I'm looking for ideas in how to encourage my girls dad in parenting.
He left because he didn't want a family life and wanted to be able to devote himself to his life's work. I have full custody, but he still visits with the girls (ages 5 and 1).
My 5 year old adores him and misses spending more time with him.
He prioritizes work before making time with the children, although we are trying to set at least two evenings a week to have dinner together.
He is generous (materially) and very brilliant, but socially challenged. He has a hard time with feelings and understanding what another person is experiencing. I would like to find a way to help him understand how important his interactions are with his daughters.
For instance, when he calls or comes over, he will always talk with me first about work (we share a business together still) before he turns his attention to the girls.
He almost always will say something about how he isn't able to stay to play or isn't able to see them more during the week because he has to work. The message they are getting is that work is first (which it actually is for him).
He also pays almost no attention to the youngest. She just turned one, so she is still very focused on mommy. He moved out when she was 4 month old, so she has very little relationship with him. I don't know what that is going to be like over time as she gets older.
Most of the time he is happy-go-lucky with them, but he can be very old-school disciplinarian too. We went out to eat (his most favorite thing to do when we are going to spend time with him), and DD1 wanted to eat at a certain table, but he wanted a different one. She wasn't even loud or upset, but simply occupying the other table. He said, that is it, we aren't going to stay if you are going to make a scene like this. He expects her to just snap to it, when he tells her to do something. That isn't her personality at all!
He will also threaten their time together as a disciplinary tool (ie "I'm going to leave if you keep acting like that"). I have spoken to him about how harmful that could be, and he is trying to not say this sort of thing anymore. But it is another example of the type of parenting mindset he has.
As their mother, I worry so much about the emotional impact this is all going to have on them. Maybe no matter what the dad is like we worry about these sorts of things when the parents aren't together. I don't know.
I wish that there was a gentle way to encourage him to really think through what he says and does. Sadly, parenting just isn't an interest of his so he isn't likely to read any books. Maybe some videos or short articles? I think that fathers have such an impact on daughters emotional lives. I want to find a way to help improve things. But I also have to be careful that I don't come across as the one with all the answers. I am doing my best to encourage and empower him for the sake of the girls.
my xdh is a workaholic, he never did anything alone with my oldest until he was about 5 (when DD cam along and I had to beg him to take DS out) but now he has to spend time with them, though things like grooming them are not very consistent and often they come home dirty so I am sure they go to his house clean and the get cleaned up when it is essential the next morning when they come home.
Is there are reason why you don't leave him alone with the girls? My xdh has been having the kids though sporadically at first especially for overnights since dd was 9 months (the first time we separated)
The best way for him to get involved is to remove yourself from the equation. My xdh did not step up and interact more with the kids until he had to take care of him without me to do everything for him. I can honestly say, if anything, the divorce has made him MORE involved with the kids and I have respect for that. But as a workaholic type, he cannot handle having the for long periods. He took them on a two day trip in may. That is the longest he has had them. He usually has them 20 hours 24 hours max at a time.
I would suggest letting him take them alone to the park without you for an hour. Start him off slowly and see how it goes. As far as interacting with the younger, I have the opposite issue in that xdh dotes on DD 2 and ends up spending more time with her because she stays with him one day a week and DS is in school most that time during the school year. But with DS I suggest movies and things and sometimes I will keep DD while DS goes with xdh to the movies.
The best way for him to get involved is to remove yourself from the equation. My xdh did not step up and interact more with the kids until he had to take care of him without me to do everything for him. I can honestly say, if anything, the divorce has made him MORE involved with the kids and I have respect for that.
This was (kind of) my experience. Mine were much older when we got to this point, and I don't think my ex would have been safe to leave alone with tiny ones. He "needed" them to be at a point where they could clearly ask for what they needed and to be at a point where they would take care of his need to have everything in his world be about reassuring him that everyone and everything doesn't hate him. (Best I can describe that.)
Mine isn't a workaholic, per se. Just completely lacking in true empathy and unable to see that others may have a completely different perspective of the world than he does.
Thanks for the replies. STBX is a workaholic (main reason he left was that family was too distracting from his work) and also lacks the ability to have empathy (he has aspergers syndrome). So both of those situations apply in my case as well.
He doesn't have time alone with them out of his own choice. He isn't very comfortable with children, especially really young ones. He did have our 5 y.o. over for an overnight visit back in June. But he doesn't feel equipped to take both girls on his own without me or my parents around. It is really overwhelming for him to keep up with two kids. I think you are right, sparklefairy, as they get older it will be easier for him.
I think this advice of letting him be on his own is the way to go. My mom reported that when he was visiting with the girls over at their house one day that he was very careful to keep the dinner conversation child friendly. She said that he started to talk about electronic gadgets or something of that sort and then stopped himself and said, "No, we need to keep the conversation oriented to the girls". So that seemed really hopeful.
Perhaps the more he is on his own with them the more he will feel like he needs to learn about children.
Momma-ing the Muffin since October 2011!
Rather than focusing on encouraging your Aspie ex to parent, I would focus first on building in protection and resilience in the little ones. Even if you do manage to sensitize your ex somewhat to the children's needs, it's going to be a reach for him, and won't be something you or they can count on when he's stressed or overwhelmed.
- make sure they have as much family, community, and friendship as possible. The more support they have from others, the less they'll miss it from him when he just can't or doesn't see the point.
- explain the condition to them early on so that they know his behavior is not their fault. Assure them that there is nothing they can do about it. Five is not too young.
- don't force visits when he's stressed.
- have a counselor available to them. It's tough when your dad really doesn't want to spend time with you and makes that plain.
- make it clear to him, either on your own or with a counselor's help, that consistency is extremely important for the children. If he says he's going to be there, he needs to show. If he can't show, he needs to call and talk to the children. Bopping in and out because he's gotten distracted by something else is not okay, and will harm them.
- as they get older and have various sensitivities, tell him clearly what they need, what he can do that will be good and helpful for them, what he should not say and do.
It isn't fair, but you really have been left not just to pick up the pieces but to make a life for dd and yourself with them. The main thing is to pull together more reliable help in raising her, if you can, and to remember that even if he does decide he wants more involvement, you really have to be the steady one. A silver lining here is that if he's at all pleasant, it'll be plain that he's not trying to be mean or cruel; this is just how he is.
Make sure you look for support for yourself, too. Friends and family if you can; a therapist is good, too, if you can afford one. There'll be times when the ex disappoints, and the anger will get taken out on you, because it's safe to do that and you're there. That can be really tough when you're under your own pressures, so build in backup if you can.
I feel very impressed with you, reading this post. My ex is similar in many ways, but it sounds like he may be closer to neurotypical, in terms of the Autism spectrum. I think the most important thing is what it sounds like you're already doing: accepting him for who he is - who you knew he was, when you had kids with him - and not rejecting or raging against him, for failing to be the type of father (or husband) that perhaps, in retrospect, you wish you had chosen. Even if you never put it into words, your daughters will absorb this attitude from you and it will help them understand that the problem is not them, but their dad's "oddness" and interpersonal limitations.
I really like the fact that you seem to participate in most (or all?) of his visitation, so that you can be a buffer of normalcy for the kids. This also sends an excellent message to your daughters - again, about your acceptance of their dad for who he is, rather than rejecting him or dwelling on the fear that his inability to live with you guys reflects on your (or the girls') value, as people. I wish I'd thought of that, when my ex and I split up. But we were young, I didn't, and now he has a nice wife who is a good buffer with our kids.
If your ex is like mine, he would not spend his time reading anything you might provide, about subjects in which he has poor skills like parenting and human interaction. It might be worthwhile to go out to dinner without the kids and initiate a direct discussion:
* Does he love the girls and want the best for them, even if he doesn't feel capable of personally providing it on a daily basis? (Presumably yes.)
* Can he acknowledge that the perception of paternal approval is important for girls, in terms of their confidence; and that confidence is valuable, in terms of having a successful and fulfilling adult life? (I'd say, present this as a logical premise and less of a concern about your particular girls and his role, with them. Be prepared to cite some examples, to back this up, since it's probably not something he spends time thinking about.)
* Can he acknowledge that your social skills are stronger than his; as is your ability to pick up on others' needs and feelings; and your understanding of children's development and the progression of what expectations are appropriate, as children mature?
If I were to suggest this to my ex in any sort of frustrated, disappointed or judgmental way, he'd be quick to get defensive and summarily dismiss the idea that anything he's not good at matters. But presented in a detached, logical way, this can be spun as positive and constructive: Everyone has strengths (point out some of his, that are superior to yours) and some of yours are interpersonal. Intelligent people (like yourselves) can accurately assess their strengths and weaknesses, and value partnering with people who compliment their weaknesses. If he ran a company that sold something, he might be the brains behind the business, but he'd be smart enough to hire someone else to oversee marketing and public relations, right?
In the same way, he has important things to offer his children, but would be wise to follow your lead, in the areas where you're stronger...for example, discerning that if a 5-year-old is to be expected to behave herself in a restaurant with adults, the least the adults can do is let her choose the table. And you have a more clear idea when her behavior is problematic enough to justify leaving the restaurant. Emphasize that he's smart enough to start making an effort to discern in which situations your instincts are more astute than his, just as you know when to trust his instincts, in your business.
But in the long run, your ex will not ever be fundamentally different. Be open to a new relationship and remain clear and steadfast, about the dynamics with your ex. It could be wonderful for your daughters to have a neurotypical father-figure in their lives, but not at the expense of the excellent efforts you've made, to help them connect with their actual father. Any new man in your life must be secure enough to accept your odd ex having dinner with you guys twice a week. There are men like that. My husband "gets" that my twins' dad wants to do all the "dad" stuff, but fowls it up sometimes. My ex has made careless commitments to the Dads' Club at our sons' school, or to chaperone overnight field trips. Then he worked late and didn't show up. My husband anticipated this and filled in, without complaint. He has taken my ex along on a camping trip with his son and the twins, because he knew my ex wanted to be a "camping" type of dad but never followed through on his plans for it. My husband understands that being the neurotypical, dependable parent is its own reward and doesn't feel like he has to compete with my ex.
Hold our for a self-confident guy who will fully appreciate how unselfish you are, regarding your daughters and their dad, instead of feeling threatened that there's another guy around.
Thank you for the thoughtful and very helpful suggestions!
Mama41, you give some wise advice. We area blessed to have my parents living next door as well as a wide community of friends. It helps us to feel our family is really more than just me and the girls. I am still navigating how much to share with DD1 since her father doesn't want others to know about his AS diagnosis. I need to have a conversation with him about that before I can share it with her. Hopefully, if it is done in terms of supporting their relationship, he will be open to it. I'm thinking that looking for some therapy will be a good idea too.
VocalMinority, thank also for your good suggestions. It is also encouraging to know that you have found a great man who can really fill in and offer that role model for your children. I've been wondering if those types of men are out there. Glad to know that they are. I'd really love to find that one day. I want so much for both of my girls to have a positive experience of "dad".
Hi, MamaRuga --
One thing to keep in mind is that you can tell a child a great deal about a diagnosis without naming it formally -- which, when you think about it, is the least important part. If you can describe the issues functionally and say, "Daddy has trouble with this, and that's because of how things go together in his brain, it isn't anything you did or anything you can change," then that can be really helpful, too.
In the end, of course, they'll have to know. And I'd be a little wary of the idea that things will get easier as the kids get older. That may be true if they're very quiet and have few needs. If they're looking for connectedness, though, and you have to send them to him only to be neglected for the weekend while he works (or is irritable/angry because they're there and he can't work), then a serious conversation with a counselor or mediator will be in order; it won't be good for the girls' mental health to have to spend time like that. I also know there's a good deal of talk about trying to arrange things so that the children can share the AS parent's special interest, but if the child is reasonably NT, I don't know that this is a marvelous solution, either: it ends in the child being all too aware that the parent is interested in her only so long as she feigns interest in whatever it is.
Small doses may wind up being best. Which makes things difficult for you, but if your parents are right there and supportive, that should help.
What the PP said. I've seen parents explain to kids why some people have a hard time with certain things by pointing out things the child is good in and things they struggle at (say your daughter is good at math but has a difficult time with spelling) to encourage empathy- I think this would be a good way to approach it here as well. Without labeling it, point out the strengths that being AS gives, or that your ex has in general, in addition to talking about the difficulties it causes may help. It may help to remind your daughters that their father has good points as well as the hurtful ones.
Especially because your oldest is so young, I don't think that revealing he's AS will have any advantages. It may just distract from the real issue- helping your children understand their father better so they understand that his actions aren't personal/their fault. Unless she has a friend who is on the autism spectrum as well, she may not have any idea what being AS is. The label will be helpful when your children are older- but for now, focus on the symptoms and behavior.
I know ASD parents who prioritize their children, I'm sorry that your ex isn't doing that.
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