Excusing an Unfulfilled Promise

Dear Andrea,

I’m recently divorced and share an 8-year-old daughter with my ex-husband who lives in a different country.  The problem is that even at a distance, he’s an unreliable parent.  For example, they have skype sessions scheduled twice a week at his request.  It seems I’m always making up excuses for him as to why he couldn’t be there for her when he’s supposed to.  Generally, I feel like I’m doing a lot of good “PR” for him where he probably doesn’t deserve it.  My question is, do I continue to do the work of building the relationship between them in order to protect my daughter, or do I leave it to him to sort out and let the chips fall where they may?

 Renee R


Dear Renee,

Thanks for your question. I think you have a golden opportunity here! But first: Have you had a discussion with your ex in which you’ve pointed out your daughter’s disappointment when he does not turn up for his Skype sessions? I’d suggest starting there; ask him what he suggests that either of you could do to mitigate the frequency of these disappointments. Avoid sounding accusatory, and be sure to position your daughter as the central concern, not the inconvenience of you having to run interference for him, as this is your choice and not by his request.

If you’ve already had such a conversation and nothing has changed, you could consider telling your ex that you will only sit your daughter down for a Skype session with him after he has contacted you within a specified period of time to confirm that he will be able to participate in the session. In this conversation, make it clear that you want him and his daughter to be in communication and that this new arrangement is only with the child’s best interest in mind.

While your impulse to save your child from disappointment is understandable, if your ex has a pattern of not following through, she is going to have to encounter this disappointment sooner or later, and you will do better to begin to give her the tools to handle the sting of a broken promise from now rather than shield her from her reality.

The thing that hurts about people not following through to do with us or for us what they promise is that we assume their action is a reflection of how much they value us, and hence our intrinsic value in this world.

So here’s your golden opportunity! Use the current situation to help her begin unhinging this assumption about her self-worth from unfulfilled promises. As life is, one of the things she is guaranteed to face in her life is people she loves sometimes not living up to her expectation of them, but what does not have to be a guarantee is that she believes their behavior is her fault.

Good luck!