When your kids don't want to see their other parent (and you kinda wish they didn't have to)

Here's an excerpt from an email I received recently:

I have two incredible kids, ages 7 and 9, and have been divorced from their father for a few years. The problem is, he is a complete trophy father when he is single, but when he is dating he is absolutely awful. The kids cry when the time comes for him to come get them, begging me to allow them to stay home. If they ask him if they can stay with me he gets nasty with them and hangs up on them, which he has done often, even calling them names at times. I have started taking my kids to a therapist, but I don't know what to do about their father. Help! Please! I don't know what to do, he won't listen to what I tell him when it comes to the kids and how they feel.

My heart goes out to this mom and the thousands of other parents who could have also written this letter. This is a deeply painful situation that pushes almost every button in a parent's psyche. I will answer this reader's question about the kids not wanting to see their father, but please know that this same advice also applies when kids don't want to see their mothers.

I'll offer several suggestions for you to chew on. You may not like some or all of them -- my opinions are usually pretty radical. I'll trust you to experiment with whatever resonates with you and leave the rest. So here we go:

It would be easy for me to jump on the ain't he awful bandwagon, and commiserate about how wrong he is for doing all these things. But I'm not sure how helpful that would be for you. If you are wanting empathy, as we all do at times, I'd encourage you to talk with sympathetic friends.

As for me ... I cannot tell you how to make their father listen to you.

I cannot help you teach your girls how to get him to listen to them.

What I may be able to help you do is re-calibrate your expectations of him with what he IS doing, and take your focus off of what he SHOULD be doing. And once you are grounded in what is real at this moment in time, any actions you need to take will become obvious.

So let's start with what is happening. What can you count on him to do? At the risk of oversimplifying and overdramatizing, let's say: partner with women who are not maternal or even cruel, ignore your kids when he's in a relationship, get angry and defensive, call them names, refuse to listen or communicate constructively, etc. Not that he's going to be this way forevermore, but for now, that's been pretty consistent, right?

When we divert our energy into thinking about what he should be doing better, we miss some opportunities to take action ourselves, and to empower our kids to do the same. So for the time being, let's assume his behavior is not going to change anytime soon, and that no amount of bringing it to his attention will impact it.

In the state where I live, being uncommunicative, mean, and defensive is not legal grounds for a reduction in parenting time. The courts will take action if there's evidence of neglect or abuse, of course, but if I am hearing you right, this is not happening in your case. I'd advise you to consult with your attorney to see if any legal action can be taken.

You mentioned you were thinking about moving out of state. It may indeed come to that, but denying kids contact with a parent can have a long-lasting impact on their sense of wholeness and well-being, and there are many other things you can try before you even think about going that route.

I love that you are taking the kids to a therapist, and would encourage you to see one yourself, who can help you tell the difference between your reactions to what is happening and your kids' reactions. It can be hard to sort that out ourselves.

Although it breaks our hearts to see it, crying will not damage our children. Nor will disappointment. Please understand, I don't mean to belittle our children's emotional pain, or our pain when we see our children suffering! It can feel devastating. I truly do understand that.

And given the nature of this world, no matter how much energy we put into preventing our kids from having to experience pain, we cannot. Life will make sure to disappoint all of us at some point. And that's a good thing. The ashes of disappointment are fertile ground in which the seeds of resolve, clarity, and determination can sprout and take root.

What you may not realize is how much of a difference your presence makes in the life of your kids. Because you are there, standing as an example of availability, compassion, and presence, they will never be confused about how they want and deserve to be treated. The trick is not to lose your center by becoming angry at him when you hear what's he's doing, because this takes your focus off of listening and being present with your girls.

How do we do that? We work through our own guilt and anger in therapy or with friends. We forgive ourselves for picking him as their father, or for leaving him to meet our own needs, or for any harm we think our choices may have caused to our children.

When we've done this inner work, then we can listen. We can empathize. We can stay engaged with our kids, even when they are in pain, without feeling enraged or guilty. We can witness their experience with compassion, and help them find their way through.

We teach them by example that big feelings are okay, and that we are not afraid of them, and that they pass all on their own eventually, just like a thunderstorm. These are powerful lessons that will serve our children well every day of their lives.

We avoid jumping on the ain't he awful bandwagon together, and instead help our kids to stay focused on experiencing their feelings in the moment. "How does that feel in your body? I notice your hands are squeezed tight -- what are they saying?"

We don't ask questions about the details of what was said or done, we keep the focus on their feelings. We set our own thoughts and feelings and judgments aside for processing with adults later, and we allow our kids to fully express theirs.

Here's what is amazing about this process: when the energy of feelings is allowed to flow freely, the intensity naturally dissipates. I know a mother who would sit with her son and just listen for 15 minutes or so to his intense anger and outrage after he came back from visiting his father. And then he would suddenly just run out of steam, and ask what was for dinner beore heading outside to shoot hoops or something.

She did not agree or disagree, she just let him vent. She could not fix it for him, as much as she wanted to, so she didn't offer suggestions or give advice. She could not impact his dad in any way, so she could not help. All she could do was love him and listen. And it was enough.

Years down the line, not much changed at his other house. His dad was still doing the same old stuff. But her son's feelings about it were different. He stopped taking his dad's behavior personally. He stopped thinking that if he just told his father what he needed, he would give it. He became somewhat impervious to it - he would say, Yeah, you know, that's just Dad. He still loved him. He just took him with a grain of salt. And he learned some strategies for dealing with others that will come in real handy later in life.

You may never change your ex's behavior, or protect your kids from having to cope with it. But you can let your frustration strengthen your resolve to be the kind of parent your kids deserve. They will naturally recognize and gravitate towards emotional health when it is available. So make sure it is, in YOU. The rest will work itself out.

note: There are many additional important points in my responses to the comments below, so please consider reading them for additional helpful information. 


Anonymous said...

I wonder what actually goes on when the kids are alone with the dad (and his current squeeze). If they get that upset when they have to see him and he is nasty to them on the phone, that should be a warning sign?

I was forced to stay friends with my dad because my mum still loved him which has left us open to his continuing bad behaviour for over ten years and he will never change. Would be better to move away and start a fresh life.

karen alonge said...

Excellent point, and this mother in another part of her email said that she did not suspect abuse or neglect. If either seems likely, then legal action should be taken immediately.

I learned from my own kids that because they were accustomed to being treated with respect and kindness in my home, they felt almost violated when they were on the receiving end of skepticism or criticism at school or elsewhere.

They didn't react aggressively or badly, but they did feel strongly, and when it was safe and appropriate, they would express and release those feelings.

I think of that kind of reaction as an emotionally healthy one -- they knew they deserved better, they knew what healthy relationships look and feel like, and they wanted that.

So in a nutshell - no, getting that upset when they have to see him does not necessarily indicate neglect or abuse. It could just mean they have a strong preference to be treated with respect. And that is something that the emotionally healthy parent can help them cope with, by listening, letting them vent, and continuing to treat them with respect and kindness.

It's a bummer that you had to deal with bad behavior from your dad for so many years. It's also a bummer that your mom wasn't able to be your ally and advocate.

And, I'm betting that you developed some coping skills that are still serving you well today. You may even have carried some of your experiences forward and used them to inform and enrich your own parenting.

When legal custody arrangements force contact with a less than ideal parent, sometimes that's the best we can hope for -- that our children will turn those lemons into lemonade.

Anonymous said...

In my case, I am a father who is wanting to spend time with my 15 year old daughter who says she doesn't want to spend time with me or come over to my house. I don't call her names and I am not nasty to her, I tell her I love her and want to spend time with her. Her mother says that she will not force her to go if she doesn't want to which of course fuels my daughter resolve in being able to resist my requests.

I mean should I do nothing and never see her again (which has been the case) , or force the issue and declare that I am abiding by the court order, which is sure to make both my daughter and ex, furious.

On thing to remember is that the terms "upset", "nasty", and others are subjective terms and cause people to define them based on their own experience and really aren't descriptive enough. The father may have a different view of the whole affair. I can tell you from experience that when you child doesn't want to be with you or have anything to do with you, it hurts very deeply. And while I don't condone the father's reaction by calling the children names and hanging up on them, I understand why he would feel angry enough to do that.

karen alonge said...

Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right that these situations are entirely subjective, and each person who is involved will have their own perspective and interpretation.

I also agree with you that words like upset and nasty are judgments, not observations, and as such, are not likely to contribute much toward a constructive solution.

This can be a terribly painful situation for the non-custodial parent. The feeling of powerlessness can be completely overwhelming, and it's very important for parents in this situation to have solid emotional support.

Doing nothing and never seeing her again doesn't sound like a viable option. I also know that forcing the issue with the court is not necessarily the answer either. The court might be able make your daughter's body show up in your home, but not her heart. Thus the 'victory' could be quite an unfulfilling one.

You may find some helpful suggestions in my post sharing joint custody of a teenager post as well as some of the postings in the teens topic.

I wish you all the best. My hunch is that you have a very good chance of reactivating your relationship with your daughter, and that it's unlikely you will never see her again.

Keep reaching out to her with gestures of love and support even if she does not respond. When she's 18, she'll be free to connect with you on her own terms again. Getting angry with her or trying to force contact might only burn the bridge that she could use later to walk back into a freely chosen relationship with you.

Anonymous said...

Men and Women view things diffrent, but patience and love for children is key...
I've been divorced and just got out of another relationship for my kids came first. This is what I have notice with some men...just my opinion and observation. Men are more aggressive and outspoken toward children and less patient. Mothers are patient, talk calmly and loving toward her children. Both the men in my life said I babied my children too much and that I was'nt aggressive enough. It seems like the guys the raised there voice and demanded things they wanted the kids to do without even telling the kids "Thank You" My kids dont like going to there dads but they go but once he raises his voice to them they argue back, but if he's calmly talking to them they respond with respect and there not a problem. Kids dont like dad because he takes his stress out on them and they feel like his target. My ex-husband asked me one time how I get the kids to do what I ask. If you talk nicely and calmly a child without raising your voice and they will still do as you ask of them without a fight(at least my children dont argue back. They show respect)I told my ex husband this and he's tried but sometimes he forgets and end up a disaster. He's trying it took 3 years of him battling with kids before he finally asked me how I did it. Now he realized It was'nt babying it was be calm, loving and respectful. Kids want to be respected and reconized too. Me and my ex-husband dont get along that well but we are friends and talk because of our children. Hope this helps somebody.

Anonymous said...
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pjz said...

I am in a similar situation. My children are 3 and 5. My x moved out over 1 year ago and is living with another woman who doesnt particularly like children and has inlfuenced my X not to take the kids resulrly and to discuss in aapropriate things in fornt of the children. I dont ask the children too much about their stay as i dont want to put any additional pressure on them. I olisten to what they have to tell me and work with that to udnerstand how they are feeling and coping with the situation. I always talk up the visits to their father and talk about how their father loves them because I think it is important they see him in the best light possible. I know his loves his children is his heart he just has differnt priortities than I do.

They have recently want to come home early on weekends and holidays that they are supposed to be with him. As they are so young, it is difficult for me to udnerstand where the issue is coming form and how to help them so they feel comfortable.

I am not sure what I can/should do. should i allow them to come back early because I am hearing that they are unhappy or should I maike them stay the weekend?

karen alonge said...

Your kids are lucky indeed to have such a tuned-in mama.

I think that if their dad doesn't mind them leaving early, it's fine to cut their visits a bit shorter. They will still have plenty of time and opportunity to learn how to cope with the situation there.

And if he's not okay with that, then keep doing what you are doing -- listening, empathizing, and being present with your kids while they offload the feelings of frustration, etc, that accumulate during their time with him.

I can't overemphasize how much of a difference it makes in the resilience of a child when there is even just one person with whom they can be completely honest, candid, and release all their feelings.

Good for you for being that person for them!

hope that helps,

Anonymous said...

my kids r 9 and 11. i have been divorced from their dad for about 6yrs.it wasnt an amicable split and I do feel guilty that my kids witnessed arguments + their dad being aggresive towards me. my son gets a nervous tick when he feels very stressed but we have coping techniques.their dad has never been very 'hands on' but I hoped things would improve and even when my kids have begged not to go to their dads I have pointed out how much they would miss him. but recently things have been getting worse 3 wks ago he didnt even get out of bed while they were there (hangover)he only sees them on a sunday and ive invited him to come and watch his son play football but he has never been. I pick up and drop the kids off at his he has promised my kids so many things and i tell the kids he doesnt mean to let them down he just doesnt think. last sunday my son foned me at work and asked me to pick him up his dad had been aggresive towards him and shouting in his face my daughter was upset also and i have never seen my son so angry.i have told their dad they dont want to go to see him but if or when they change their mind i will conntact him. he now says its my fault and i must make them come i dont no wot to do.

karen alonge said...

ouch, that's a sticky situation. you might need to get some legal advice to find out what your obligation is regarding visitation. in any case, my sympathies are with you. this is a painful situation for everyone involved, and I wish there was an easy answer ...

Anonymous said...

OHH and what would the comments be if it were the mother who the children did not want to see and the mother who yalled at them and hung up. It is all too apparent that society is used to blaming the man and victimizing the women. Fact Most all divorce is initated by the women. The key point here is co parenting where the mother shares the responsibility of talking with the children about the value of having a relationship with their father. Chances are the children are at an age where they really dont want to be with either parent let alone having to deal with both their parents lives seperately at the expence of their own lives with friends etc. To the mother ...stop playing the victim here . Could she really say she was never angery at her kids or yelled at them. I think not and I would not condem the mother if she did. So let up on the Dad!

karen alonge said...

thanks for your comment, anonymous.

I respond to questions and comments from readers in the gender in which I receive them. Had the initial question been from a father, my response would have been the same. In fact, you may like to check out the other posts on this blog responding to questions that did come from fathers.

I particularly appreciate this part of your comment, and have added my perspective in parentheses:

The key point here is co parenting where the mother (I would say 'both parents') shares the responsibility of talking with the children about the value of having a relationship with their father (each other).

I would also add that ideally, each parent will build a good, solid relationship with their children so that they don't really need the other parent to remind the kids of their value.

When each parent takes responsibility for modeling kindness, tolerance, and patience with each other and the kids, the occasional flare of emotion will not require a lot of damage control.

Anonymous said...

You know everyone can be right in so many ways but if the mother is manipulating the kids at home that's the root! How are the kids acting towards their dad? So much media crap out there that's teaching kids how to be independent with a self righteous attitude. Taking him to court to take time away isnt going to resolve the issue both parents need to tag team on RESPECT!!

Anonymous said...

I was happy ,going out with my daughter. Picking up from her mother house/ day care and enjoying with my family or friends. Now

Since my daughter turn 4years old don't want to go out with me anymore, only if the mother is around or going out with us.
I remember 1 months after my daughter turn 4. She asked me in front of the mother, dad, Mon can go out with us? I said not right now love. Maybe later.. the mother stayed in silence for second, later said , is okay my baby you can go with daddy .

After that moment all started days by days.
My daughter is in love with me only if I see her at the mother house. if I decide pick up her from day care she don't want go with me like before. Only saying I want mami ...

Really? I never force go with me or go out with me like before I told to the mother, this painful to me and will no force I respect that. But something ostensibly not right in here. The mother said the she don't know why..

I have been trying but is none.

This sound like manipulation . Now the mother told in the bad way. That she don't want me Romania talk to her ever again, because one day I refused force my daughter be with me when she don't wanted.. I will not put a trauma to my baby.

What can I do?


karen alonge said...

anonymous -
you might check out this article from www.handinhandparenting.org for some ideas about how to handle your situation.


I hope this helps, and please feel free to post another comment with any thoughts or questions on the article.

- karen

Anonymous said...

i have a 4 year old son, my ex has not seen him since he was 2 weeks of age then he took me to court when my son turned 3, to have a contact order. My son has now been saying that he dosen't want to see his dad anymore and claims that his dad smacks him on the face, hand and stomach, he begs me not to take him and kicks and screams in the car all the way there,then flops to the floor and won't go to him. We do not talk as he causes too many arguments infront of my son. i have said that i didn't want to force him to see his dad as it upsets me, then i get very nasty texts on my phone. He has calimed that my son refuses to eat, sleep and drink whilst in his care all the time (my ex had text me this and asking me why) its clear to me that he don't want anything more to do with him. My ex had said that he would take me back to court to force my son to see him please help i don't know what to do now.

karen alonge said...

anonymous -

so sorry you and your son are going through this difficult situation.

I think you'll need an attorney to help you sort all this out.

You might also need to contact social services to report any suspected abuse.

Please seek legal advice as soon as you possibly can (and save all those text messages, voice mails, and texts from your ex... they may be needed for evidence at some point.)

I hope you've got a good friend or family member or counselor to talk with about your feelings, as a situation like this can be very difficult to handle without emotional support.

I wish you both all the best, and wish there was more I could do to help.

- karen

Anonymous said...

My ex is in hospital. Had major operation made me tell our 9yr old daughter that he is away with work. So I did. I don't speak to him only via tex, because he has lied about me taped conversations, tries to catch me out on certain things. I have stuck to all access agreement which has has already broken. Give him all holidays he requested. I have asked for nothing. He is a very controlling person. Now he wants his mother to collect our daughter to go visit him. I had to tell her he made me lie. She is so affraid of hospitals needles etc and has never been in a male ward before. She says she prefers to see him when he is out of hospital. I rang the hospital to see if he was in a ward or a room and to find out what my child might witness....of course he thinks I have put her up to this. Told him I would never ever force her to do anything and he should be thinking of her feelings and how distressed she is. I am the bad which and been told that I have engineered this. My solicitor told me if your child does not wish to go as a mother your job is to protect her from being traumatized ...help

karen alonge said...

anonymous -

I am glad you checked this out with your solicitor, and if he or she is telling you that you don't have to comply with your ex's request that his mother bring your daughter to the hospital, then it seems you can firmly but kindly refuse.

Something else concerns me about your story here -- telling your daughter that her father "made you lie."

I think if we boil it all the way down, the deeper truth is that he asked you to lie, and you chose to comply with his request.

In my opinion, and it's only my opinion, when we tell our kids that someone "made" us do something unethical or immoral, we miss an important opportunity to model taking responsibility for our own choices. This feels like a disempowering message to send.

What I'd recommend as an alternative would be that you hear your ex's demand as a request, you consider it for a while and decide what you believe will be in your daughter's best interest, and then take action accordingly.

In this particular situation, that might sound like this: "I understand that you'd like our daughter to visit you in the hospital. I don't believe it's in her best interest to visit a male ward and witness the trauma and possibly graphic and disturbing images there. So unless you have reason to believe that you will not be leaving the hospital ever again, I'd prefer to wait until you are released to bring her around for a visit. Please feel free to call her as often as you like so you can keep in touch."

It may be that you will choose to lie to your child at some point for reasons that were carefully considered. Or it may be that you decide to share a whitewashed version of the truth. In either case, when the whole truth finally does come out, you'll need to take responsibility for your choice about what to share with her and why, and that's fine.

Whether or not your ex should or is capable of thinking about your daughter's best interest is beside the point. If you are capable of doing so, then it's your responsibility to do it.

If you need support standing up for what you know is right and good, please seek counseling or support from a pastor or the like.

I know it's not always easy to set a good example so your daughter learns how to take responsibility for her actions. You deserve lots of support as you navigate these situations with your ex, and I hope you will find several good, reliable sources for yourself.

good luck,

Anon said...

This was inspirational to me. However, I still don't know what to say to my daughter (age 11) when she says "Why do you make me go there?" As for my particular case, there is no physical abuse. He was emotionally and verbally abusive to me. But I would say he is more impatient and controlling to the kids. But we have a different issue in our case: hoarding. He hoards, which some may say constitute abuse or neglect. He is not an extreme hoarder like on TV, but there are huge piles of dusty random discarded stuff that he collects from various places. I haven't seen the place in months because he avoids having me over. I'll make a point to go today to make sure that it hasn't gotten over the top. But historically he keeps it just to the brink and then cleans it up enough to be bearable. Years of broken promises to clean it up have left the kids with a feeling of powerlessness. I'm not sure what to tell my daughter. My 8 year old son doesn't seem to care.

karen alonge said...

One response to "Why do you make me go there?" could be, "Because he's your dad, and he loves you, and I think it's important that you have a relationship with him."

Truth is, there's comfortable and uncomfortable stuff in every situation and relationship. And while we often can't control the situation or person we are involved with, we usually have some degree of control over what we focus our attention on.

So make sure to inquire about the good times she has with her dad, too. And listen warmly but don't express agreement or become upset when she vents about the not-so-good times.

You might do some research on hoarding to help you come up with a new framework for understanding it and communicating about it with your kids.

In many cases, it's a mental health issue, not a "broken promises" issue. You might be able to help your daughter not to take it personally by explaining that his brain might be making it really hard for him to throw things away for reasons that have nothing at all to do with her, and that it's not a sign that he doesn't care.

Here's a link to get you started:


hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. That's a great response. I'm going to really work on what you said.

Anonymous said...

My son left his ex when their son was two years old. My son had a very close relationship with his boy, so much so that whenever my son had to return him to his mother my grandson would scream and cry and say he didn't want to go home, this went on for many years, it was heartbreaking. My son has always been very involved with his son, at present he travels 5 hours one way to pick his son up and then travels back home another 5 hours, he has his son for two nights then makes the whole journery again. My grandson will be turning 11 soon and has started to say to my son he doesn't want spend time with his dad. My grandsons attitude has also become quite different to his dad, where before he was quite affectionate with his dad and now has become sullen and miserable. This is really hurting my son,he is heartbroken and doesn't know what to do. He says he will still insist on seeing his son, even if he doenst want to. We feel that his ex is causing some trouble and its not the first time she has.

karen alonge said...

Good for your son for staying steadfast in his resolve to be a strong presence in his son's life. It will be important for him not to let bitterness or anger turn him into someone else. Kids need a clear, steady light in their world to help them navigate through tough times, and adolescence is definitely one of the toughest. Hopefully your son is getting emotional support to help him through as well...

Amy M. said...

Karen, I know this is an old post, but I had to tell you how touched I was by your first comment response. I'm a custodial parent, and you put into words something that I've been trying to put my finger on for nearly a decade. My kids know what kindness and respect look like, and that is what they expect, and are surprised when they don't. Thank you so much for your thoughtful words!

karen alonge said...

How kind of you to take the time to comment, Amy! I'm so glad to know that you resonated with something you found here.

I did write this post some time ago, and it seems to keep going like the energizer bunny. I try to read and respond to every comment, and I appreciate yours! Thanks for coming by.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen! My situation is a bit different from these others. My sons father was and continues to be verbally abusive to us but the courts require proof and even with my testimonies the most they have done is make him take fathering class and tell us not to talk. My son had a speech delay and is diagnosed with other impaired disability. My sons father does not understand and refuses to accept that my son gets emotional and frustrated. I have been my sons support since day one while his father gets mad and either pushes him or threatens to hit him. I have to plan out the activities they do together because otherwise his father gets too distracted on his phone and has in the past lost him due to negligence. I have brought this to the court and they still just tell him to be more aware which he always brushes off. He has the mindset that nobody can tell him what to do. When he wants to impress a female he will be nice to my son temporarily making my son think he is fun but then hurt his feelings when hes done with him. It is so frustrating watching my son go through this when he is only 6 years old. He has expressed to me several times that 'dada is not nice' or 'dada is mean' and I always just redirect him onto something else. I started organizing their time together by playing baseball or playing video games because when its organized the visitation seems to go better but now my sons father is trying to impress another female and wants time alone which makes my son really anxious anytime my sons father tells him he is going to pick him up, my son will say 'is mama coming' and he says no just me and you, my son starts crying and will wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety. I tell him it is ok and he will have fun but because of the past experiences being alone with his dad has not been successful. I have tried showing my sons father positive ways to interact with my son so it can be a successful experience and I have told him what goes on in school to help him understand but he will just call my son a 'mama's boy' and tell him to 'cut it out'. He will also say that my son has anxiety because of me and that is not true. My son spends time with family members without me there and has no problems with that. I want this to be a positive experience but have run out of ideas. Please help.

karen alonge said...

I've responded to the previous commenter personally, but for other readers who may find themselves in similar situations, here's a bit of what I said:

I can't even imagine how tough this must be! Bless your heart for being there for your son. I hope you are receiving a ton of emotional support from family and friends, and maybe even a counselor. You deserve a safe place to vent, and it will help you do what you need to do for your son.

I will refer you to a site with excellent articles about helping children deal with painful situations such as these.

If you want to talk over anything you read there, please let me know.

And please know that your loving and attentive presence in your son's life acts as a buffer from unfortunate interactions like these with his dad. Because he can let his feelings out with you and experience acceptance and love during the process, he can release the emotional toxins that he accumulates when he's stressed and feel fresh and renewed again, rather than bottling them up and letting them color his view of the rest of the world.

all my best to you,

Anonymous said...

I'm an incredibly frustrated parent. I've had to take my son to see his dad for the past few years as he won't go alone and this puts so much stress on me. My son's dad manipulates him, bullies him, emotionally abuses him but according to solicitors etc as long as he doesn't physically hurt him the courts won't do anything and like to just put things down to poor parenting skills. So I'm left with putting myself in an awful position to try and protect my son , having to watch this happen and being able to do nothing about it. I understand that professionals want to fob it off saying children adapt, they don't think it affects children the way we think it will and yet I see first hand how it does affect a child's self esteem, their sense of belonging, their outlook on people and behaviour, their ability to then judge right from wrong. For years I've had a child beg me to find them a "nice daddy".
I can't lie and say it's always awful, when he finally forced to pay attention to his child (sitting on a phone is more interesting than the one night a week he gets with his child) my son does sometimes enjoy himself but it is usually short lived.
I keep trying to see if my son will even just go to the soft play alone with him and I'd wait in the car but he is so scared to be alone with him as he thinks his dad can't look after him (which as the last 6 years have proved is a fairly good assumption).
I feel like it's just circles of torture.
I wish all the best to anyone in similar situations as it is just awful.

karen alonge said...

yes, sounds like a painful situation all around.

please don't underestimate the ability you have to help your son become even more resilient. a healthy relationship with just one trusted adult in their world, where they can experience respect, listening and warm affection, is very empowering to children, and helps them bounce back quicker from less-than-ideal circumstances.

The trick for parents in situations like these is not to let bitterness and outrage, however justified they may be, poison our ability to be kind and loving with our child or other loved ones. I hope you are getting ample amounts of the emotional support that you richly deserve from friends, family, or a counselor.

Wishing you all the best,

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,

I would like your input on my story. My husband has a teenage son. He is definitely in the rebellious stage and giving him a hard time about coming to our home. I am very supportive of their relationship. We also have 2 other children together. We work very hard to make sure he is a part of our family dynamics. Our biggest challenge is his mother. She definitely falls under the category of having certain expectations of his role as a father. He can't seem to do anything right in her eyes. He is not perfect by any means. He doesn't have all the answers, but he tries. His child support is always on time. He is a hard worker. He doesn't miss visitation. He doesn't show up unexpectedly. He doesn't stir the pot...but one thing is for sure, he doesn't allow her to take advantage. When he is with us we make sure all things are done as a family. We have rules that all 3 children have to abide by. We never single him out. We are very conscious about how we raise them. When we aren't sure about a specific situation, we get advise from a good source. We don't have all the answers. We make mistakes but we apologize and admit when we're wrong. We tell them we love them and talk with them often. The lines of communication are always open. We are firm in our decisions and stick to them. His mother allows him to watch rated R movies. She goes out with her friends for dinner & drinks and brings him along. He has been exposed to way too many adult scenarios. Whether it be adult conversation or otherwise. She curses at him & calls him 'jerk' or a**hole when she's upset with him. On the other hand he doesn't treat her with respect either. He is in the middle of all of this. We are doing our best to lead him down the right path and she is doing the exact opposite. The difference on our end is although my husband sees that she is wrong he isn't telling her how to raise him. She has it all figured out. Now he rebels with coming to his other home, with us, because we have rules here. His mother doesn't have other children so he is the 'only' child there. She buys his affection with very expensive material things and she isn't wealthy. My husband tells him all the time that no matter what he says or does he isn't giving up his right as a father. He will have to learn to be a part of this side of his family. My biggest concern in writing this is that I don't want things to get worse. He had a huge meltdown the last time he was to stay with us. I don't know what he will do next. I just don't understand what his happening in his mind. There is no abuse in any form when he is with us. I would appreciate any light you can shed on this.

karen alonge said...

Sounds like you are doing a good job striving for optimal parenting. It's a dynamic balance, of course, but seeking guidance and apologizing when necessary are great things to be doing!

I think it's good to remember that kids and teens melt down in non-divorced families too.

Continue being clear and compassionate with him. His pubescent brain is on overdrive, and it's perfectly normal for him to have strong feelings when things don't go as he wished.

Now more than ever he needs you guys to keep calm. There's no point in continuing to discuss matters while he is upset. Give him (and you) time and space to cool down in private if you can.

When you both are calm and you feel connected with him again, you can ask him how he's feeling about things, and invite him to share his ideas. It doesn't mean he has to 'get his way,' but teens need to be heard and considered when you are making decisions that impact them. Talking things through with them helps them learn consequential thinking, which is a very important skill for them to develop and takes time and practice!

Don't worry too much about what his mom is doing since you can't change that. Just keep as clear, calm and connected with him as you can when he's with you, and make sure you are adjusting your parenting to take into account his growing maturity.

hope this helps.

Unknown said...

I have 4 kids. 3 girls and a boy. Ages 10, 9, 7, 5.... My ex husband has 7 kids. two kids from a previous relationship that he was keeping a secret until my second child was born and we were already married. now the 7th was born just three weeks ago with his new girlfriend. My kids especially my oldest wants nothing to do with him. I have a court order where he is suppose to pick them up every other weekend. The last time he saw them was 3 months ago. His girlfriend calls my kids B**** and pieces of s**t and I found out that she hits my children when their father is not around. I told him about it and my kids spoke to him and he refuses to believe that. I also opened a case against that because I refuse to send my kids somewhere where they don't want to be especially knowing that they are being verbally and physically abused. They used to tell me all the time they don't want to go and cry about it. I never questioned them and told them they had to go that it was their dad and they needed to spend time with him. Little did I know I was putting them in harms way....... So please before you send off your children to a parent where they don't want to go listen to your children and find out why they don't want to go. get to the root of it all and pay attention. There is a reason why they don't want to go.... I did that to my kids for 3 years. Kept sending them off to a place where they were getting abused mentally and physically..... And when I asked why they didn't tell me earlier about everything,,,, their answer was, WE DIDN'T WANT YOU TO BE UPSET AND HURT AND HAVE HIM (FATHER) FIGHT WITH YOU..... This whole time I am the one that was suppose to protect my children but they were protecting me... Sometimes sending the kids off to a bad father is actually doing more damage then good. I understand it's the kids father, but if he was such a good man that you want your kids around as a role model then why did you leave him in the first place???

Anonymous said...

I know this is an old article. I thought I was reading mine and my daughter's story. It's very hard to see ur kid in a situation like this. I'm fighting trying to get him to listen to his daughter and communicate I guess it's not gonna happen any time soon.

karen alonge said...

hi another -

yes, it was posted a while ago, but is still read quite frequently, and I do monitor the comments and respond.

It IS very hard. And at a certain point, it can help to turn the focus toward supporting our children in coping with what is, rather than trying to get our exes to change. And of course, nobody else can tell you when that time has come for your situation.

Thanks for commenting, and I hope the situation resolves peacefully for all involved.

warm regards,

karen alonge said...

thanks for your comment, Maria. Your advice to listen to your children is SO spot on. We can't always control whether they have to go or what goes on there, but we can ALWAYS listen to our kids, and nobody can take that power away from us.

JustMelisAll said...

Thank you Karen, I can't begin to tell you how helpful your original post was.

karen alonge said...

thank you, JustMelisAll, for taking the time to comment. I'm so glad it was helpful.

Anonymous said...

Help me please my son is 8 years old he had regular contact with his dad but last year he refused to see his dad we both went to see someone so did my son but still he refused to see his dad my son no longer wants to have his dads name I'm so worried because I want my son to have a father in his life I need help

karen alonge said...

hi Anonymous -
I'm sorry you are dealing with this difficult situation. I don't know your legal situation, of course, but I think it might be best to get a counselor or therapist involved who can maybe get to the bottom of his reluctance. Involving a professional might also protect you from accusations of alienation. It's good to express your intention that your son have a father in his life. It might also be good to consult with an attorney for legal advice to make sure you are meeting your court ordered obligations.
I wish there was more I could say that would help. I hope you will keep reaching out for help until you find what you need. Perhaps a pastor or minister might be able to connect you with services in your community.

warm regards,

Chloe said...

Thanks for this blog, it is very helpful.

My ex and I separated 10 years ago, we have a daughter she was 2 at the time.

My ex saw her a handful of times in the first year then was missing in action for many years.

When our daughter was nearly 8 she was keen to know him and had dreamed up how amazing he must be.

I tracked him down and they met, in total now 5 times. My daughter doesn't want to see him anymore and has requested her name be changed to that of my partners and her sister.

I received correspondence today from his solicitor that he doesn't agree with the name change and further correspondence is coming about custody arrangements.

She is now 12 and doesn't want to see him. How can I help her?

karen alonge said...

hi Chloe -

I think it will be imperative for you to contact an attorney for legal advice regarding this situation.

Sometimes the court can order what is called re-unification therapy for the estranged parent and child, which can ease the transition and involve a professional who can guide the process of rebuilding a relationship (or simply building one for the first time).

What I like about this is that if the estranged parent is not serious about being a part of the child's life, he or she often won't jump through the required hoops and the process stalls out. If they are serious, both parent and child get support and guidance for their new relationship, and you can know that someone other than just you is keeping an eye on things.

You might check out the articles on www.handinhandparenting.org for more specific advice about what you can do to support your daughter if this does move forward. Here's one really good article to get you started - there are many many more there as well: http://www.handinhandparenting.org/article/helping-children-with-divorce/

let us know how it goes,

Anonymous said...

I have a similar situation. My kids love their father but greatly dislike his gf. I have tried to encourage a relationship and explained that forming new relationships take time. After 2 years, their feelings haven't changed and it's become common place for my 10 year old to try to hide on the car floor and my 7 year old to go spread eagle so i can't get her out of the car. They tell me that the spend much of their time in the basement staying out of the way because they are afraid that the gf will yell at them. The 10 year old had told me that the gf had told her he pisses her off and she's accused the 7year old of scratching the furniture after my ex told her it was the dog. 2 weeks ago, my ex's relationship with his gf got volitile and she shoved him while the children were there. After the kids went to sleep that night, she threatened to wake them up, yell at them, kick their beds, and call them liars. My ex called and told me this from a hotel as he left worth the kids immediately. He told the kids they had broken up and they never had to see her or go to the house ever again. Fast forward 2 weeks and my ex told the kids he is giving her another chance and they are all going pumpkin picking this weekend. My son sought out the school counselor and came home crying. I've tried to call my ex to discuss, but he won't answer. They are supposed to go with him in 2 days. What do i do?

karen alonge said...

dear anonymous-

This sounds like a situation that could benefit from some legal advice. It's important that you meet your legal obligation or you could be held in contempt of court, so make sure you know what you are required to do.

It's good that your son sought out the school counselor -- the counselor is likely a mandatory reporter so if there's any suspicion of abuse or violence in the home, hopefully it will be reported to the proper authorities for investigation.

in the meantime, continue to show your children what a healthy relationship looks like by being the very best listener you can be for them. and make sure you have a healthy adult in your world who can listen with compassion as you vent your fears and frustrations -- this situation is incredibly painful for a parent to experience.

wishing you and your family all the best,

Stressedmom said...

I'm hoping for some advice and I hope you still check this as I know this is an old article. I have three kids from my first marriage (13, 15 and 17). He lives 19 hours away. He hasn't seen my 17 year old in over three years. I have physical custody of my kids while he has visation. He sees them four times a year, except my oldest. He hasn't paid child support. The last time he saw the 13 and 15 year old was on Christmas break. They came back home complaining about him, his wife and their kids. When spring break came they didn't want to go but I managed to talk them into it but they got into a fight with him on the phone and he finally let them decide about coming and they decided since he wasn't treating him right on the phone (yelling, cursing, hanging up on them) they didn't want to go because it would be worse when they got there. Now they are suppose to go for a month and a half for summer. He refuses to let me talk to them during these visits, which has always been part of the problem. Last year I had to call to do a welfare check to make sure he made it back in because he didn't answer my texts for five days and he had my two kids ! They are refusing to go . They wrote him a letter telling him why and sent it. I haven't heard back. We don't communicate on the phone because it always ends up in arguments. I don't want to do anything to hurt my custody but There has been past abuse (emotional) with my oldest and domestic with me that let to restraining orders. I think there might be more going on.

karen alonge said...

thanks for writing, StressedMom.

I think this situation calls for legal advice from your attorney. As you said, you don't want to do anything to hurt your custody, and I believe your options from here will depend on what has been filed with the court.

I wish I had a better answer for you. I will say that sometimes, the troubled parent gets aggravated and ends up canceling the visit under some pretext or another -- traveling for business, child care issues, schedule conflicts or something else that 'interferes' with the visitation. If that starts to happen, just let it be. Speak graciously and just say something like, "Thank you for letting me know, I appreciate it."

As I mentioned to the commenters above, someone safe for you to talk to about your feelings about this would be very helpful.

Counseling for the kids would be optimal as well, for two reasons -- one, so they can receive emotional support and strategies for coping, and two, so there's a professional involved who can report it to the authorities if they hear a report of harm or potential harm.

I hope this is helpful, and wish you all the best.


Anonymous said...

Afraid & Anonymous please.....
I appreciate and acknowledge there are situations whereby the other parent is acceptable and 'normal' and capable of parenting. However, what can one do if the other parent has been charged and guilty of domestic violence while the child was home, and is currently on a restraining order toward the other parent and in court mandated treatment. What if there has been ongoing emotional, psychological, horrible cussing in the parent and child's face, anger and ruined events, holidays, etc. that is beyond reason for many years. Finally seeing the battering, which now has been insulted with abandonment and financial carnage toward the family. Courts want therapy - what about what the child needs. A peaceful existence a change to heal and be away from the abuse and not forced to participate in something that gives them horrible anxiety and disruption.

karen alonge said...

hi A&A -

I'm so sorry you and your child are facing this situation.

Of course you'll need legal advice, but I can say that often in cases like this I see the court order supervised visitation, which means that the violent parent only spends time with the children under the supervision of a professional who may also teach and coach the parent in how to help the child and the relationship recover from abuse.

If the parent's issues are beyond help, the professional may communicate that to the court. I believe the courts usually give the other parent a chance to do better, and if the other parent can't step up then they can't receive expanded parenting privileges. Sometimes they will lose all visitation, or they will only be allowed supervised visits, and they may decide they don't want to jump through those hoops and gradually just fade out.

In the meantime, I'd suggest making sure you have an excellent emotional support team, including a therapist or counselor. Situations like these trigger up so many intense and valid feelings, and it is very helpful to be able to talk to someone about those so you can avoid them leaking out onto your child.

wishing you all the best, and hoping you can find the resources you need and deserve!