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Girl Talk: Neglectful Daddy

Q. My baby's father and I are separated. I believe he loves our child, but he doesn't spend more than one day every couple of weeks with him. He claims he's busy with work. When we split up over five months ago, we agreed we would still be parents together, but now it feels like it's just me. How can I get him to understand my point of view  -- and come by more often?

A.
I can't tell you how often I hear my mom friends and relatives say the same thing  -- and their husbands are still living in the same house! No matter how many of us want to blame the Y chromosome for this failure of empathy, however, it really isn't a case of Venus versus Mars, woman versus man. It's a case of Parent versus Babysitter.

I suspect that your ex-husband doesn't truly understand the part he needs to play in your child's life. (Husband-sitters rarely do, say bitter Wife-parents.) But in all fairness, it's the exceptional human being who can not only understand another person's daily trials but also step up and volunteer to shoulder some of them. And believe it or not, your husband may believe he is shouldering his part of the responsibilities.

Sure, he knows that you spend more time with his child, but he may honestly rationalize that swooping in for his fortnightly visits qualifies as parenting. Okay, not perfect parenting, but real parenting nonetheless. Bolstering his belief may be the tired idea that mothers are just naturally suited to handle everything from night feedings to fevers (because they have a womb), while fathers are more naturally suited to play catch or be Tickle Monsters (because they don't). It's utterly illogical, of course, but somehow it manages to make sense to those who want to believe it. And, I have to admit, if I were a man, that argument might start to sound reasonable. I mean, let's be honest here. Graciously abdicating responsibility to someone "better qualified" is a heck of a lot easier than dealing with middle-of-the-night crying jags, surprise puke sessions, and temper tantrums.

But what your ex may not realize is that he's also giving up the beautiful moments of love and fun that your son offers on a daily basis. What you need to get him to understand is that (a) he is acting like a babysitter, and (b) he will be able to receive his son's incredible gifts only when he acts like a parent. So when you attempt to arrange more father-son visits and outings, frame your suggestions in those terms: It's not just that he is missing. It's that he is missing out.

Don't expect an epiphany the first time you say this, but go ahead and say it anyway. And then gradually squeeze in more and more "dates," from sleepover Saturdays to weekday lunches.

It's likely that, because of your separation, he may never put in equal time, and unfortunately that will be something you'll have to accept. But with luck, he'll see that being a parent is a job that comes with benefits too good to pass up.

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