Wednesday, October 27th, 2010 | Author: mjward

A father I knew–let’s call him Dan–was absent on business trips for a week at least once a month. Several times a year, he travelled out of the country for three weeks at a time. These longer trips were a mixture of business and pleasure. He rarely called home during his travels and he was hard to contact if there was an emergency. When he returned home, he found that his wife had made decisions without consulting him. He expected to come back to the family he had left only a short while before. While he was away, however, family members and their relationships had changed in small ways, sometimes even in major ways. He felt pushed out. His relationship with his wife and children became more distant.

There are many reasons one partner may be absent from family life. These include periodic travel for work like Dan’s, military service, individual vacations or visits to relatives, and illness. A more dramatic separation occurred in 2010 when Chilean miners were trapped underground for over two months. When a couple does not consult on a daily or near-daily basis, the partner at home must make decisions alone. This is especially true where these are about children. For example, the at-home parent may need to make choices about children’s activities like sleeping over at a friend’s or joining a sports team. Often such matters cannot wait for the other parent to return home, either because of the spontaneous nature of invitations or deadlines for such things as enrollment.

When Dan and his wife had children at home, it was more difficult to communicate with families. Long-distance phone calls could be costly and sometimes difficult to complete when he was abroad. In these days of cell phones, e-mail, and other types of wireless communication, it is easier now for most parents to consult on a daily basis. They must, however, make a conscious choice to act as co-parents and make decisions together. Sometimes the at-home parent won’t confide difficulties to the away-from-home parent so as not to worry him or her. But the attempt to spare one’s partner from worry makes it more difficult to actively co-parent.

Marriage and parenthood call for a partnership of both adults. When one person makes most of the decisions, the other may feel left out of the marriage and active parenting. This type of imbalance may result from situations where a parent still lives at home full-time. An example is the partner who works long hours and is rarely available for family involvement, especially with children. Sometimes the partner most involved with parenting acts as a gatekeeper who discourages the other’s interaction with the children. For example, a mother may hover over her husband as he bathes a baby or changes a diaper, coaching him how to do it just right and undermining his confidence as a parent. Sometimes the busy partner withdraws because he or she cannot handle the stress of family life in addition to workplace stress. For example, one professional and father of several teenagers announced that he was burnt out as a parent. He withdrew from close interaction with his children though he expected any rules he set to be followed.

A person may be absent from parenting for a number of reasons. Some of these are chosen; others are imposed. Not all barriers to a co-parenting partnership can be overcome. Yet when it is in the power of a couple, communication and consultation can lead to better parenting and closer family relationships.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
Leave a Reply