Co-parenting when one parent is often absent

iVillage Member
Registered: 04-06-1999
Co-parenting when one parent is often absent
26
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.

Brokk...

Pages

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Mon, 08-19-2013 - 1:25pm

I think a marriage counselor could help you guys a lot.  Actually there is nothing wrong w/ communicating some things by email or writing them down where it gives you a chance to think about what you want to say & the other person can think before responding.  but that doesn't work on a daily basis.

Community Leader
Registered: 08-25-2006
Mon, 08-19-2013 - 2:57pm

Ugh, I totally get the "in charge and in control" thing.  My DH used to come in and try to help me make dinner and it drove me nuts. 

Well, since your roles are reversed from the typical family dynamic, I am curious if she also then would rather take on the typical male parenting role when she gets home at night or on the weekend? 

I was watching The Little Couple and since they adopted their 3 year old, Jen cooks lunch and dinner now and Bill plays with William, keeping him out of the kitchen and out of the way.  Jen does bath time at night.  They take turns doing bed time.  Jen is not a morning person, so Bill gets up with William in the morning.  What they are going to do when Jen goes back to work?  I don't know.  But they are already setting Williams bed time kind of late, at 9:00 or so anticipating Jen wanted to see Wiliam in the evenings. 

I can see your DW's frustration now.  I still think that is a lot of hours to be working.  But....you have to speak to her as an adult, as your DW, and as the other parent of your children, not as a child herself that wants "to help daddy."  KWIM? 

Don't get me wrong, I get it.  I can hear the challenge in your voice.  It is hard to let go of some things. 

One thought, what you asked her what her ideas were and promised to not say a word.  Or, maybe even better, have her write stuff down and you read it when she is not around.  Probably hard to hold back facial expressions, so maybe try reading her ideas when you are not together. 

Just my two cents for today.

Serenity CL making a second marriage work

Serenity
iVillage Member
Registered: 04-06-1999
Tue, 08-20-2013 - 9:38am
No offense. What *is* the typical male parenting role in the evening? When I was working, it was my job to bath the kids and put them to bed. Now that I'm home, it's my job to bath the kids and put them to bed. Although honestly, now that they are getting older and capable of putting themselves to bed and bathing, it's more of a who's is going to pester the kids and follow them to make sure it happens. We've never been "typical" of pretty much anything, so I'm lacking context for the "norm". So many parents both work jobs, or juggle things with various schedules that I don't even have friends that all fit in one mold. Whether working or not, I was the one that wanted kids and I have more patience in dealing with them, so I have always been the primary caregiver. However, we are different people with different abilities. She has a background in the medical profession and engineering profession, so the kids went to her with medical issues as well as broken toys. I would triage things, but usually defer to her for those things. We are trying more email with limited success. Often passion and arguments arise when you feel you aren't being heard. So email helps there. Also the urges to say certain things that probably shouldn't be said are easier to control in email.
Community Leader
Registered: 08-25-2006
Tue, 08-20-2013 - 2:01pm

Primary care giver, that society generally perceives as being the mother, is probably the best term to use here.   I threw out Jen and Bill, because Bill plays with the toddler while Jen cooks, and that works for them.  Jen doesn't expect any help in the kitchen, and Bill is happy just playing with William.  Would your DW be okay just hanging out with the kids while you cook dinner?  Stuff like that.  I hate to use the word "typical," but don't know what else to call it. 

And if she isn't okay being Bill while you are in the kitchen being Jen, then is there any reason you couldn't say "hey babe, I am really tired today, would you mind cooking dinner tonight?" 

I don't know that I have any more suggestions, but to add that I can appreciate your perspective and I know how hard it is to let go of things.  Try getting divorced and splitting custody.  Now that is a crash course in letting go!!

I truly hope that with some trial and error you two are able to talk this through and find something that works for the two of you.  And I hope you two are able to fit in date nights and that you are also be able to get away with your friends and let your DW get a whole day or weekend to be the mom she wants to be.

Serenity

 

Serenity
iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Tue, 08-20-2013 - 9:13pm

I can't answer your question about "what is the typical male parenting role in the evening?" cause I don't think we ever had that role division either.  When my DD was little & before we got divorced, I worked full time and my ex worked but he worked the overnight shift so he would sleep during the day.  I think he was the one to do drop off to daycare and I was the one to pick up.  Normally I would cook dinner but he was home so I assume (this was long ago so hard to remember) that he was playing w/ our DD.  Of course neither one of us worked more than 40 hrs a week and he went to work at 11:00 pm so for all evenings, both of us were home.  And we had a kid who liked staying up late and it was kind of an ordeal to get her to bed but it wasn't like by the time he got home it was bedtime & no opportunity for playing.

Avatar for mahopac
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-24-1997
Mon, 08-26-2013 - 4:50pm

I missed this whole thread while on vacation and just saw it today.  I *might* be more qualified to answer this than anyone else who has replied, because I have been the sole provider for my family for 17 years while DH has been a SAHD.  When we started, our kids were 3yo & 6mo, and baby #3 wasn't even a thought.  Now they are 21, 18 & 13.  DH is still the SAH parent.  Two years ago we started adding dogs to the mix because life wasn't crazy enough.

DH has been there for the kids every single day for 17 years.  He gets them to school, doctor appointments, lessons, rehearsals.  He supervises homework and fills out forms.  He is the point person for everything to do with the kids, a fact that I have been trying to drill into teachers' heads for 17 years.  He feeds us 7 days a week (no takeout) and does most of the laundry.  He takes care of the cars, the house, the property, the technology, and the dogs.  (We do have a cleaning woman and lawn care.)  If there is a major purchase to make, he researches it, tells me what he wants to buy, and does it.

For my part, I am responsible for making the money and managing it.  I am the spiritual head of the household.  I do a lot of laundry on the weekends and do about half the running of kids to their activities on the weekends.  I manage everything to do with college, including having run two college search processes.  When our oldest came out as transgender, I was the one who was with him during the whole transition process.  I'm the go-to person for life advice for my two college kids.  But the parenting philosophy is something DH & I developed together and work at along the way.  The top priority for both of us is always the family.  Not the kids, not the individual, not even the marriage, but the family, which includes all of those things.

Two words for you:  marriage counseling.  You two need to learn to communicate your deepest needs and desires to each other so you can figure out where the foundation of your *marriage* really is and learn how to build your *family* on top of it and move the pieces around as life changes.  Marriage counseling is not just for people who are ready for divorce; it's also for people who are committed to their marriage but have reached a point where they need help figuring out how to make it work *together*.  That sounds like you, I think.

DH & I have been together for 30 years, married for 23.  We went to counseling before we were even married, which helped us get married in the first place, and again when I was pregnant with baby #2.  At that point we had been together for 12 years, but he still hadn't learned how to tell me to stop taking over the things he was supposed to do and making him feel incompetent, and I hadn't learned to hold him accountable for the things he was supposed to do.  Both of us wanted to make things work and couldn't imagine being apart.  Half a dozen sessions with a therapist helped us break up the logjam of communications and start being honest with ourselves and each other.

I have been in your wife's position where you're working 60+ hours a week, including travel.  There is a "high" to solving business problems, getting feedback, moving fast, and feeling valued that is hard to switch off when you go home.  No one is high-fiving you when you get home and telling you how awesome you are.  Instead you are stuck with the dailyness of life, the tedium of children, the demands of a spouse.  It can get to the point where committing to work becomes ever more attractive, and you start avoiding being home because it's kind of boring and you never do anything right anyway.

I've heard that saying, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."  Well, that applies to everyone in the family.  (I've also heard "You're only as happy as your unhappiest child," which is actually true.)  Mama doesn't get special treatment, nor does Dad.  Everyone is responsible for contributing to the family, emotionally and practically.  This is something we have raised our children to believe:  *they* are as responsible to the family as we are.  And the number one responsibility is:  Be there.  Be there emotionally.  Be present.  There is never, ever going to be a substitute for being there.

Do you and your wife go on regular dates?  DH & I made a point of doing this at least every other week.  It is important to spend time together as a couple (which doesn't include going to parties or a movie and then coming home).  We would talk about our kids, my job, and our own relationship.  If this isn't a priority, I strongly suggest you make it one.

As for hobbies, the only one I had was exercise.  Which I did before work, when no one was awake anyway, and therefore I wasn't missing out on family time.  DH for his part played tennis starting at 9pm after the kids were in bed.  We started this routine back in the late 90s, and obviously it's changed as our kids have grown up and stopped needing so much hands-on care.  Still, we are always sensitive to what is appropriate.  He still plays tennis only 1-2 nights a week (though he gets to start at 7 or 8pm now) and only once on the weekend.  I meet with spiritual companions twice a month in the evening, and I go on spiritual retreats 3-4 times a year because without them I can't function.  Neither of us goes out with friends just to hang out.  I don't participate in nearly as many things as I'd like to because as a family member, my responsibility is to BE THERE.

I am not going to say this has been seamless or easy.   Actually the last 10 years have been pretty darn great, but the first 10 years of being parents was as challenging as it is for anyone, I suppose.  The main thing is that we always wanted to work at it.  If you both want to work at it, I believe you will succeed.  However, I would start by making an appointment with a couples therapist so you can start doing it together.

Pages