How can I get my child’s father to take responsibility?

posted in: Advice | 5

*Disclaimer*: When I use the word “father”, it could just as easily be “mother”, if the situations were reversed.

I hear this question all the time. As a single mom, I asked it myself a million times in the early days.

It takes two people to make a baby. Both have responsibilities. Financial, emotional, practical ones. It’s not a case of 50/50. Both parents should be giving 100%.

Very often, it doesn’t work like that. In the case of teen moms, sometimes the dad does not want to (or is not able to) support the child financially. This causes complications and extra financial responsibility for the mother. There ARE ways around this, such as claiming maintenance via the courts. As many of you know, this is often a long, frustrating and often futile process. But you have to try.

The more complicated issue is when a dad (whether he’s paying or not), is not interested in being involved in the child’s life. Not interested in doing his part, taking responsibility or even having a responsibility-free, fun-dad relationship with his child.

Moms ask me all the time – How can I get him interested?

Short and nasty answer: you can’t.

Rule one: This is NOT about you.

Rule two: You cannot force a person to love another person, even a sweet  innocent child

Rule three: This is NOT about you.

Rule four, five & six: This is NOT about you.

Yes, a deadbeat dad causes extra work for the mom. She has nobody to rely on, nobody to “help”, nobody to shoulder some of the strain of parenting. It HURTS to realise that dad does not love this little person who you care about so much. It HURTS to know that some day you’re going to have to explain this to your child. It makes you ANGRY knowing that he is “getting off easy” while you do all the work.

Truth is, you can’t make it right. Only he can.  All YOU can do is behave in a way that ensures you’ll be able to look your child in the eye one day and say you did all you could.

Your 1st responsibility: do all you can to make sure he is supporting his child financially. NOT because it helps YOU – but because it is YOUR CHILD’S right. Sometimes, this isn’t going to work. Then it IS going to be all on you.

Your 2nd responsibility: never ever ever say bad things about dad to your child. No matter how frustrated or angry you get, no matter how hurt you feel on your child’s behalf. DON’T DO IT. You need to be able to look back one day, when your child asks, and KNOW 100% that you did everything right.

Your 3rd responsibility: keep encouraging dad to be involved. Tell him your child wants him and needs him around. Keep all your personal feelings about him to yourself. Do NOT fight with him about his life or choices. Do NOT say he has a responsibility to you to help. He doesn’t. He has a responsibility to his child. Keep trying, so you can tell your child that you did.

Your 4th responsibility: know when to let it go. An abusive, addicted or criminal father has no place in a child’s life, until such time as he’s not those things anymore. If there is no relationship with the child, despite your best efforts to build one, and you see that your child is happy, healthy and secure despite this (this is YOUR job, to make sure that they are) – then no father is better than a lousy father. Continuing to fight to make dad care will stress you out, will ultimately stress your child out, and as they get older, they might resent being forced to interact with a father who obviously doesn’t want to.

While the courts might be able to legally compel a parent to pay maintenance, they cannot be forced to care. Any parent who is being forced into doing it will NEVER do a good job.

So sometimes, as unfair as it is (to you and mostly your child)  -you have to let it go. Let him wander off into the sunset, knowing that your child will be okay regardless, because YOU will make sure of it.

Yes, it sounds like he’s “getting off scott-free”, and that makes some people angry. So what? So what if he’s now having an easy life while you struggle?

The Rules above, remember? It’s NOT about you. It’s only about your child. And if your child is okay, that’s all that counts. Even if it means you have to pick up all the slack and do all the work – the alternative is that you don’t. That you say “Dad won’t do his share, why should I do extra?”

That is the OPPOSITE of a good mother.

That lousy dad may one day wake up and realise what he’s lost. That’s sad. It’s sad for a child if his father doesn’t care. But it doesn’t have to define their life. You can make sure it doesn’t.

Your job: try and try and try again. Mind your own business about his personal life (unless it directly affects the child). Make a life for your child that will be awesome despite dad. Know that you’re doing it all the right way, and your child will always know that you did what was best for him.

So – how can you make a father take responsibility? You can’t. Only he can decide to do that. If he doesn’t, you go on regardless. Because that’s your job.


5 Responses

  1. Shawn
    | Reply

    I wish I knew how to get the Mother, my ex wife, who left me with all 4 children to marry some old jerk, to take responsibility for our children. She does not assist in any way for them, she has moved off and is having a carefree life with her new husband. Not helping with payments, housing, schooling, feeding, transport or even contacting any of our four daughters to say merry Christmas or even hello.

    • Tracy Engelbrecht
      | Reply

      I’m not sure where you’re located – I only have insight into the South African system.

      Regardless of whether the remaining parent is a mother or father, my advice is the same:

      As mentioned in the article, you have the option of approaching the maintenance court, if all of your efforts in speaking to her and explaining the needs of your children have failed.

      That said, the legal system is long and complicated and doesn’t always result in the outcome you’re hoping for. However, if the financial situation is dire for you, it’s worth it to try. Be prepared to be patient, gather as much information as you can on your children’s financial needs, and take it one step at a time.

      The one thing that the courts cannot force a parent to do – is to *care*.
      From the tone of your comment, it sounds to me (I may be wrong) that this is your biggest issue. Your ex has moved on, abandoned her responsibilities and hurt your girls. That sucks. That is hard to swallow and there is always a lot of anger there, especially when it’s mixed in with the more personal emotions of a failed relationship. The trick is to try to separate those 2 causes of anger.

      It’s unfair that you’re left with the responsibilities while she has an easy life. It’s unfair that all the financial responsibilities fall on your shoulders. It’s unfair that your daughters are hurt and feel abandoned.

      It’s okay to feel that it’s unfair – because it is.


      Truth is, as I said, you cannot actually force a person to care about their children. They either do, or they don’t. No amount of fighting or legal demands will change that (i have learnt this the hard way).

      Your biggest responsibility right now is to your girls: regardless of what their mother has done – you need to make sure that YOU are doing 100% the right thing for them – financially and emotionally.

      At some point, you may realise that yes, it’s unfair, but no – that doesn’t actually matter that it’s unfair. You still have to give 100%, and try to minimise the emotional damage caused by their mother. That means sucking up your anger, plodding along through the legal system to get the financial support your children are entitled to. She has to live with the consequences of her choices one day if her daughters don’t want to see her.

      This realisation actually makes things much easier for you in the long run. All the work is on your shoulders, yes, but when you let go of the stress of trying to convince an unwilling person that they should care about their children, you may find that you feel lighter. That’s her responsibility, not yours.

      I know it’s not the answer you want – it never is!

      As I answered the question: you can’t ever make a parent take responsibility. They either will come to that realisation themselves or they won’t.

      You focus on you, your choices, your reactions, your job. A child will always be more influenced by the parent who IS around, than by a parent who isn’t. You can make it better for your girls.

      But you have to let go of that anger first, and you’ll see that the focus becomes clearer – it’s you and the girls, and that’s what matters.

      I hope that helps a little bit.

      Best wishes to you and your girls.

  2. nolls
    | Reply


    eish! it’s a good thing someone wrote this but some of the things are easier said than done!

    I’m a 23 year old black South African female. with twins currently 18months . the dad is a Ugandan guy! but He resides here . He was never thrilled from the day I ushered the news the last time I saw him was then even told me to abort!

    later found out its twins Imagine if I had done so Gosh!!
    I was so frustrated I could have done it it’s just graces n Gods plan u didn’t.

    he is not helping at all! I work as a casual . I’m supporting myself n mi kids!

    I’ve tried begging … him for the past months he’s been giving me a bad time as he’d say I’ll send the money then boom . nothing!!!

    I’ve considered maintenance court but u don’t know if u can go since his a foreigner.

    I’ve left everything up to God. I just wish He’d be a dad to my babies I’m a first time mom . it’s sad he’s not willing to take responsibility. I’m through the stage of crying but the pain comes now and then

    but God knows why I have to undergo this.

    I don’t have family . which means His free no one will threaten nor pester him. but I’m doing all I can for the welfare if mi twins.

    thnx jus sharing my story!!

  3. thebe grace
    | Reply

    From now i,l take care of my son and never contact the father anymore I,l leave all things to god,everything happens for a reason

    • sinawo
      | Reply

      It’s worse when someone goes around and telling people we have a child together. And makes all sorts of promises. and yet u never received even 1 nappy from him. my son is now 4 years old and I’m very happy to have him. I don’t need his father anymore. at least when the baby grows up there are less financial problems.

Leave a Reply