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When Daddy Leaves

When Daddy Leaves

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I am the proud mama of a beautiful 5 month old little girl who is the light of my life and the joy of my days. I never thought I would get to be a mother and now that I am, I can’t believe how right it feels. Every aspect of my life is made brighter by her presence in it. And yet (and you knew that ‘and yet’ was coming because you are the Alpha Mom). I have a problem that I just cannot solve on my own. That problem is baby’s father. I am not married, Amy, and to my great distress, baby’s father left us about two months ago. He is younger than I am and baby was a big surprise to us both. This is not the first time he has left- when I found out I was pregnant, he left for three months. Left far enough that I didn’t know where he was. He came back when I was six months pregnant and I was so relieved. I was so grateful and relieved and elated at having him back, at having his support through what turned into a very difficult pregnancy that I didn’t listen to that small voice in my heart that said ‘be careful!’ and ‘you were broken when he left you last time, can you handle it again if he does it to both you AND baby?’ Amy, I wish I had listened to that voice and been more guarded. I love him. I love him so much. But those last few weeks we were together, I was miserable because he stopped talking to me. He stopped joking and laughing and playing with our precious daughter. And I told him to leave. I told him to walk away if that was what he was thinking, if he no longer wanted to work at us. I never thought he’d leave. I really didn’t. He left that morning. And that voice was right. I am broken again. And I have a bright-eyed, joyous little girl who can’t understand where her daddy went.

All of that is awful and heartbreaking and sad but my problem, Amy, is I don’t know how to move on. He is over all the time to see baby. He wants us to do things together as a family so baby gets to spend time with both of us. He hugs me tight and offers to help me out. And it’s killing me. He is the kind of love that, once it ends, I need not to see anymore. I need not to have contact with. Because I do still love him. I do still wish we could work it out and be a family- a real family- together with our beautiful daughter. I feel like I am living in this limbo where I almost have my relationship but in fact, I don’t. I don’t want to be angry and contentious and make baby having a relationship with him hard, I want him to spend time with her and to be a huge part of her life. But I also want him back…and if I can’t have him back (I shouldn’t have him back), I need him to be gone. How do I do both? How do I move on and heal and hopefully someday find someone who does want us both, who wants to be my partner (maybe even my husband?) and who wants to be baby’s full time dad? How do I stop wanting the ex when he is always around? How do I stop loving the father of my child? I want to be strong in this, for me and for baby. How do I be strong in the face of overwhelming and helpless, hopeless love?

Sincerely,
Heartbroken

My dear, I am so sorry. I can’t even imagine.

This man is not your love. He never was. He never will be. Your great, true love — the one who deserves you — would never, ever abandon you during your pregnancy, and then come back only to rinse-and-repeat the process again when you have a newborn. No. He is not your love, his is not your future.

This man is, however, the father of your child and thankfully appears to be making an effort to remain in her life. Which means — while he is not your future — you cannot cut him out of your present. For your daughter’s sake, you will need to find another way to deal with the heartbreak. A way that DOESN’T involve removing him from your lives or pushing him away (for THIRD TIME, Jesus).

You know all this, of course. I can tell that you do, in between your sad, heartbroken sentences about helpless, hopeless love.

You are not helpless. Or hopeless. And again: This man is not your love. He deserves access to his daughter and I suppose your respect over his ability to sack up and take responsibility for her (in the face of what was a pretty huge freakout over impending fatherhood). He does not deserve to take up space in your heart and head and dreams of the future and make you feel rooted to a dead, dysfunctional relationship.

Start by arranging father-daughter time that does not involve you, that doesn’t conjure up painful fantasies about what Might Have Been. He can spend time with her — there’s no reason why you should feel like you need to do things all “together,” so he gets to play house and while simultaneously torturing you. Since I’m guessing he KNOWS how you feel and KNOWS that every family outing is giving you hope and keeping you emotionally tethered to him. Is he punishing you for calling his bluff and telling him to leave? Is he just a jerk who enjoys toying with you? I don’t know. I sense there might be some mind games going on with this “He wants us to do things together as a family so baby gets to spend time with both of us. He hugs me tight and offers to help me out.” stuff and I don’t like it. I’m not sure I trust this man’s motives. He wants to spend time with baby, that’s awesome. He can do that without you around. You guys are officially no longer a 2-for-1 deal.

The next time he comes by and wants to spend time with his daughter, instead of accepting a hug, hand him the diaper bag and tell him you have to run to an appointment. Preferably, I would like the appointment to be with a therapist who can help you talk through all of this. Because you would benefit very, very much from therapy right now, both to deal with the crushing rollercoaster of a year you’ve had and your (still raging, postpartum) emotions. You need a safe space where you can grieve and be sad and also totally freaking ANGRY at him. Rage and yell and cry and talk, then leave it all there behind on the couch so you can go home and be civil to him and bid him “goodbye” without feeling crushed by the sight of him leaving again, always with the leaving.

If you need more time to find a therapist, however, make that first appointment with your hairdresser, or get a manicure. Just get out of the house and away from him and the invasive fantasies about “oh, maybe he’ll change his mind and it can be like this all the time.”

No, it can’t. He probably wont change his mind, but EVEN IF HE DID…gurl. No. There will be no third strike here. No more times for him to prove to you that his default setting for “THIS IS HARD AND I DON’T IT” is to simply pack up and walk out the door. If anything, he should still be on your watchlist: He needs to prove to you that his recent dedication to fatherhood isn’t temporary and he won’t get bored/antsy and start flaking on your precious little girl. You are now, unfortunately and unavoidably, the guardian of her heart. You will not let him break hers too.

I also recommend getting some legal advice in regards to an official custody and visitation schedule, as well as financial child support. Here’s a brief overview of the some of the issues to think about when unmarried parents break up but both retain legal rights to the child. Not only would having something official and in writing simply be a smart thing to do for your daughter’s sake (especially given his flakey track record), but it will hopefully help you reframe the relationship with him and bring some closure to the romantic side that is no more.

You are strong. You can do this. Your future and your great, true love are out there. And you will, with time and help from a good therapist, be able to see that you can find that future even with this man there in the present. On the periphery, the co-parent sidelines.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Claire

    Oh sweetie, I have nothing to add to what Amy says. She is spot on. Just sending you random Internet stranger love and support x

  • Stephanie

    Amy gave great advice. I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this,but Amy’s right – a true love wouldn’t abandon his pregnant girlfriend, he just wouldn’t. He wouldn’t then do it again when you have a newborn.

    Once you have time to grieve (but please don’t wait too long), please take the time to formalize this co-parenting arrangement. You need to set boundaries of what it means for him to have custody/visitation rights. He also needs to provide child support if he’s not already. I second Amy’s suggestion of leaving the house the next time he comes over. You need to distance yourself from him, but as the father, he will be part of your daughter’s life.

    Hugs.

  • SarahB

    I have nothing to add to Amy’s fine advice here.

    Best wishes to you.

  • ellbeejay

    Oh, honey. I’m so, so sorry. I just wanted to say I’ve been there (except it was my second child and my HUSBAND of 8 years that freaked/flaked out and left.)
    Amy is right–find yourself a therapist to talk to–you’ve got to help yourself to stay strong for your daughter. I also agree that you need to get things legally sorted out, for both your sakes.
    I promise, though, it gets better. Last year was the darkest time of my life, but I made it out the other side and you will too. Eventually, you will be able to co-parent with your daughter’s dad and create a loving, supportive environment for her without sacrificing your heart or self-respect.

  • Suzy Q

    Great advice from Amy. I would also add that, although you may not be able to imagine it now, there WILL come a day when the Love Blinders come off. Then, you will see clearly what this wreck of a relationship was and what it was not. Stay strong. You have a clearer, healthier path ahead of you, for both you and your daughter.

  • MJH

    One bit of advice I’ve heard which might be helpful: change the story you are telling yourself.
    Right now the story that your heart wants to tell is that he is your love, you have a child together, and together you could make a beautiful family if only…something.
    But that is not the true story. The story is that you dated a guy who left you multiple times, WHILE YOU WERE PREGNANT WITH HIS KID, and is now back in an attempt to (hopefully) connect with his daughter. He has been irresponsible in the past and has flaked out on you. That is not the way a true love would act. That is not a good story.

    So tell the story realistically. And maybe, when you think about where the story goes from here, you can tell yourself about woman who takes control of her life and heart, protects her daughter, and, possibly, include a wonderful loving man who comes into your life later and becomes a healthy, caring stepfather to your daughter.

  • liz

    Sending you hugs and love, and agreeing with everyone who agrees with Amy.

    Definitely get a custody/visitation schedule drawn up all legal like, and get child support. 

  • KW

    So sorry, hugs for you from another internet rando. Just another suggestion, to protect yourself from the worst possible scenario (so not likely, but still, caution seems worthwhile here). I wouldn’t leave him alone with your baby girl before you’ve fully hashed out the custody/visitation/child support issues, complete with legal documents. This is a man who was capable of disappearing for three months. You don’t want him doing that with your child. Is there a third party you could trust for visits? Parents? Trust worthy friend? I’m sorry if this seems alarmist.

    • z

      Agree.  I’m not comfortable leaving the baby alone with a man so irresponsible and untrustworthy.  Hire an adult babysitter, or at least stay in the house within earshot. 

      He’s trying to have it both ways– a relationship with you and your daughter, yet the ability to cut out whenever he wants.  He offers to “help you out”?  How very generous to “help” with his offspring.  Perhaps it would be better described as pulling own his weight as a father.

      You need to draw some boundaries, OP.  Such as: 

      * No hugs.  He doesn’t get to touch you.  He left you.  Twice.  The romantic and physical relationship is over.  Cutting off physical contact will help you get over him emotionally.

      * Visitation schedule, not just showing up whenever he wants like he still lives there.  If he can keep to a regular schedule and give your daughter the consistency and reliability that all children need, then you can talk about more visitation.  But Mr. Run and Hide needs to prove he’s in it for the long haul.

      • Melinda

        “He offers to “help you out”?  How very generous to “help” with his offspring. ”

        DING DING DING! Exactly. He isn’t babysitting, he’s being a father. 

        Nothing he does for her is a favor to you. That’s his daughter. That’s his responsibility. He already almost abandoned that HUGE responsibility. 

        How is his family? Are you close to any of his family members? Grandma might be a help in making sure Baby has some structure & is well looked after. And definitely find some legal counsel. 

        Don’t let him act like any of this is a favor to you or her.

  • Tricia

    Amy’s advice is always so damn good. 

    But can I ask a favor of you as a child of more than one divorce? Please, PLEASE, be careful how you talk about her dad. No matter what happens with him he’ll always be her daddy. My mom played mind games with us and taught us that “men are pigs”. I spent countless years without a relationship with my dad even though he is nowhere near pig territory. It’s hard when feelings are involved, I know, but it’s important that your baby stay a kid and isn’t torn between her parents. 

    Good luck to you. I hope you find true love. 

    • tadpoledrain

      On the other hand (and I’m also the kid of divorced parents), don’t focus so much on being careful about you talk about her dad that you don’t leave space for her to share her own feelings about him, positive OR negative.  If dad continues to be as unreliable as he’s been in the past, she’s going to need to figure out and accept (as she gets older, but from a younger age than you might think) his both good points and his flaws, and decide how she feels about him and what kind of relationship she wants to have with him, on her terms.  Being too positive/neutral about him might not give her the space and support she needs to do that.

      TL; DR: My parents are divorced.  My dad, although I love him, is a dick in many ways.  Because my mom was really careful not to speak of my dad negatively for a long time, it took me a really, really long time to be able to speak openly with her about how I felt, or even to figure out that I wasn’t crazy, he was just kind of an asshole about some things.  I kind of felt like I was being gaslighted for years, and it was such a relief when my mom finally just said yeah, your dad is an asshole in a lot of ways (even though he loves you etc.), and we could talk about my experiences.

      Huh.  That wasn’t any shorter.  Apparently I have opinions, or something.

  • Melissa

    I’m with this. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT LEAVE BABY WITH HIM ALONE.  Be alarmist, be paranoid, whatever. But no.  He’s up and left for three months before and who is to say he’d make another impulsive move without thinking it through again?

    I would see a lawyer first.  And only allow him supervised visitation.  You don’t have to be there, but someone YOU trust should.  

    • Anon

      I have to present another perspective. Definitely see an attorney to mediate your custody agreement as soon as you can–but please, PLEASE for your own good, do not keep your ex from his child. It sucks but that’s how the law works.

      Unless he has demonstrated any clear legal reasons that he should be kept from her (physical violence, emotional abuse, mental instability, verbal threats to take her away) then the system believes your daughter has a right to have a relationship with her father. If you interfere with it, it will work against you unfortunately. You’re better off from a legal standpoint being able to say that you have never interfered with his visitation, however you would like the terms to be xyz. You’ll have a much better leg to stand on. 

      Also, don’t take legal advice from well-intentioned, nice commenters on the internet. Me included 🙂

      Call an attorney or file a petition with family court in your county as soon as you can. I wish you so much luck–you sound like a great, caring mom and your daughter is lucky to have you.

  • The reason to get a therapist and a lawyer is because they are professionals at looking out for you (and your daughter) at a time when you are struggling to see this situation clearly through the heartbreak. 

    There’s no shame in having that trouble, but a lawyer’s entire job is looking for the ways this unreliable man could create problems for you, and preventing him from doing it (or at least giving you legal recourse if he does). The therapist’s job is to help you see this situation clearly.

    It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to need help cleaning your house. It’s okay to need help looking after your beloved daughter. And it’s okay to need help with this.

  • Lydia

    Someone who is a great love does NOT do these things: “But those last few weeks we were together, I was miserable because he stopped talking to me. He stopped joking and laughing and playing with our precious daughter.”

    Even when a partner is angry, hurt, unhappy and ready to leave, it is never fair to treat those around you like this.  Especially your baby.  If he can be so cold in his heart that he could stop having loving interactions with an adorable, smiling, 5 month old babe, he is not a man worthy of your love.

    You sound like a wonderful mother, your daughter is so lucky to have you.  Keep making your decisions with her well-being in mind, like you have been, and you will be ok.  

    And yes to therapy.

    Huge hugs from another FTM of a 4 month old babe.

  • Kate

    I hope you will soon come to understand that this is not what love looks like or feels like. I hope you will soon be in a place where you can accept the kind of love you truly deserve, from an honorable and equal partner.

    In the meantime, yes, yes, yes to a lawyer and a therapist. As a parent, you must take care of your own psychological health and legal rights in order to give your daughter the kind of love that she deserves. If you can’t yet take care of yourself for you, do it for her.

  • Lindsay

    I am a lawyer who deals with A LOT of custody cases. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE go to a lawyer ASAP and file for custody. Everyone telling you to do the same are NOT alarmists. In many states, including mine, if you don’t have a custody agreement and if he decided to take off with her, that is NOT considered illegal in any way and YOU WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO GET HER BACK, THE POLICE WONT TAKE THE CHILD BACK UNLESS IT IS A VIOLATION OF A CUSTODY ORDER. I’ve seen this happen. It’s heartbreaking and awful and its a LONG PROCESS to get that child back, legally.

    Here’s a brief rundown: physical custody is who is physically taking care of the child. You can file for primary legal custody and let him only have set, specific visitation. Legal custody is who gets to make decisions for the child, like where she goes to school or medical procedures. legal custody is usually shared between parents, even if physical custody isn’t 50-50. If you can’t afford a lawyer, most custody forms aren’t hard to fill out. Go to your county courthouse, to the Prothonotary’s office, and ask for “pro se” custody complaint. You’ll then be scheduled for a “conference” or “mediation”, where you’ll both go in front of the judge. Just tell the judge what’s going on, and explain why you NEED a set visitation schedule. If you have any concerns about past domestic violence or anything, SPEAK UP.

    Good luck <3

  • Lindsay

    Excuse me, autocorrect. File for primary *physical* custody with brief periods of visitation for him

  • Michelle

    He’s been described as young. Perhaps in addition to playing mind games with you (playing house with the family time), he is scared to be with the baby alone? Is his mother around? Is she someone you can trust? I would maybe use a strategy like, “Hey, why don’t you bring her to her grandma’s today? She would love to spend time with her.” That way you get alone time, and he does not step back out of fear of being alone with the baby, if that’s part of it. I agree though, he is not your love, and he needs to now respect you as the strong mother of his child, not see you as the woman who loves him and he can return to whenever he wants. Good luck!