Child Caring

Should mom bend over backwards to her same-sex ex-partner?

Dear Barbara,
I would love your advice as well as suggestions [from readers] on whatís best for a young child with parents who are not together and live on opposite coasts. Iím a single mom, my daughter is 14 months old and lives exclusively with me. Her other parent, my ex-partner, lives in California.

As a same sex couple, it understandably takes years of financial and life planning to have a family. Once I got pregnant, our relationship went south. My ex-partner was not supportive during pregnancy or the first 6 months of my daughterís life. She rarely saw her (~3 hrs a week), provided minimal financial support, and would often cancel last minute, leaving me scrambling. At times she would tell me she changed her mind about wanting a family, and other times take it back, but she never really stepped up to be a dependable parent.

I [came] East when my daughter was 9 months old so I could have more support and my daughter could grow up around family....[Now] my ex-partner is now wanting to co-parent. She is requesting to be more involved and is pressuring me to schedule a consistent Skype time and to set up a yearly visit. I do send pictures and updates when she requests them and when we first moved, we Skyped more often because I was looking for a job and had more time. Now that Iím working full time, setting up a weekly Skype date that is convenient for someone on PST is a real pain. It often falls in the middle of the day when Iíd like to be doing activities like tot time at the library or getting errands done. As far as financial contributions, she occasionally sends a package of diapers, but no other support.

How much time and energy should I put into sustaining my daughterís relationship with her other parent? I feel resentful that my ex-partner wants to pick and choose what parts of parenthood she wants to participate in - fly here to be a part of her birthday, but never have to make financial sacrifices to provide consistent support or share the challenging yet joyous parenting duties.

With that said, I donít want my resentment to cloud my ability to make a decision that is in the best interest of my daughter. Advice?

Iíd like to also note: She has no legal relationship to my daughter. Initially the plan was to do 2nd parent adoption, but she was not interested in pursuing that.

Jennifer in CT

Continue Reading Below

Dear Jennifer,

Let's call it like it is: your ex has turned out to be only a little bit more than a deadbeat. While you are under no obligation to make life easier for her, there's no reason to make it harder, either. L

"The ex is probably trying to save face by being able to tell others that she is in regular contact," speculates Long Island psychologist Leah Klungness, author of "The Complete Single Single Mother." A package of diapers, occasional Skyping, cherry-picking to be involved in the happy times? We can all agree: Pretty pathetic.

Here's the but. Your former partner is part of your child's birth story; together, you and she made the decision to conceive.

One of these days -- sooner than you think! -- it will be time to tell that story to your daughter. For instance: "M and I were together in California when you were conceived, and we were very happy. But some people aren't ready to be parents and when you were born, she wasn't ready. So you and I moved to NY, and now we're a family, you and me." Then you want to be able to add whatever details there are about how M has been involved since then.

Including your former partner in this story, no matter how minimal her role, is important for your daughter. More involvement is better than less. It not only reassures her that she isn't somehow to blame for M not being present today, but it also inoculates her against the potential shock of M someday trying to insert herself into your daughter's life with her own version of what happened.

Which brings us back to your question: What, exactly, is your responsibility? In an email, Klungness writes, "It's not your responsibility - on top of what you're juggling every day - to alter your schedule or plans to accommodate someone who's keeping her own needs the top priority." Yes, send the occasional picture and email update. No, don't turn your life upside down to Skype at her convenience. Your former partner wants to attend your child's birthday celebration? That's fine. "But it is not fine," Klungness continues, "for you to schedule the celebration around what's convenient for her." If she does attend, take pictures. That will later help you illustrate the birth story you will tell your child.