|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
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
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
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
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
All the best,