Eurgh. Half term last week was an absolute bust. We had lots of plans of things we wanted to do, places we wanted to go and people we wanted to see. Then the absent parent called and said he was driving down for the half term.
In days of old, this news would have been greeted with excited screams and constant questions of “How long till he gets here Mummy?” Right up until he walked through the door. There was one year where we had to track his plane in the air, because they wanted to watch him getting closer. Over the past year though, any announcement of his imminent arrival has been met with “Cool”. Nothing more. This situation is one I’ve tried really hard to stop from happening. But here we are anyway. And now I can’t stop thinking : what can you do when the absent parent falls out of favour?
This particular visit, the girls seemed drastically underwhelmed by the news that the absent parent would soon be on his way.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that they were feeling annoyed that the absent parent wouldn’t be absent during half term. This did make me question whether I’d done anything differently recently that would have caused the dramatic shift. But, I genuinely don’t think I have done.
Over the last 8 years that we’ve been separated, I have been ‘bigging’ Daddy up at every opportunity. I have constantly reassured them that he adores them, and I haven’t said a bad word about him. (Within their earshot anyway.) But somehow we’ve ended up in a situation that I didn’t see coming. And I don’t know what to do about it.
Years ago, when we first separated, the absent parent wasn’t actually that absent. Despite our separation causing us to live 500 miles apart, he was still on the scene. He called every day to speak to the girls or to find out how they were. Or he would text me regularly to find out what they were up to at preschool. He even knew every teacher’s name. He used to come down and see them during term time so he could take them to preschool and pick them up again. They would go off on little adventures locally, or he’d take them to a theme park for the weekend.
He was there. He was absent, but not absent if that makes sense.
And when he left, they would be absolutely devastated. Often for days at a time.
I used to internally dread him visiting because I knew I’d have to console them when he left, and try to make tiny girls understand why their parents weren’t together.
How quickly things change.
Fast forward to today, and he wouldn’t be able to tell you what school they go to. Let alone know who their teachers are. But it’s not from want of trying.
When they started school, I gave the school all his contact details too. You know, thinking he’d like to be involved in their school life, know what was going on and be interested to know what they were learning.
One day he called me and wanted to know how to stop the emails, because they were of no interest to him.
That was a little bit like being punched in the gut. He may well have meant that the emails were of no use to him, but he said no interest. Which to me, sounded like he was saying he had no interest in their school life.
Gone are the days when he came down and took them to school. And gone are the days he wanted copies of the official school photos.
Unfortunately, also gone are the days where he had any interest in how the girls are getting on at school.
I find that bit very difficult to get my head around. You know, apart from me, the people our girls spend the most time with are their teachers. Wouldn’t you want to know who the people were who spend so much time with your children?
Apparently not for the absent one. But if the shoe was on the other foot, I’d not only want to know who the teachers are, I’d want to meet them too.
It all changed when…
If I’m honest with myself, I don’t really know when it all changed. It was a gradual process that started with his phone calls getting less frequent. And has somehow ended up where we are now.
I don’t know whether he has withdrawn emotionally from them, or whether it’s the other way around. But somehow we’ve gone from them crying bitterly for days when he left to them not even reacting when he was leaving.
Actually, that’s a little lie. There was a reaction when he left. But it was a sigh of relief from one of the girls and actual cheering from the other one.
That made me feel so sad, but you know, if I think about it, I can’t really blame them.
I really tried to re-engage him when he was here. Frequently encouraging him to show an interest in them, and also encouraging them to go and do things with him. I tried to tell him about all the things they have recently learnt to do, all their successes, the school trips they had been on, and all the things they had done that made me prouder than proud.
And all we got was “That’s good.”
There is not much more infuriating than getting such an underwhelming response to everything.
I tried to get the girls to talk to him more, and to want to go and do things with him. But the only things they wanted to do were ‘Mum activities’ : I.E. running about on the beach in the rain, going to the park in the dark, and cooking sausages on a BBQ.
So all that really happened was that he sat on his phone watching football and football related stuff, whilst the girls made tiktok after tiktok.
It made no difference if I was in the house or not.
And it made no difference if we did the co-parent thing and went out and did stuff with the girls together.
He still took no interest in anything, and they still didn’t go to him for anything.
Absent parent is absent
It really does seem as though the absent parent is now absent in every sense of the word. And that makes me so sad. I feel sad that unless something drastic changes soon, the girls may grow up having no relationship with their Dad. I feel really sad that he is missing out on so much of his daughters’ lives. And I feel sorry for him that he doesn’t seem to realise what amazing little people he has.
The worst sadness of it all is that the longer this goes on for, the more redundant he is becoming in their eyes. And this isn’t what I wanted for any of them.
I never wanted him to check out emotionally. And I never wanted them to be glad when he left. I have spent years trying to keep a bond between them, but, for whatever reason, it’s breaking.
And that breaks my heart.
Of course he’s not perfect, but neither am I. Find me a parent who is.
I don’t know whether he’s depressed, or how he’s feeling about anything actually. He’s never been one for talking about his feelings (unless it’s football related). But as much as it annoys me that he doesn’t do anything with them, and doesn’t know anything about them. It’s not going to stop me sending him birthday and Father’s Day cards from the girls. It won’t stop me sending him pictures of them, sharing funny stories or telling him about parents evenings. And I won’t stop him seeing them when he is able to.
I just hope that one day, he checks back in, and that they grow up having some kind of relationship with him. But if he doesn’t, that’s on him. I won’t feel any guilt about it. And our girls will know it’s not because of them. Hopefully that won’t damage their self esteem.