Parenting Advice Column
|Subject: visitation problems
My husband and I separated two years ago. From the beginning, our daughter (ten at the time) did not want to go to weekend overnight visitations with her father. After a while she seemed to accept it, and went without argument. Presently, she says that she does not want to go, that she loves her father, wants to spend time with him, but hates going to his place and will not go.
Granted, she is developing a social life of her own, but there are many weekends that she can spend with her father which will not interfere with her social life. Also, I need a break from her in order that I may have a social life of my own. Her father has said that he is willing to let it be her decision. However, when he sees, he asks her why she won't stay with him, and she hates this. I think as responsible adults, her father and I should make this decision while taking everybody's needs and wants into consideration.
JAN'S REPLY 1:
Thank you for your question.
Before I reply, I have a few questions. How specific has your daughter been able to be with regard to her reasons for not wanting to go to her father's place? Is there anyone or anything there she wants to avoid? Or, looking at it from the opposite side, is she not wanting to leave you? Or feeling threatened by your social life and perhaps (consciously or unconsciously) interfering with it by remaining at home? I have a feeling that we would be just doing guesswork unless there is some indication from her about what the difficulty is.
At age twelve, of course, she is entering a time that can be stressful simply by virtue of the physiological changes taking place. If she has started her menses (no need to share that with me) perhaps that might be one issue - wanting more privacy prior to and during that time.
If you can answer the questions I listed, it will make it easier for me to analyze the situation. In fact, if the two of you can have an open discussion in a quiet, pleasant place (a favorite restaurant, perhaps) you may not need any outside guidance. If so, I am here.
All the best,
Thanks for your response to my letter. If you have time to discuss this with me by e-mail, that would be great. Also, if you want to print it for others, that would be OK.
My daughter tells me that she hates her father - she tells me that she hates me, too, when she is upset with me. She says that her father's trailer is filthy. When I told this to him, he said that he has cleaned it. The other thing she says is that this is her home and she just wants to be in her own home with her own things. She has recently started her menses, but I don't get any indication that this is an issue with her.
I drove her and her packed suitcase to school this morning, and she cried on the way. I don't think there is someone she wants to avoid-her father does not have a girlfriend, and he doesn't have other people over to the trailer very often. He allows her to have friends over who live in that neighborhood. She used to be afraid that I would go someplace or have company when she was with her father and she would miss out on the fun. At this time, she doesn't seem too interested in doing things with me or going places with me. She would rather be with her friends. I guess this is normal.
The last time there was a visitation set up, she pitched a fit, and I called her father and canceled it. Then she proceeded to make my weekend very difficult. This time the fit was milder, and I did not cancel it. I, however, feel very guilty about all of this.
I asked her this morning if she had a magic wand and could set up the visitation that she would like as far as time and place, she said that she would not set up any visitation. One time a month or so ago, I asked the same question and she said that she wanted her father to visit her here at the house. There is a lot of tension between he and I and I'm not sure this would work well.
My "ex" is really a good father in many ways. But, my daughter has told me that when she is with him, she has to be exactly the way he wants her to be. She says that she can be herself when she is with me and she can express her true feelings (sometimes I wish she wouldn't-this can be pretty volatile).
I am at my wits end, feeling bad because I feel so good about having tonight and most of tomorrow free. On the other hand, if visitation makes her so unhappy, and her father is willing to let her make the decisions herself, perhaps I should just go along with that.
Thank you for adding to the picture with more of your thoughts and feelings.
I'm a bit troubled by what keeps nagging at me, which is, does your daughter feel that she is not safe near her father? I don't mean just in terms of physical or sexual abuse (which I assume does not worry you? Or does it?) but in terms of emotional support. Is she given the sort of trust and acceptance that every one of us needs? If not, is her father willing to attend parenting classes or group counseling to remedy the situation?
If you are not entirely sure that she is able to share her reasons with you (or with herself, for that matter) perhaps the best step to take would be to see a counselor with her, and if she is comfortable with that person, then for her to have private counseling. Or perhaps there is a school counselor she already knows and trusts. I think there may be something more that needs to be brought out into the open, and until it is, nothing can change.
The most important thing to remember is that everything a child does is done for a very good reason - even if the child herself/himself is not aware of the reason clearly enough to verbalize it (or does not feel it is safe to share it).
Hang in there and let me know if you have further ideas or questions.
All the best,
Thanks for your quick response. No, I am not at all worried about physical or sexual abuse. I have said to people in the past "He may have been a rotten husband, but he is a good father." But, emotionally, I don't think he is supportive of her. I think my previous letter mentioned what she has said to me "I have to be exactly the way Dad wants me to be when I am with him." I can genuinely identify with her, because that's the message I always got from him, too.
I begged my husband for 12-plus years (we were together 25 years) to go to marriage counseling, and he refused. After we separated, I went into counseling for 13 months. My daughter joined me a couple of times, but refused to go by herself even though the counselor (who was very nice and non threatening) offered this to her. My ex joined me there 5 or 6 times, I was hoping that we could improve our relationship in order to make co-parenting easier for us and better for the girls. He and I had three daughters together. Our oldest is 25 and is out on her own, a lovely young woman that I am very proud of. Our second child is 21. She is severely mentally and physically handicapped, and lives at home with me and my 12-year-old daughter.
I doubt very much if he would ever go to parenting classes or group counseling. He told me once that he knows couples who have gone to counseling, stayed together and were still unhappy, and other couples who split up and found others to remarry and they and their children were very happy.
The strangest thing happened today. After he picked her up at school, they were driving to his place and she saw my car at a place she was unfamiliar with (I work as a Parent Aide for the county and was on a home visit). She had her father stop, and she came to the door and told me she needs me to bring her some hair clips. My heart went out to her, because I had the feeling that the hair clips were not the issue, that she just didn't want to go with her father, and wanted to make this one last ditch effort to make contact with me. If I hadn't been working, I may have gone out to the car and called the visit off. Right now, I feel like I should just make a deal with myself and to her not to ever force her to go on a visitation again. I don't think he will force the issue. One thing that makes it all that much harder for her is that when she is with him, he brings up the topic of her reluctance to stay with him. She hates this.
This morning she and I were discussing this, and I said to her "I think maybe its just that you want to be in your own home with your own things." and she said, in the way kids say it "duh", which means something like "don't be so dumb, of course thats it, what else could it be?"
Well, this (I think) answers your questions. To reiterate, I feel that she is perfectly safe with him. I don't think she feels emotionally comfortable with him, he has a very strong personality, and doesn't tolerate discussion or anything that resembles arguing. I often felt that if he and I could just once have a good argument or fight things would be better between us, but he wouldn't allow this. I hate to compare a husband/wife relationship with what might be happening between a parent and child, but don't people carry the same characteristics into all of their relationships? He keeps telling both her and me that he wants her to "open up" and tell him what is wrong, but I don't think she will do this because she would have to say things that she would know he wouldn't want to hear, and then she wouldn't be acting the way she knows he wants her to. His disapproval is a very strong and powerful thing, a very controlling thing. She may need to do what she needs to do to prevent his disapproval-this is what I did for most of our married life.
I don't mean to bring my personal issues into this, but maybe they do pertain.
Hi again Carolyn,
Well, you sure took the ball and ran with it! I think your reasoning is very sound here. I too see a parallel between the two relationships, and as you say, why not? He has a certain way of relating that will quite naturally affect all of the relationships he has, in similar ways.
I'm very glad to hear that you will not force her into situations she does not want to be in. I'm sure you know from the articles on my site that I believe the use of force with children (or anyone) to be wrong and ineffective. It may be that after a time of not having to worry about being forced to spend time with him, she may choose this on her own. This is one of the benefits of forgoing forcefulness, that it allows the person to make choices. Of course, she may never choose to spend much time with him. Either way, though, you have given her an important lesson, showing by example to respect a child's feelings and needs. This is the sort of lesson that can travel down through the generations to your grandchildren and great-grandchildren! Good show.
One further thought. Are there post-separation/divorce counseling groups for children in your area? Some families have found these to be particularly helpful, as the children learn that they are not alone in their situation, and that other kids have similar problems and feelings.
Your feedback is very helpful. My daughter attends a small private Christian school. We also attend the church affiliated with the school. Because it is so small, they do not have a guidance counselor-oftentimes I wish we did because of the behavior problems, etc. So, being in the small private school also means that she does not benefit from groups for children of separated/divorced parents such as "Banana Splits" that the public schools around here offer.
When you say that things I do as a parent effect future generations and how they parent their children, I feel motivated to do my very best even if it means making major changes in how I handle things now. I guess all the work and effort will be worth it-even if I don't see all of the results, but future generations will benefit!! This is a very powerful idea. I like the idea that great great grandchildren that I will never know may benefit from what I am doing now.
Thanks for your help. If you have any more ideas I surely appreciate them. What I learn from you or other sources does not stop here. I work with parents whose children are in foster care or are in threat of going into foster care. I am constantly on the lookout for things to share with them, and I am not above sharing my own experiences, even the negative ones.
Regarding the problems with my daughter's visitation, I am not the only parent involved here, and what her father does or says has an influence, also. Communications between us are not always the best even though I try. I am willing to make sacrifices in my relationship with him (perhaps putting up with some things I don't like) in order to make things better and easier for our children.
Thanks, and I'll let you know what develops.
Just an additional thought. I'm wondering if there might be a community-based program like Banana Splits where you live? (For example, in my town, a similar program is run through the YMCA.) The people running the school program may know about one in the community, or you could call a "hot line" for information. If there isn't anything other than the school program in your town, it would make sense to ask if they would consider letting your child attend.
A friend of mine found such a program enormously helpful, especially in the sense that the child could get third-party suggestions to think about, without feeling caught in the trap of "which parent's advice do I follow when I don't want to take sides?"
All the best,