That “Dead-Beat” Parent is Dead to Me

Tuesday, Jan. 4th 2011 3:45 PM

What do you do when your partner leaves, not just you, but you and your children? Pretend that person died. And yes, I’m completely serious.

It’s important that, if and when we have children, we do so with a clear understanding that we may one day have to raise them without a co-parent – either because of death or someone’s choice to leave, which pretty much amounts to the same thing (i.e., that person is no longer part of your life). I feel fortunate to have a wonderful partner with whom I share the responsibilities for our four little ones; it certainly makes it easier. And I’m glad they have a strong masculine and feminine influence in their lives. But what would I do if she split? It’s quite simple, really; I’d miss her, and I’d continue to do exactly what I’m doing now, raising our children.

I have children because I wanted (and continue to want) all of them. And I feel honored to have the opportunity to raise them – every second of every day of every week, even when they are sick or naughty or obnoxious. They are a lot of work, but they are more than worth it. My reward for being a parent is not to check the box that says “married with children” on my life’s to-do list; it is getting to watch them go about life, grow, blossom and explore, and knowing that I am part of that. None of this would change if I was flying solo, and I see no reason to force an unwilling party to be my co-pilot. That would be an unhealthy situation for all of us (kids pick up on far more than most adults give them credit for). If my partner wants to opt out of co-parenting, she has that choice. I’m in this parenting thing for the long haul, but I am only in control of me.

So, what will you do? The question “what do you do” always begs another question – “what do you want?” If you want to be angry or to get revenge, you could (and probably will) act in a way that gets you what you exactly what you want (e.g., beat ’em up, take ’em to court and get every dime you can, or conduct a smear campaign).

However, if your goal is peace and happiness for the remaining members of your family unit, I suggest a different approach. Pretend your partner died; after all, if he or she has left you and your children’s life altogether, there’s not much difference. I’m not suggesting you adorn yourself in black clothing for the rest of your life (or that you actually tell your children their other parent died), but with this perspective, you can treat the person’s memory with honor when you remember or talk about him/her. Remember (and tell the children about) the “good ole days” and move forward with your lives with gratitude and respect for the person who helped create your family. Your children are composed of two individual entities – you and your former mate. If you choose to hate and bad-mouth their co-creator, you are also hating and bad-mouthing part of your children. And trust me, they’ll get that.

As in all tough situations, you get to pick your response. Root yours in what you want to achieve. Some will say that what I am advocating is preposterous. Perfect. It pleases me to present you with such an absurd alternative to martyrdom. If you choose to take my advice, it would be an honor to hear how it may have made peace possible for you in the years to come.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love

…and please do not multi-task when driving.

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How to Gracefully Exit a Relationship

13 Comments on “That “Dead-Beat” Parent is Dead to Me”

  1. manibi Says:

    The possibility of the children of “we” connecting to the one that I pretended was dead is quite real. And then what does the caregiving parent do when the voice sounds on the other end of the phone, carefully orchestrated by the watchful eye of even the adult child??? And even before that event, how is the pretentiousness hidden from the family members of the perceived dead who may want to maintain that connection?? I agree that the best thing the one who remains can do is never bad mouth or refuse to discuss the parent who left. Even the best cared for and loved children want and need to know about the one, who for whatever reason, decided not to stay. I guarantee you…I would be willing to bet money I don’t have…that signs of a “bad” match were evident, way before the fire was lit to bring about conception. They were ignored and the thought, no matter how fleeting, of what shoulda, woulda, coulda been done, are moot. A child or children must be nurtured…and pretending his or her death won’t change the judgment that made the choice. Facing the other parent and putting the child at the center of the care, is what mature people do and must do in my opinion.

  2. Kimberly Errigo Says:

    I think what you mean is to remove the other parent from one’s energy field as a source of any possible assistance, support, or energy, as if s/he no longer existed in the physical plane. If one cannot source positive energy from this person or their memory, then the person and the memories should be released from the heart. If it helps the adult detach and start a new life, this is a useful strategy. Thank you!

  3. Francyne Foxman, M.A., LMFT Says:

    thank you.

  4. Rebecca F. Says:

    Hi Frank. I actually had to do this! In my divorce my ex husband got my house, my kids, my church, and yes even the family of origin that I came from! I reached a point that I had to pretend that I had been in a plane crash and I was the sole survivor. That worked for quite a while to help with things, until I got called back into the fray by Child Protective Services, now I am just trying to start my coaching practice and let the fray be kept as far away as possible from my life. I often ask clients what it would feel like to pretend that someone is dead etc. just to challenge their thinking on matters a little bit, but it’s also a tool used to help with their own self preservation so to speak. Nicely done and I am just starting out in coaching so I have spent lots of time looking at coaching websites, and your site also looks really great.

  5. Massander Says:

    “I am only in control of me.” That’s a foundational principle for Frank Love. It’s great to have brothers like you who remind us all that we are responsible for our own happiness. It’s a waste of time trying to control others or being a martyr.

  6. Denise McCausland Says:

    Another suggestion may be to forgive the other parent and to move on. This would benefit spiritual health.

    To pretend that someone was dead when they aren’t could never be a positive spitirual move, neither would carrying around any hurt arising from the relationship.

    There would be a danger that any children would pick up on the negative energy you feel for the other parent.
    Through your actions your child has 50 % of the other parents genes and possible characteristics.Such action would not contribute to their self worth.

    It may even be useful to have a few happy stories to tell the child when they ask; children can think of the bad and the abondonment all by themselves they don’t need any help.

    There is also the issue of lessons that you have to learn, you chose the other parent to have children with does this say something about the choices that you make and should make in the future.

    Millions of people can walk around with a lot of hurt, its important to try and rise above this and keep your spirit clean.

  7. Beth C Says:

    Sound advice, even though we generally don’t want to sever relations so completely. This worked well in my life.

    My mother did a good job of never speaking ill of my biological father. She answered questions honestly and tried to set up a meeting with him when my brother’s need to know exceeded her knowledge.

    When my partner and I split, I explained to our then-14-year-old son that I could no longer live with the other parent, but that we both loved him unconditionally. Our son turned 17 this week, and we are both still active in his life and try very hard not to speak ill of the other. Luckily, we don’t have to act as though the other is dead!

  8. B. Sellers Says:

    That happened to me and my children. My two sons were ages 5 and 10 at the time, and their father just dropped out of their lives. He did not even try to see them or contact them for their birthdays or at Christmas. They are now ages 35 and 40 and they still have no contact with their father, even though he resides in the same city. When my sons were young, I blamed it on a brain concussion he received in a motorcycle accident a few years before he filed for a divorce and ran off with another woman (he’s been married and divorced several times since). Before the motorcycle accident, he was a devoted and loyal husband and father. My youngest son had a strong bond with his father. The first few years following the divorce, he sometimes called and said he would pick our sons up for a weekend visit and they would often wait, looking out the window, all day and he would never show up. Pretty soon he no longer ever called to try and it was especially hard on my younger son. It was like he forgot he ever had a family. In fact, I believe that’s why my younger son later turned to drugs in attempt to kill the pain of having an absent father or in an attempt to get his attention. Sometimes divorce is a good solution when a married couple cannot get along, but I feel there is no excuses for any parent who stops their parentling. When a deadbeat parent drops out of the lives of their children, they might as well be dead. Kids might be able to accept that, understand and move on with their lives, but how do you explain to kids that their parent lives in the same city and has no desire to see them anymore. They must feel they did something wrong or are not worthy of being loved or a million other things. I thought it best to use the concussion from the motorcycle accident when my kids were young because I thought it would be easier for them to accept. He did turn into a completely different person, following that accident. But nobody should become a parent until or unless they are READY to be a parent for the rest of their lives. When one fails to do so, that parent puts a terrible burden on the one who then must try to perform both roles of mother and father. I could write a book on this issue. Maybe I should.

  9. Danitra Says:

    Funny. I’ve recently made the same determination. I’m not sure why I’ve made it my duty to keep his relationship w our son on life support THIS long!”

  10. Danitra Says:

    its quite a challenge to stay positive especially when the very person who you thought would share in the loving and caring is in fact causing so much pain and anger by their neglect! And the great thing about the dead is you can do as you say and focus on the good and tell flattering stories, but the living are capable of and too frequently practice HURTFUL behaviors which the loving parent is forced to fight the results of. ZERO contact would have been the better alternative in my case.

  11. Kathy Says:

    What would you do if the drug addicted deadbeat parent actually dies? No one on our side of the family has many good memories of the girl. She ran my son’s life for several years, until the divorce was final, although she left him after only 6 months. At first she insisted on having custody of their son, but it was soon obvious that she was restricted too much by his presence in her life. My son, with whom I’m in business, assured me that he was keeping close watch over his son and that she wold eventually implode, which she did. At first, his son just stayed with him, but later, joint custody was established. My grandson lives most of the time with me, because my son travels for a living. My daughter-in-law, at no time, availed herself of her opportunity to have her son with her. She got pregnant with the twins of her drug dealer. Had the children, later gave them up to her mother. Eventually, she moved across the country with her husband, a nurse, who kept her well supplied with drugs. Yesterday, we learned that she had ODed and drowned in a bath tub. Because of the circumstances surrounding her death, the coroner has called for a autopsy.

    Since I had always had to be my son’s backbone, during his effort to obtain a divorce. I feel as though I’m the last person that he’ll turn to, even though I long ago forgave her for the hurt she caused my son and grandson and the awful things that she said to me.

    She texted my son right before she died asking him for a ticket to come back as she had done several times since she moved to CA. These communications were usually when she was high and regretful. He hasn’t told me how he answered her.

    Now it’s time to tell my grandson that his mother is dead. To my son, privately, I mentioned that our fears of her attempting to come back into his son’s life and the damage that that would cause, would not be an issue. I mentioned that the decisions that lead to her death were her own. I’ve been through the list of logical responses, but my son feels so guilty.

    I’ve learned that the death of a same sex parent has more long lasting effects than that of an opposite sex parent. Of course, I’ll be there for my son and his son. I’m just at a loss as to how to help both of them deal with this tragedy. My son is coming today to tell his son about his mother’s death.

    Thanks for listening.

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