Visitation: When Your Ex is an Invisible Parent

by Brette McWhorter Sember

little girl hugging bearIt's happened to a lot of single parents. You have your child packed up and ready to go with the other parent -- and your ex doesn't show up. Your first reaction is pure and simple anger. Then you feel your child's pain and ache for the rejection he or she is feeling. You can't call the cops and have them haul your ex to your door to pick up your child, but there are other things you can do.

Get the Facts

The first thing to do is find out if your ex is simply delayed or is a true no show. Call and track him down. Ask when he's coming, how long it will be and if he really is going to make an appearance. Next, focus on your child. If your ex really is coming and was delayed, talk to your child about what caused the delay and how soon he will be there. Kids understand that not everything can go as planned and delays are a part of life. If it's going to be a long wait, find something for your child to do. If the time has been rescheduled to a different day, help younger children understand when it will be and then find something to distract them and get them back into a normal day's routine at your house.

Forever Late

Everyone is delayed or has to reschedule once in a while, but what about those parents who do this on a regular basis? If your ex is making a habit of showing up late or changing plans on a moment's notice, you need to have an adult conversation. Plan a time when you can talk without your child overhearing. Approach it in a calm and reasonable manner, without finger pointing or accusations. Start by asking if you need to make some permanent schedule changes so that your child is not disappointed so often. Tell your spouse that you're willing to be flexible, but if you have to make changes often, it sends a message to your child that he or she does not come first. Juggling the schedule or times to more convenient times will give everyone peace of mind.

Create Rules

You and your ex also need to set up some basic ground rules for yourselves. For example, you might agree that there is a 15 minute window around pick up times, or that rescheduling must happen at least four hours in advance.

Invisible Parent

If you have an ex who is a complete no show in your child's life and rarely if ever shows up for scheduled times, the first thing to do is talk to him. Approach it in a non-confrontational way and ask why he isn't coming and if there is some arrangement you can make that might make him more willing (do transfers in the driveway or at someone else's house for example).

Many single parents get angry at the suggestion that they should try to accommodate the other parent or meet his needs. The key here is that visitation is something your child needs. It's not about you and your relationship with your ex. If your child needed medical care you would bend over backwards to make sure she got it. Your child needs a relationship with the other parent and if you have to go the extra mile to make sure your child has that, then do it.

Talking with Your Child

If your efforts are not fruitful and you still can't get anything set up on a regular basis you must have a talk with your child. Reassure her that you love her and that the other parent does as well. Don't make excuses for the other parent, but tell your child that for reasons you don't understand, the other parent hasn't been coming. It doesn't mean the child is not important or loved, it just means the other parent has some things going on in his life that are making it hard to get there.

Stop packing your child up and putting him or her in front of the window. If your ex shows up, let it be a happy surprise, rather than having a weekly disappointment when he doesn't come at the scheduled time.

Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:

Learn more about Brette on her web site.

Copyright © Brette McWhorter Sember. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.