for that. But I also think its unrealistic to think that she can maintain her current work schedule and have a high level of involvement at home; just as she would not expect to go to the office only occasionally yet expect herself to be able to jump into any project without a lot of briefing.

To me the bottom line is, she can't do everything and women don't really get to "have it all". If she wants to stay at this company and please this boss then she and you both have to give up a lot of expectations about her role as mommy and her involvement in the home. (also about being able to pursue hobbies and friendships like a childless person). If either or both of you don't like that scenario then you have to seriously address her making changes to her work situation, which might impact your financial situation, but there do have to be trade offs made.

BTW, in our case my dh decided that he was missing too much of our kids growing up and no amount of money was worth that.

If this is too complicated or uncomfortable for the two of you to resolve on your own, please consider counseling.

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-06-1999
Sat, 08-10-2013 - 8:24am

Thank you for the feedback.  We had a long conversation yesterday which was very emotional for both of us and led us to feel the need for an outside perspective, thus my origninal post.  The "assigned role" or tasks at home that she could jump in/out of easily with little or no prep was where we were headed ourselves.  However, my attempts to suggest things to her did not go very well.  She didn't quite tell me what was wrong with them specifically, but said that in the future I would look back on those suggestions and see how sad they were.  

My suggestions were: meal planning (which could be done whether she is physically present or not), which could also lead her to be able to jump in if she came home for meal prep or even shopping on the way home if time allowed.  Also some homework duties.  She had a couple items she specifically helped my son with last year, and I played a backup role if she wasn't around.  That worked great from my perspective.  I don't mind her taking the lead in things, when she has all the information to make good decisions.  Often her decisions are at least as good as mine, if not even better.  So I have confidence in her as a parent, but only when she knows all the details.

I realize that none of you lead my life, but from a standard sort of 2-kids-pets-big-house-surbuban-community perspective, can you think of other ways she can play an important role without throwing us off when she is not here?

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Sat, 08-10-2013 - 12:37pm

Forget about the meal planning--what she needs to be involved in are things that make her an emotional part of the family not a servant who gets tasks assigned to her.  Of course I'm exaggerating.  I'm sure you don't treat her like a servant and of course when she's home, as an adult she should be able to pitch in with things that obviously need to be done--cleaning up, putting things away, etc.  Homework is a good thing cause it keeps her involved with the kids.  I also think it's good if she takes time off from work to go to kids' activities--they will remember that a lot more than whether there was a home cooked meal or whether they ate take out pizza.

I think what I was getting at before is kind of the emotional thing that a lot of women get like we know all about the kids and the dads are clueless.  And we were all moms who worked out of the house, yet somehow we also seemed to get most of the responsibility for doing everything for the kids too--arranging the doctors' appts, knowing the kids' schedules, etc.  Like I remember my friend saying she had to go on a business trip for a couple of days so she had to make a big list for her DH of everything that had to be done, pick out the kids' clothes, etc.--it was a view that dads are generally incompetent.  Now I know this guy too and he's a good involved father--I'm sure he could have figured things out himself if she didn't make the list, but I think a lot of moms really don't want to give up the responsibility of being the "one in charge."  So if your DW is in charge and she does things a little different from you, is it going to be something that has long term consequences?  Probably not--so what if she lets the kids stay up too late or gives them ice cream if they didn't eat all their dinner?  With men I find that they don't know how to dress their children--so maybe the clothes don't match or they aren't dressed appropriately for the weather.  Now that I'm writing this I think it's important that you get out & do some things that you are interested in by yourself even if it's just going to the gym for an hour so that she gets to spend some time alone with the kids.  And you should do this even if you have to get a babysitter, just to save your sanity.

I also agree with I think it was Redmamma, who said that sometimes people just have to decide that it's not worth it to have a job that takes up so much time even if you make a lot more money.  I'm a lawyer and I never got one of those big firm jobs where you have to work tons of hours--I got divorced when my kids were little and I"m the custodial parent so it was impossible.  But I also noticed that my women friends who did get those jobs out of school all ended up giving them up for a job that had more reasonable hours once they had kids--and they were married to guys who weren't SAHDs.  So at some point you might discover that it would even be worth it for her to take a pay cut & you to go back to work to make up some of the money because then at least you will both be home at night & on weekends & be able to do things as a family.  My income has really suffered because I worked in a low paying job to be able to take care of my kids--I won't lie.  But my kids are now 24 & 18 and they have turned out to be really good kids and well adjusted despite the divorce.  I'm sure that your kids would turn out fine too with you taking care of them.  But years from now, will your wife really regret the fact that she missed out on a lot of things from their childhood?  And I'm saying that some people really don't because their primary focus is work.  But it seems like she's regretting that and really the solution is to find a job where she can work normal hours.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-20-2009
Sat, 08-10-2013 - 3:16pm

Without reading every single word in the replies you already have......I see a few people touched on what I saw immediately:  You are going thru what women have gone thru for years.  Not so much now, because most Moms are out working in various kinds of jobs.  For lack of a better term, you're the "househusband" that does what "housewives" have done forever.  You run the household, you clean, you cook, you see to it that the kids are clean, happy, well educated, taught responsibilities, taught manners, taught to respect their elders, so many other things I can't think of that are the responibility of a caring parent, in this case, their father. 

The "bread winner's" responsibility is to do just that.......provide the financial security for the family.  If, unfortunately that requires long hours, travel, etc. then their responsibility is to spend quality time with their family.  Particularly regarding "rules", they should abide by the rules that the other parent makes.  Of course, there will be times when they're not aware of the particular rule, then it's up to the rule maker to inform them immediately, as the infraction occurs......simple as that.  Example:  Can I have dessert?  If there's a reason they shouldn't get it according to your rules, such as, they didn't "clean their plate"....then if she says yes, it's up to you to step in right then, and say NO!  And explain why, if necessary.  That kills two birds with one stone.......she hears the rule, and the child knows they can't play one against the other!!!!

She comes home and feels left out???  That is HER problem, not yours.  If she hasn't got enough interest to keep up with her family while she's too busy to be there, such as phone calls, web cams, etc., that's on her, not you.  So she chooses to spend time elsewhere.....again, on her.  She doesn't want to put out the effort to be a parent.......not a co-parent.......a PARENT.

I have one bone to pick with you!  You do not give her "permission" to go out with friends.  She is an adult, and she doesn't need anyone's permission to do anything.  How about "I don't MIND if.........."  Also, it's a rare family that runs like a "well oiled machine".  If it did, all families would be perfect, wouldn't they? 

If the sexes were reversed, you could be any woman in the world, in the same situation, with the same problems.  Not unusual to hear about a MAN checking out, is it?  She needs a wakeup call.  If she wants to be the breadwinner, and you're ok with being the homemaker and dominant parent, then she also needs to realize that she's not in the loop 100%, and she needs to understand YOUR day-to-day problems.  The two of you need to work together on the kids playing you against each other.  If your daughter wants to wear heavy eye make up, and you won't let her (GOOD for you) then your wife needs to understand that when her daughter comes to her and asks HER for permission, she needs to say........"Let's talk to Dad about it".

She is the one who needs to change her ways, and her attitudes.  Again, reversing the sexes, she may very well be saying to herself (as many men do if they are the primary breadwinners) "He's got it made.......throw some food on the table, put clothes in the washer & dryer, get them off to school. Like the house cleans itself,and the school takes care of itself, and he's probably sitting around half the day watching TV......while I'm out SLAVING my fingers to the bone trying to make a living!"  Your wife needs to wake up!

Your story could be my story........with the sexes reversed!  And in the end, I divorced him.........because he wouldn't TRY!  He didn't care about my rules......his only rule was to jump when he said jump!  His work was demanding, too.....and he chose to stay away when he could have been home.    He preferred bars!   I raised three boys on my own, and I did very well thank you! 

You need to sit her down and have a long talk with her.......and I wish you good luck!!!

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-06-1999
Sat, 08-10-2013 - 9:32pm

About the bone.  Every family runs differently as does every relationship.  We agreed that we were both investing our time/money/energy into the relationship and the family.  If one person decides to withdraw some of that investment and spend it elsewhere, that that takes away from the family.  You do need permission to do that.  This is a joint venture.  What  you put in, you need permission to pull back out. Think of it as a joint checking account.

If she is spending her time elsewhere, rather than supporting the family, she calls/writes and asks if it is OK.  If I need her to cover for me for a night, because I have a meeting at the church/school/soccer club, then I need to check with her and get her commitment before I can say yes.  It's a two way road and the rule applies to both of us.  We each work hard to do our best to say "Yes" to every request, knowing the other one would only ask if it is important.

When our kids were infants, I used to work and she used to pick the kids up from daycare.  If I wanted to go out after work, you can be sure I checked with her first. I wouldn't dream of leaving her alone with the kids for the evening without "getting permission". I think I'd find my pillow and a blanket on the front porch when I got home! :-)

Now going out for lunch? No impact on the family.  Have a party.  No permission needed in even the vaguest way. Going in early for work, when normally you help get the kids ready in the morning?  Yup, you should check first if it is OK.

iVillage Member
Registered: 05-20-2009
Sun, 08-11-2013 - 11:23am

Semantics!  "permission" implies that one can't do something unless it's okayed by another person.  Of course one should check with the other before just going off on ones own........"do you need me?" is common courtesy, not asking for permission. 

Regardless of what you call it.......the fact that she "checks out" and prefers to meet with friends instead of being a parent.......isn't right.  And it surely doesn't help her with her perceived parenting problems.  What she (and you) need to do is plan some family excursion..........a park, a museum, a visit to some place they've never been......where the "rules" can be relaxed, and the family can spend some quality time together.  She really needs to try harder to be a partner to you as well as a Mother to her children.