He shares none of the responsibility but joins in all of the fun. In fact, he is usually Mr. Fun. Perhaps he is a weekend-only dad. Maybe he’s a 50/50 dad. Still, moms the world over hear their children fawning over the dad who took them to the movies, bought the I-pad, let them eat ice cream before dinner and stay up late watching Netflix. As for homework? What homework? The excitement created for the kids by his visits is unbounded. Yet, the upheaval in everyday life is nothing short of turbulent.
If you are not familiar with him, you will know his type by the late appearances, the no-shows at school conferences and the inability to form the syllables of the word discipline, much less engage in it. It seems every time he reaches the front doorstep for the weekend pick-up he is impressed by his own presence, as if it constitutes an act of philanthropy.
By the end of the weekend or “dad time”, the kids return to mom’s house starry-eyed, sugared-up, sleep-deprived and just plain grouchy. Then she alone is faced with the chores associated with restoring order, decorum and routine, also known as playing the bad guy.
The “uncle dad” is plagued by the notion that he’s not interested in his children, or that he is overcome by the enthusiasm of one-upping his ex-wife. While for some that may be the case, the truth is that many dads feel disconnected from their kids. In decades past, custody arrangements tended to favor mothers, investing them with more than 50% of their children’s time. (However, the custodial landscape is evolving as new male/female work and life patterns emerge.) It is reasonable to assume that many dads feel guilty about the divorce. In addition, they may have lost the ability to see their children as much as when the family lived under one roof. When that guilt appears, it is a seamless transition to overindulgence.
Dads with more money than time overcompensate with gifts and treats. They begin to view themselves as “Uncle Dad.” The desire is to guarantee the best possible time allotted, whatever means need to be employed. His time with his kids is limited so he wants to ensure good memories, no matter the consequences. Nevertheless, you don’t have to settle for this type of co-parenting relationship.
Essentially, it’s not about mom versus dad. It’s about raising happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids. It’s about getting on the same page, reconnecting with the core values that you shared in the relationship and casting aside the blame that hovers in the shadow of every word spoken between the two of you. After all, it’s not about the two of you anymore. It’s about your children.
How do you create a better co-parenting relationship with your “Uncle Dad?”
Tips for Mom:
1. Don’t badmouth Dad. Love your kids more than you hate your ex.
2. Manage your emotions. Don’t be anxious and resentful. Kids pick up on your feelings. If they anticipate harsh emotion, they won’t share their experiences with you.
3. Get him involved. Don’t strip access. Kids don’t benefit from that. Provide him schedules of events and activities. Support his efforts to make plans with the kids. Children benefit from having active and engaged parents.
4. Don’t forego all the fun. You are teaching your kids responsibility on a daily basis. But that is not the only thing that you want to teach them. Be willing to experience fun with them as well.
5. Try to work with your ex. Encourage him to set rules and boundaries in his home that you will enforce in yours.
How to Help Dad:
1. Encourage him to talk to the kids often. Every day, if possible. Even when he is not getting face time with the kids he can stay connected and involved. More shared time decreases feelings of guilt.
2. Affirm your eagerness to create rules that are consistent between both households.
3. Be flexible with the custody arrangement, when permitted. For example, when dad gets an early day off work, it makes sense to let him make the after-school pick-up. He will then understand the necessity of getting involved in a routine.