When Dad Disappoints: 5 Ways Single Moms Should Respond

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Kerry* is a working single mom of two kids, who often struggles with absenteeism when it comes to her ex-husband’s visitation with their children.

“He doesn’t stick to our regular schedule and changes plans a lot. Like last weekend he promised to be at my son’s karate tournament, but then canceled at the last minute without an explanation. To ‘make up for it’ he let them go nuts buying candy at the gas station, like it never happened. It crushes me to watch this happen over and over, but what can I do?”

Kerry’s not alone– more than 1 in 4 kids live in a home without their father. But an additional challenge exists for single mothers when a child’s father is “in the picture,” but provides inconsistent emotional and spiritual support.

Research shows that a father’s emotional unavailability is just as detrimental as his physical unavailability, with a variety of longterm emotional and mental health consequences. Knowing this, what’s a single mother to do?

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5 Ways Single Moms Can Handle When Dad Doesn’t Show Up

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  1. Pray. When it comes to the affects of fatherlessness, the statistics are frightening. But to God, your kids are not statistics. Psalm 68:5 (NLT) says God is “Father to the fatherless.” Your children are loved and treasured by their perfect, Heavenly Father, and He promises to provide in places where their earthly father does not. Don’t let anxiety make you feel like it’s you against the world. Get with God daily (hourly if you have to!). Tell Him what you’re up against. Ask for strength to grow in the places you can as a mother, and the faith to trust in His goodness and power in the things that are beyond your control.

  2. Get in Community. Psalm 68:6 says, “God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.” As a single mom, you can’t ever fill the hole left by your children’s father. But it doesn’t mean you should sit around feeling defeated. As a member of the Body of Christ, God has adopted you into a spiritual family to provide covering for you and your children in situations such as this. Having trustworthy, healthy male and female role models are essential for not only your children’s growth but also your own. If you’re not connected to a church community, find one! If you belong to a church but need more support when it comes to finding healthy role models, talk to a pastor or get involved in a small group that can journey with you and your children.

  3. Speak to Your Kids on Their Level. It can be frustrating to watch your children struggle with feelings of disappointment, especially if they can’t clearly identify their feelings. While we absolutely should speak truth into our children, we must take care to build them up rather than creating further insecurity. Ephesians 4:29 (ESV) reminds us that what we speak should be “good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” DON’T aggravate the situation by pointing out that Daddy always seems to have an excuse, but don’t mask the truth with lies to cover for him either. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide your conversations so your child will grow in character through these difficult experiences. For example, next time their father disappoints them, you can say something like, “I don’t know why Daddy didn’t pick you up. How do you feel when that happens?” If they want to talk about it, let them lead, being careful to keep your feelings about the situation in check. If they don’t want to talk, you can let them know you’re always there if they want to talk at a later time. Provide reassurance in the form of hugs and validation of their feelings. If the disappointments are a recurring pattern, the full truth will come in due time.

  4. Advocate (with Wisdom). There are times when sharing your children’s experience with their father will be useful, and times when it will not be. Proverbs 23:9 (NIV) says “Do not speak to fools, for they will scorn your prudent words." Chances are a dad who treats time with his kids as though it were optional doesn’t understand God’s design for fathers. This verse warns us that trying to get him to understand may only end up causing you more trouble. Don’t try to critique his parenting or change him if his heart is unreceptive. Pray and seek wise counsel about times when you feel you may be obligated to share, such as when a child is afraid or when exposure to something questionable or dangerous has occurred.

  5. Stay the Course. Oftentimes these kinds of fathers are referred to as “Disneyland Dads” (which I think is unfair to Disney, but I digress). Another interesting article refers to them as “Uncle Dads,” but the basic idea is that these fathers tend to have superficial, fun-oriented relationships with their kids. Moms in these situations often feel like they are the “bad cop,” forever relegated to the role of “Enforcer of Bedtimes and Broccoli Eating.” But mama, you are their champion. Resist the temptation to try to win your kids to your side by overcompensating or bad mouthing his “parenting” style. Proverbs 13:24 makes it plain: “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children. Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.” Keep doing what’s right and you’ll see the fruit. As your children mature, the safety and trust they establish with you as their steady guide will draw them to deeper, more meaningful relationship with you (and God), especially as they confront heavier emotional issues in the middle school and high school years.

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Are you dealing with this kind of situation? How have you been managing it?

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* Name has been changed to protect the identity of the person in this situation. If you have a question you’d like us to address, please visit our Contact page.

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