I’ve heard it time and again:
While they they were married, he worked a bazillion hours, rarely helped around the house, barely made time for the kids and spent any free time or money doing whatever the eff he wanted.
She was overwhelmed, angry, felt abandoned and worried the kids felt abandoned by him, too.
Then, when they split up, he was forced to change. Now, thanks to a court- or separation-agreement order, he is is forced to spend two entire weekends per month and Wednesday evenings with the children. She gets a break, and the kids see their dad regularly and often.
“I almost can’t believe what a better dad he is now, after the divorce,” one mom told me. She is happier about the arrangement on all fronts, even if it cost her the marriage. “I don’t want to be married to him any more, and if it took divorce to snap him into being a good father, then it was worth it.” Plus, for the first time in her motherhood she gets a much-needed break — every single week.
What is the motivation behind this about-face?
For one, regret. It is often the horrible shock of facing that his family is falling apart to make him realize how much he took family life for granted.
When family life is constantly buzzing in the background, it can feel like it is an all-consuming presence, even if in reality you spend little actual — not to mention quality — time with those you love most. When you’re sitting at the edge of a naked mattress, staring at your flatscreen TV with bunk beds barely assembled in the next room and leftover Seamless containers in the fridge, the pain of loneliness can be very real.
Second, shame is a powerful motivator. While risking scrutiny of family court judges, highly paid lawyers, and friends and neighbors peering over the proverbial fence to see if he will be a negligent, deadbeat dad, peer pressure inspires him to step up.
And yes, of course women can be the negligent parent, but that is the minority of cases.
From the moms’ perspective there is often another emotion at play: A sense of triumph. “I admit that I sometimes gloat when we discuss the hours he will spend with the kids,” one mom confessed. “For so many years he insisted that he was doing enough, but the divorce lawyers, the couples therapist and his family all made him feel bad for not spending enough time with them. I hate to say it, but I get off on the fact that he knows I was right, and he was wrong.”
Smugness aside, there is something to be said about the value of divorce in these cases. While we all want the divorce rate to be lower than it is, see clear evidence of the financial, physical and emotional benefits to marriage, sometimes a marital split is better for the whole family. After all, if divorce means that one partner gets the parenting support she needs, the kids get more time with the previously negligent parent, and that negligent parent steps up to fulfill his potential as a father, isn’t the net sum of this equation positive?
Is this your experience? What happened? What advice do you have for married moms whose husbands neglect the kids? Can he be inspired to change without divorce?