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.



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: 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.

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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: 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.

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.

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