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How do I explain to my five-year-old son why he hasn't been able to visit me?
June 18, 2012 2:05 PM   Subscribe

How do I explain to my five-year-old son why he hasn't been able to visit me?

Long story short, my ex-wife has been denying my visitation and I haven't seen my child in person for over six months. I have seen him via video calls and he has asked about why we haven't been able to visit and I have just told him that we are working on it.

I have filed motions for contempt and to enforce the divorce order and it looks like the time that was wrongfully denied will be getting made up soon. I am not sure what my ex-wife has told our son about why it has been so long since he has been able to visit me. It is likely that she has told him that I simply did not care to see him.

I am looking for advice about how to explain to my son that it was not my choice and that I wanted to see him very much. I do not want to tell him that his mother is to blame, but I don't want him to believe that it was my choice.
posted by doomtop to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I also don't want my son to think it is his fault in any way!
posted by doomtop at 2:08 PM on June 18, 2012


"It was not my choice and I wanted to see you very much. I missed you terribly."

Then, if pressed, make some generic statement about legal proceedings being complicated and that divorce is a type of legal proceeding.
posted by Michele in California at 2:11 PM on June 18, 2012 [27 favorites]


Just tell him that you've missed him very much, and that you came to see him a soon as you could. If he asks for details, just tell him that it's complicated and not very important - you are there now.

Most kids won't dwell on it as long as you are confident and besides, he won't have the attention span for the long explanation anyway.

You're on the right track to keep the details out of the picture. The less you say the better; it keeps him out of it, and if his mom says anything to him, it hopefully won't contradict her. The need here is to prevent the boy from feeling as though he must choose a side or that there is a dispute for him to adjudicate.

I feel you on the denial of visitation. It sucks, but it's not the end of the world. Keep your chin up and stay positive. Be the better human.

And good luck.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:32 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


As the recipient of misinformation about the desires of estranged family members to see me, I can attest that restating just like Michele in California suggests is right on, even for his age.

And your instinct about keeping blame on his mom out of it is wonderful.

Emphasise however you can that he is the light of your Universe and that any delays in seeing him are against your wishes and something you are fighting against.

Don't overload him with gifts (not that it seems like you might, but I've seen it happen and it's just confusing and doesn't make anything better), but do overload him with as much tactile reassurance as he can stand.

Good luck, Papa. I hope it's all sorted soon and you're able to make him smile in person with a big ol' hug!
posted by batmonkey at 2:35 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Having been the five year old in this situation, I would explain the situation in bare-bones detail without using any kind of blaming language. Telling him it's complicated will lead to more questions - kids aren't likely to let things go with any kind of vague handwaving, especially not at that age.

Tell him that you and his mother needed to work out a plan for you to visit him and that it took a while to do that. If he asks why, explain that when you separated that you both decided he would live with his mother and visit you, but that it took a while to figure out how the visits would work. If he still pushes after that, say that you very much want to see him as much as possible, but that you and his mother have to both agree on how that works - that it's not entirely up to you.

Don't underestimate how much he understands the situation. You're absolutely correct not to blame his mother, but he can handle knowing that she was involved in the decision making.
posted by sonika at 2:37 PM on June 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


I was in a similar situation as a kid, in which I didn't see my dad for a year. One of the best things he did was not invoke my mother at all, when I finally saw him again -- except to say he hoped she was doing well, and that they both loved us. He apologized for his absence, said that it had nothing to do with us, and said he had wanted to see us badly, but circumstances were preventing that.

My dad had been sending us letters throughout the time we were separated, and we were allowed to read them. So our situation was different in that sense, but my mother HAD been telling us that our father didn't want to visit us. When we saw our dad again, he was so obviously happy to see us, and so diplomatic about everything that had been going on, that we never thought twice about it. We forgave him instantly.
posted by Coatlicue at 2:46 PM on June 18, 2012 [13 favorites]


Just tell him that you love him very much and that it wasn't your choice. Legal issues are complicated and slower than you would like and you're doing your best to work through them so you can see him as soon as possible.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:55 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If he asks for details, just tell him that it's complicated and not very important - you are there now....Most kids won't dwell on it as long as you are confident and besides, he won't have the attention span for the long explanation anyway.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt

With all due respect to Pogo, I think this is a bad way to approach and think about this specific situation. Don't tell him what is or isn't important - it's pretty important that you were gone, and you owe him an age appropriate response. To assume that you can smile and some how confidence your son into not thinking about your extended absence is unreasonable.
posted by OsoMeaty at 2:58 PM on June 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think Michelle in California and J. Wilson have it. Your decision to not blame it on his mother is absolutely the right one, but also must be very difficult and frustrating, so you deserve congratulations for being a stand-up guy. Hope it works out soon!
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:24 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree that "I don't get to make all the decisions, and it's important that we follow the rules even when it hurts us" is a good way of saying it. Your son is going to have 13 more years of dealing with this kind of stuff, in various ways; honoring his frustration/pain while also standing firm on the "we don't always get what we want" issue is really important.

One thing I wish each of my parents would have said a lot more often: I love you even when we can't be together. Please make sure to emphasize this, and your desire to see him, a lot. Not just at first, but always. Go ahead and say it on the video calls, and tell him that you miss him now.

If at all possible, please, please send very frequent letters/make calls when he's not with you, and make every effort to keep your son in contact with his mother when he's not with her. It is basically impossible for a child to do that for themselves, and it's really, really necessary. This is one of the few areas where my parents authentically, deliberately, thoroughly screwed up while raising me (they hated each other and it was easier not to set up any kind of regular contact.)
posted by SMPA at 4:04 PM on June 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have seen him via video calls and he has asked about why we haven't been able to visit and I have just told him that we are working on it.

Like everyone else has said, it's important that you tell him when you see him that you didn't want to go so long and you missed him so much, but if you're able to communicate with him it's also important that you are telling him in real time how much you miss him and want to see him and can't wait for the details to be taken care of so that you can.

That way, every time his mother tells him you don't want to see him, he will remember that you are actively saying otherwise.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:21 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Completely subjective opinion from child of divorced parents here: In the long run, your relationship with your child will be strongest and healthiest if you can COMPLETELY and TOTALLY avoid bad-mouthing the other parent. Even if (when!) they deserve it.

Other parent screwing around with the visitation schedule? Not the kid's fault; the kid shouldn't even know about it. Other parent late with financial support (or pressing unreasonably for early/extra financial support)? Not the kid's fault; the kid shouldn't even know about it. Other parent playing games of any kind, using the kid as pawn? Not the kid's fault… you get the picture.

Kids are (IMO) smart. And in the long run they grow up into full-sized adult people with their own perceptions and ideas — and their own ability to see through whatever manipulation one parent may have tried to play against the other.

IMO, YMMV, etc. (But I will say that my mom and I always had a strong relationship until her death and my dad and I have been able to work our way to having a strong, loving relationship once we got past adolescent friction, in part because neither one bad-mouthed the other any time I could hear them.)
posted by Lexica at 8:10 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


In addition to telling him that you miss him, maybe add something less abstract to help him understand what you mean by that, like that you think about him all the time, wonder how his day went at school, etc.
posted by desuetude at 8:37 PM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


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