How do you handle an Ex that isn’t consistently involved?

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Q –  My Ex was never really involved with the kids when we were married. Now that we’re divorced he’s even less involved.  Usually he shows up for “fun” events but doesn’t make an effort to exercise his “visitation” with the children consistently.  I’m worried about how this is affecting them.  Is it my responsibility to get him involved? What should I do?
A – To answer your question, I think the best you can do is not create any obstacles to your children having a positive relationship with Dad.  What that means is maintaining a positive attitude about Dad being a valued part of their lives and doing whatever you can to support that in word and deed. However, keep in mind that doesn’t mean you should sugar-coat or make up excuses for Dad’s lack of involvement.  Sometimes when a parent isn’t engaged in children’s lives, the involved parent tries to soften the blow by covering for the uninvolved parent.  For example, saying things like… “Dad really wanted to see you this weekend but he had to work,” when in fact, Dad is simply choosing not to show up.
Bottom line, the onus is really on Dad to step up to the plate and be engaged.
If you have the ability to talk with Dad perhaps setting up a meeting on neutral turf (i.e. coffee shop, local restaurant etc.) to discuss the boys needs for consistent involvement would help. Share with him that you value his role and want to him to be an active presence in their lives. I’d also encourage you to use what I call a “two home” concept. That means regardless of how the kids spend time with each parent, children feel a connection and sense of belonging in each household. This may be an especially helpful way to re-frame the situation and motivate  Dad to be more reliable regarding weekend time with the boys.  Instead of talking with Dad about having “visitation” talk about it as “spending time” with the children. It is also helpful to avoid using the word visitation with children too.
I was also curious, do you think Dad knows what to do with the boys?  If you were the parent who facilitated and maintained the family prior to the divorce, does Dad have the skills or confidence to be fully involved on his own?  It may be that Dad is showing up for the fun events because that’s the only way he knows how to relate to the boys right now.
Naturally as your kids get older they will become more aware of Dad’s lack of involvement, if they haven’t already. Do your best to support their feelings about it without trying to fix it, make it better or jumping on the bandwagon.  I know how hard it can be to see your kids disappointed but there is really great value in you being an outlet for them to talk and sort through things.

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