Lesson 6 of 7 - learn how to parent effectively

Adapt to a "Disinterested"
Parent After Divorce

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/parent/divorce/disinterest.htm

Updated  April 12, 2015

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      This is one of a series of lesson-6 articles on how to parent effectively - specially after divorce. The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it,

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 6 (or 7 if you're in a stepfamily)  ;

  • Q&A about ex-mate relations and options for improving them/ and...

  • ways to analyze and resolve most relationship problems

What's the Problem?

      Minor kids of divorced parents suffer in several ways if their noncustodial (absent) parent shows no genuine interest in them:

  • they're shamed by the implied message “You’re not important (to me).”

  • the child may be deprived of vital modeling and developmental nurturance of their absent father or mother unless provided by another same-gender adult;

  • their custodial parent, their stepparent (if any), and some relatives may scorn their other parent and declare or imply "S/He's a bad person." This creates...

    • a stressful loyalty conflict, with the child caught in the middle; and...

    • a divisive relationship triangle with the child as the "victim"; and...

  • the custodial parent and their new partner (the child's stepparent) may argue over how to respond to the "disinterested ex" - specially if the ex mate doesn't pay appropriate child support.

      These interactive problems raise home and family stress and lower the family's nurturance level. That promotes psychological wounds in dependent kids.

      A typical response to these problems is to blame the "disinterested" adult as being "irresponsible," "uncaring," and "a bad parent." A better option is to try and understand their behavior and set respectful limits with them. Their "disinterest" is probably a symptom of several things average parents are unaware of: psychological wounds + shame + guilt + incomplete grief + ignorance + disrespectful, combative behavior by their ex.

      Often, the custodial parent also has many of these stressors, and denies or minimizes that. Their kids are trapped in a low-nurturance family whose adults inherited the [wounds + unawareness] cycle from their ancestors.

      What can typical biofamily and stepfamily adults do to minimize the impact of these combined stressors? 


      If your multi-home family is stressed by a "disinterested" (inactive, uninvolved) bioparent, try describing your adults' and kids' current ways of coping with that. Is this way reducing or increasing family stress?

      Adopt the open mind of a student and compare your current response strategy to these practical alternatives:

  • reframe the problem from "the disinterested ('bad') ex mate" to "our family-system's dysfunction." This may reduce the ex's defensiveness and any hostility by "sharing the blame";

  • review and discuss the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle that is probably stressing all of you, including the ex mate. This will prepare you to...

  • estimate whether the "disinterested" parent is a Grown Wounded Child  (GWC). If s/he is, change any scorn (disrespect) to empathy and compassion. This does not mean you have to accept the ex's behaviors;

      If the parent is a GWC it's possible that s/he is unable to form genuine bonds with some people - even with their own child/ren. Thus their "indifference" may really be inherited psychological numbness. See this for ideas on how to communicate with GWCs.

  • assess the other parent for unfinished grief over their divorce-related (or other) losses. Incomplete grief usually indicates inherited psychological wounds and unawareness, and a family "anti-grief" policy;

  • honestly assess whether the custodial parent's attitudes (e.g. disrespect,  blame, and lack of empathy) and behaviors (e.g. aggression, blaming, whining, lecturing, and/or communication blocks) are promoting the ex's "disinterest" (avoidance);

More options...

  • evolve a family strategy for managing significant loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles, and invite all family members - including older kids - to adopt and implement the strategy;

  • if part of "the ex mate problem" involves money (e.g. inadequate financial child support), identify and resolve the underlying real problems.

  • avoid using the legal system to force the ex mate to "parent responsibly." Using legal force will polarize the family; increase everyone's anxiety, resentment, distrust, and disrespect; and stress the kids. Hiring lawyers always indicates psychological wounds and an inability to problem-solve.

  • family adults pay steady attention to identifying and filling each dependent child's developmental and family-adjustment needs over time - as teammates, not opponents. Watch for and resolve co-parenting values conflicts; .

  • custodial parents (including stepparents) regularly reaffirm their family mission and their priorities to avoid probable re/divorce.

  • Invite all family adults and older kids to use the Serenity Prayer frequently to guide you all.  

      And finally, view and apply these tools for improving relationships: This video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this ad-free Web site. I've reduced that to seven.

       Pause and reflect. How do you feel about these options for adapting to an uninvolved parent? Does anything prevent your family adults from discussing and acting on them now? Your living and unborn kids silently depend on all of you grownups to do so.

      For more perspective, learn about ex-mate relations.

colorbutton.gif Recap

      This Lesson-6 article proposes...

  • four ways that a non-custodial divorcing parent's "disinterest" in their child/ren lowers their family's nurturance level; and...

  • a family-system explanation for typical parental "disinterest," and..

  • options family members can take to minimize the disinterest's impact.

      Recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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