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Keep an Absent Parent Front and Center


You've been there. Crowded room. People standing against the wall in the back. You're looking around for the person you're supposed to meet and then, like magic, you get a text that reads:

"Down front. Saved U a seat."

You feel loved, cared for, considered. And you get to sit!

Must-Have Parents know all about seat-saving for our Must-Do partners, literally and figuratively. Sure, we're experienced at throwing our diaper bags and coats over empty chairs and giving inquiring strangers apologetic shrugs.

More important, we're also practiced at saving a place for our Must-Do partner at the front of our kids' lives.

Whether it's because he or she couldn't get to the pee-wee game until five minutes into the first quarter or because that chair at the dinner table has been empty for weeks on end, we learn to be intentional about finding ways to keep the other parent involved and relevant. 

Children know what they see, and when they don't see one parent as often, the parent who isn't there can begin to seem less important. That's where we Must-Haves come in: We save seats. We create place-holders. We act as our partner's public relations team.

"Wrestling! Your dad wrestled in high school! Let's ask him about that!"

"You know who's good at art? Your mom. Why don't we see what she thinks you should do for this project?"

As the Must-Have parent who spends the most time with kids, we're certainly capable of solving many of these daily dilemmas without our partner's input.

But it's the insignificant moments, the truly little things, that create the ideal opportunities for seat-saving. (Bonus: This approach also could lead to a few things being taken off our to-do lists.)

When all three of our children were infants, my husband was deployed.  I worried that they wouldn't know him when he returned. My solution? I taped 8x10 headshots of him to the backs of the car seats so that they'd have to stare at his face every time we went anywhere. Worked like a charm. 

Now that they're bigger, I save my husband's seat in other ways. After a bad day at school, or bad behavior at home, I'm likely to delay a punishment decision.

"Let me talk to your dad about this and then I'll tell you what your punishment will be," I'll say. Not only does it keep my husband involved in parenting decisions, but the anticipation increases the impact of the punishment and the delay prevents me from saying something I might later regret.

Hundreds of studies have been conducted showing the benefits for children in having two parents. Non-profit organizations have spent millions of dollars encouraging parents to be actively involved with their offspring. Thousands of news articles, columns and blogs have been published, pleading with parents to get interested in the lives of their little ones.

We Must-Haves are already the lucky ones. We have a partner who cares and wants to be involved. We just have to save them a seat.

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Rebekah Sanderlin Family and Spouse Military Parenting

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Rebekah Sanderlin is an Army wife, a mother of three and a professional writer. Her work has been published numerous places, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and in Self and Maxim magazines. She currently serves on the advisory boards of the Military Family Advisory Network and Blue Star Families.

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