Do I move my kids from their dad?
July 7, 2009 4:21 AM   Subscribe

Would my three kids (17, 15, 10) be happier if we left the same town their dad lives in? I can't figure out if I'm allowing prolonged damage to my kids by letting them stay here because their dad is down the road but NEVER wants to see them. And where he lives bothers them (more later).

Despite typical visitation rights, he hasn't had them for a sleepover or vacation for over 3 years; he instead takes them out for pizza once a week. He has missed birthdays, Christmas, baseball games, just in general he doesn't participate in their lives.

But it's WHERE he lives that is causing them a lot of pain: Immediately after he moved out, we discovered that he moved in with our daughter's best friend's mom and her 2 kids (same ages as 2 of my kids). He has promised my kids that they'll never marry (which to some extent confuses them...why is he living with a divorced mom and her teenage daughters without getting married...).

So he lives literally down the road with another family. My kids have been invited over once in 3 years: a birthday party for dad and our 17 year old's joint birthdays; there was one cake and had only Dad's name on it. It sucked.

What's also odd is his attitude to me demonstrated in front of the kids. When he comes to pick them up, he either texts or honks but rarely gets out of the car. If he has to come in (my son wants to show him his drum kit, for example), he completely ignores me.

What makes it especially weird for my 2 eldest daughters is that because it's a small town and because of Facebook postings, they know everything their dad is doing (he went to Florida with them for Christmas, took the eldest on a college tour, etc.). But their dad shows no interest in seeing them other than weekly pizza (and he often cancels that).

How ultimately damaging is this for kids to have an uninterested dad who shows more interest in his new family?

The last complicating factor is my third child, a 10 year old boy who was diagnosed with OCD years ago. My son will try to reach out to his dad to hang out and perhaps once in 10 times his dad will say yes, so they'll go out for about 1/2 hour. Otherwise, it's these phone messages that break my heart begging his dad to call him back or even worse, him trying to leave a chipper message to hang out if dad has no other plans.

So should I just get the heck out of here? How much damage am I allowing by letting my kids continue to grow up in the town of their birth, where all their friends are (and we have a house, I have a solid job and excellent schools), but with a completely uninterested father?

What else could I do? I've been trying for years to very politely suggest he spend more time with the kids but he just doesn't. The kids will say, "Well, that's just how Dad is..." and the older ones don't contact him at all. Am I overworried?

I spoke with my divorce lawyer about getting full custody and she said while he's in contempt of the court order for visitation, unless I can prove abuse/negligence, I won't get it.

How do I help my kids? I got them away from living in the same house as their dad, but his negative influence lingers.

All replies are welcome.
posted by dzaz to Human Relations (44 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your oldest two kids are old enough to tell him exactly what kind of father he is. Maybe they should do that. And then maybe you can help them find other positive male figures who WILL be in their lives and love them.

They don't have a dad, they have a sperm donor, and they know it. What they need now is people in their lives who WILL love them and show them they are worthy to be loved and that the person with the problem is the sperm donor.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:26 AM on July 7, 2009


Your two oldest, I assume, are headed to college fairly soon. Now's not a great time to uproot them and I doubt they'd want to go anyway. I think staying where you are is probably the best thing you can do.

I had a difficult relationship with my dad after my parents divorced and I always understood it had nothing to do with me, or anything I did. Those were my dad's issues. Your older two know that. Your youngest will learn it soon enough.

I know that doesn't make it easy for everyone. Continue to love your children and support them. And while you didn't say how well your children get along with each other, they can also be a good support system for each other.
posted by darksong at 4:35 AM on July 7, 2009


Family therapy. You shouldn't feel responsible for communicating these issues to your kids on your own. Full course of therapy before any decisions.
posted by By The Grace of God at 4:48 AM on July 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


I'd ask them, hey guys, I thinking of moving to X town. What do you think? Would you like that? What would be some good things, and what would be some bad things? What do you think it would be like? Would a different place be better?

Ask them alone and together, because they may not want to admit to each other how they feel about the situation.

In your shoes, yes, I would move them. Particularly if you had some loving relatives to move near.
posted by b33j at 4:54 AM on July 7, 2009


your ex is an arse, and there's no real way to make that easier on your kids, i'm afraid. luckily it sounds like they're now old enough that they can (at least mentally) understand that parents, like all other adults, are flawed and sometimes hurtful people.

i always tend to think that in cases like these, it's the responsibility of the primary parent to ensure that even if the other parent never lives up to their responsibilities, that *they* are not the ones who cut off that avenue. your kids may in time decide they no longer care about their dad, but it won't be because you made it difficult for him to be part of their lives - it will be because they can clearly see he (cruelly) chose not to be.

it won't, sadly, improve anything between your kids and their dad. but it may do a lot to improve things between your kids and their mum.
posted by wayward vagabond at 5:20 AM on July 7, 2009


Seconding therapy. You have no idea if your oldest kids know that these are their dad's issues and not theirs. And the calls with your youngest are heartbreaking. This is potentially very damaging stuff, speaking from experience.

Your kids do need to learn that his behavior is HIS behavior and nothing they can do will change it. But it's harder to understand and eventually accept that he may not love his kids they way a father should. That rejection is unbelievably powerful coming from a father. This should not be underestimated.

Unfortunately, this is not something you can easily teach them without coming out looking like an enemy. Tread very carefully here, and let a therapist help you. Moving away will not do any good at all. Their father will just find ways to reject them from afar. It will still hurt. A LOT.

Therapy, therapy, therapy.
posted by anthropoid at 5:23 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Having grown up with zero contact from my father, I have to say that knowing where he was and what he was doing would have been a hell of a lot better than no contact at all. These kids actually have a lot of information about what kind of a man their father is. In the absence of information, fantasies and fallacies can grow.

Also, if you move, you give him the chance to make you the bad guy of the story -- he can rationalize his lack of contact as "well, your mother took you far away." As things stand now, he doesn't have that excuse.

I'm also sort of interested in your description of his new lady as "our daughter's best friend's mom." Are the daughters still best friends? Does your daughter talk with this "best friend" at all about the situation? Do you talk with the mother at all? Or has dad's romance killed their friendship? Was the divorce just three years ago? Or was it longer ago than that and the new relationship started three years ago ... and with that, the change in behavior.

Certainly talk with the two older children about how they feel about the entire situation, and take into account what their thoughts are on making this decision.

Also, frankly, if it were me, I would take the next step and have my attorney talk to the father's attorney to slightly-more-than-politely point out that he is, in fact, in contempt of the order and ... well, I won't say "force him" to spend more time with the son, because that wouldn't be productive ... but certainly have someone point out to him in no uncertain terms that his behavior towards the son is causing the son pain.

If I could, I would also reach out to the other woman, mother to mother, and try to enlist her as an ally.

But if it were me? I wouldn't move.
posted by anastasiav at 5:23 AM on July 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


This is the kind of thing we cant give advice on its one side of the story and we dont know the other.

I say thats your own decision.
posted by majortom1981 at 5:31 AM on July 7, 2009


So should I just get the heck out of here? How much damage am I allowing by letting my kids continue to grow up in the town of their birth, where all their friends are (and we have a house, I have a solid job and excellent schools), but with a completely uninterested father?

First - and I bet you know this, but still - you are not doing the damage; he is doing the damage.

Second, yes, ask them. But I think you should stay. You've got a good job, the kids have good schools, and most importantly, they get to see exactly what kind of dad their dad is. If you move to a place where they won't see him as often, they may interpret that (consciously or not) as you "keeping" their dad from seeing them, whereas now - well, it's all on him, from your description.

You moving away will not improve the way he treats them; not seeing him at all will not improve your kids' mental or emotional health (in the ways you probably want, anyway). They'd still want to see him, but it will be that much harder if you're far away, so what good will that do?
posted by rtha at 5:57 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I had a difficult relationship with my dad after my parents divorced and I always understood it had nothing to do with me, or anything I did. Those were my dad's issues. Your older two know that. Your youngest will learn it soon enough.


Well, it's a bit presumptuous to declare with such certainty what's going on in these kids heads, none of us really have any idea.

Therapy for you is certainly not a bad idea, nor is family therapy...though I'd hesitate to force it on the kids -- it should be an option, not an obligation.

More importantly, are you talking to your kids about it at all? I know we're taught (with good reason), not to badmouth exes to the kids, but that doesn't mean no one can ever mention what seems some pretty fucked up, callous behavior.

Are there any relatives in the family that could play a role in their lives -- not as "father figure" but as "adult male who shows interest in them"?

As an aside:

a birthday party for dad and our 17 year old's joint birthdays; there was one cake and had only Dad's name on it.

Even though it's just one tiny detail in years hurtful behavior towards his children, reading this is really what made me want to punch your ex in the face.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:03 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


The 17 year old knows the game - that his dad's an ass. The fifteen year old is figuring it out. Perhaps they could explain it to the ten year old. "Hey, seventeen, ten's having trouble with your father ignoring him. YOu seem to have handled it pretty well; you think you could help me out and talk to him?" After that - a few months, gives seventeen time to work it out, and ten time to think about things - have a round-table with the kids and see what they think.
posted by notsnot at 6:24 AM on July 7, 2009


Family therapy, and quickly. I'm in therapy now for issues that should have been addressed when I was your kids' ages, and it stemmed from similar (although not as extreme) behavior from my father. I remember sitting on the porch all day long waiting for him to show up for the visit he promised he'd make this time, jumping up and down every time a car turned the corner. That HURTS. Even twenty years later, it hurts.

Your kids will someday be able to figure out that their dad's behavior is due to his own issues and not about their value, but why wait for that to happen years down the road? Get them started in therapy now and hopefully they can work it out while they're still young and before they go forming destructive romantic relationships.

I would not move them unless you have a place to move to with lots of loving family who will support these kids. You don't mention that--you talk about moving away FROM the father, but not TO anything better. I agree that the kids and maybe the dad will (unfairly) blame you for taking them away from the chance to see their father, so unless you have someplace really worth moving to, stay put and let the kids learn who their father is through his actions.

Good luck to you--your heart must be breaking.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:27 AM on July 7, 2009


Having moved my teenage kids a year ago, I can tell you that the change to their social lives was much more difficult for them than the change to their family setup. I moved just before high school started, and there were significant economic factors at play that made moving away from a depressed region less of a choice than a necessity, but even so, I see how much they miss their friends from the old town.

It's also awkward because when they go back to visit my ex, they want to spend all their time with friends (that has a lot to do with his prior relationship with them, but it's also typical of teenagers, and makes those visits pretty awkward).

I can't speak to the situation as it affects your youngest, though. It must be heartbreaking to see your child pine for his father like that. (This American Life recently did an episode on fathers, the first story of which is about exactly that. Whether you move or not, consider limiting your son's calls to his father, and plan a backup activity for him in case dad bails. (Make sure it's something desirable, social, and interesting so that it's not a consolation prize.) Time with his dad needs to become a choice for him, as it is for his siblings, rather than a neeeeeeed that's never going to be fulfilled.

Good luck, and feel free to MeMail me if you want some more details about our move.
posted by headnsouth at 6:28 AM on July 7, 2009


How do I help my kids?

I agree that forcing therapy on anyone, especially kids, is a bad idea. However, one of the best things a therapist can do for a child or teen in a lousy relationship with a parent is to reassure them, as an objective adult outside of the family drama: "You're not crazy, bad, wrong, or unworthy of love: your dad is behaving inappropriately."
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:31 AM on July 7, 2009


Move. Better the illusion that he would if he could than being outright rejected. THe older two know the score. Ten year old can still have a positive image. The risks are that you get blamed for moving them away from Dad. Also, with facebook and other social networks, they will always know that Dad went to Florida with his other family.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:36 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's entirely possible that he's treating his "first family" so badly because he feels guilty for what he's done. That, however, is his problem. Consider moving away for a fresh start. Talk to your children about what they want to do and where they would want to go. In that discussion, it's important not to "shit talk" their father -- just keep reminding them that you love them more than life itself, and perhaps take your 10-year-old on more special outings with just you and him.
posted by heather-b at 6:37 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry for the late addition but to address the very helpful posts: the kids are in therapy and the two eldest teenage girls seem to have as much of an understanding as possible that it's not them and they unfortunately have a dad with issues. They seem to logically understand that this is NOT a good way for a dad to act.

But emotionally? How deeply will this affect them?

The youngest boy also talks to someone and seems to have a handle on it. He has other male positive role models too.

Part of my ruminating is what many have mentioned: if I move, in essence they'll blame me for taking them away from their dad. And we really love where we live.

To clarify: we've been divorced for over 5 years, we found out he moved in with them within a month. He bought a condo in an adjoining town that was obviously unlived in and for 2 years he tried to keep up the lie that he lived there (and that's where the kids slept over alternate weekends then) while the whole time his daughters knew from the other family that he lived with them 24/7. 3 years ago he made it official and told the kids he had moved in with them (although he knew they had been living there for 2 years already).
posted by dzaz at 6:56 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was in a somewhat similar place many years ago, my kids are now in the mid- to late- thirties. I thought of moving, but didn't. My kids all went off to school and to see the world, then all returned to hometown. Seeing the amazing, wonderful, tribal network they have that includes so many people they've known their whole lives, I'm glad I didn't take them away from that. Community can compensate fro a parent's failures.
posted by mareli at 6:57 AM on July 7, 2009


Their father is going to be a jerk if you live down the street from him or if you live a thousand miles from him, because, well, he's a jerk. Your children know this. Don't uproot them from the friends/community they've known their whole lives for this. He's already done enough damage.
posted by crankylex at 7:10 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


And we really love where we live.

Then there's your answer right there.


To clarify: we've been divorced for over 5 years, we found out he moved in with them within a month. He bought a condo in an adjoining town that was obviously unlived in and for 2 years he tried to keep up the lie that he lived there (and that's where the kids slept over alternate weekends then) while the whole time his daughters knew from the other family that he lived with them 24/7. 3 years ago he made it official and told the kids he had moved in with them (although he knew they had been living there for 2 years already).

OK, that's a whole lot of detail about what happened 5 and 3 years ago. It has to do with him moving on from the marriage, not moving on from the kids. He paid for a condo and kept up appearances for two years so that the kids wouldn't know. It's screwy logic, given that his kids and stepkids are friends, but he tried. So that whole condo-moving-in-moving-on thing wasn't a rejection of them at all. But if you're still hurt/affected by it, then so are they. They're going to follow your lead on these things emotionally, and learn from you what to roll your eyes at and what to harbor resentments about, so it would probably help them a lot if they saw you move on and laugh off some of his foolishness.

If you can accept with grace his "replacing" the marriage, and lead a content and fulfilled life in spite of it, then they will understand how to accept with grace his replacing them.
posted by headnsouth at 7:10 AM on July 7, 2009


I wanted to add that this was the most recent difficulty that has me really thinking about this:

Last week Dad called my son and told him he had tickets to go to the Red Sox. My son (a 10 year old baseball fanatic) was delighted and said, "Cool! I'll get my glove and maybe I'll catch a ball!". Dad said, "No, no, I only have 2 tickets." And my son said, "Okay. (My sisters) won't come." Dad replied, "No, I mean I'm not taking you. I'm taking GF because she's a HUGE Red Sox fan. I just called to tell you I'm canceling dinner tonight."

Is ouch enough of an understatement?

And to address headnsouth, the kids knew where he really lived and for the first 2 years after the divorce couldn't understand why he was constantly lying about it. They saw his place was deserted; they saw his car parked at the other house, etc. But if they asked him he would say he lived in the other town. So that created a few trust issues.
posted by dzaz at 7:19 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This guy is an all star candidate for douche bag of the decade. If your children have roots in this community and seem to have lots of friends then don't move. Also communicate with them and see how they feel about the situation. All therapy is, is in fact open communication. I understand you want to shield your children from disappointment but some times you cannot. If your children do not care then it should not bother you.

Reading between the lines here: I feel it hurts you to have your Ex living so close with the whore and her kids he left you for. The fact that he has a complete family unit now and ignores his original, biological one adds to this. What you need to combat this is personal "You" time. Your children are old enough to take care of themselves for a little bit. Find a hobby, join a social group, do something that makes you (not children, friends, or anyone else) feel good. Raising 3 children, 2 of them teenage girls, is not an easy task. You seriously deserve some R and R. Or if moving feels like something you need to do, move across town. You can then get away from him without having a completely uproot your children.

As for dealing with your Ex, it sounds like this doucher is a borderline sociopath. This does not mean he is Warren Bates or anything but he is selfish and will do as he pleases and will not show any regret for his actions. You should be happy that he does not have a bigger part in your kid's lives. Is there anything positive your children could learn from this dick? I don't think so.

You sound like a very wonderful person and I'm sorry that something like this had to happen to you and your family.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:25 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


My recommendation: Don't move. Let the kids continue to make up their own minds about their dad. Be there for them when he's an a-hole. Therapy might also be a good idea, but don't make it sound like a big deal; your kids might hear the word "therapy" and think of something more scary or involved than the benign thing it really is.

The biggest source of negative emotions for them is, currently, their dad. Let it stay that way. If you move, you will be the cause of a negative impact to their lives and you will become the lightning rod for their emotions. In time (if they haven't yet) they will realize how much of an ass their dad is, and they won't want to see him anymore. That is when they will heal best.
posted by Simon Barclay at 7:28 AM on July 7, 2009


Nthing that you should take your cues from what the children tell you, more than anything else. Much of the damage is already done, and I don't think that it will get worse for them if they stay... unless they pretty much tell you that it will.
posted by Citrus at 7:40 AM on July 7, 2009


Leaving seems to me like it would be running away.

If it were me, I'd start googling and go find another lawyer who I could talk to about changing the custody arrangement for one that is less disruptive to the children's lives, and taking into account the new datum of your son's diagnosis - maybe even entering into an arbitration or mediation with your ex if that would be easier. Circumstances have changed, and the father needs to be reminded of his duties or to change them.

Additionally, it would help you a lot if you and the family could forgive him for his lies about the other house. He's not in any way right to have lied to you, but what you need is daddy time for the ten year old, and that need is more important than the want of being on the side of justice. This is tough as hell and needs therapists to sort out the management of it. But Dad may be better at keeping his appointments if the family (or, perhaps, you) frankly tell him that he is forgiven, and they want him to be happy in his new life, and that his kids love him and want to see him predictably. forgiveness is for you, not him, and it gets work done.

Once you stabilise that relationship (or even if you don't) you need to build a secure world of expectation for the kids, especially the ten year old. It's you and your kids' town too, and your ex can't make you feel uncomfortable there unless you let him.

For people who deal with trauma, maintaining mental health is a daily task that requires effort, sort of like taking out the garbage. You and your kids need to discuss the situation and develop a plan and good mental hygiene, under the guide of a therapist.

You mention the kids are in therapy, but not if you are, and not if you are doing family sessions. All of you need individual therapists and a famiy therapist. It is expensive, but it's just for a short time, to come to decisions about how to stabilise the family and to learn good mental health practice.

You are in my prayers. Good luck.
posted by By The Grace of God at 7:43 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


That last example is really really messed up. I think you need to have lawyers talk, or speak with your ex in private about his asshole issues. Don't bother feigning politeness, if your ex is really this much of an ass, he needs to hear it straight.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:56 AM on July 7, 2009


Seems to me like you should stay where you are if you love where you live. I'm sorry about your ex, he does not sound like a nice person. That said, there are a bunch of different perspectives to come at this from here

1. legal - if he's shirking his legal responsibilities, he needs to stop that. You will need to make this happen.

2. personal him+kids - some of this is just his own crap and your kids will get that he's not being cool here and that people who care about each other can do a better job of it than he is

3. personal you+him - this is clearly still an open wound for you and the extent to which you personally decide to dwell on this unpleasantness is part of the equation.

To make this personal for a minute. My folks split up when I was 11. My dad wasn't the best parent when I was in high school. I mostly lived with my Mom. My dad pretty much had his girlfriend move in. My Mom pretty much didn't date. My Dad and I developed an independent relationship which, now that I'm 40, is decent and I've mostly forgiven the weird bad place he was in when my parents split. My Mom, on the other hand, seemed consumed by his departure and lived in a constant state of anger and grieving for the rest of my high school life. She was spiteful towards him and nasty and took pains to tell us what bad person he was. My dad on the other hand, had a bunch of faults but never talked shit about my mom. Realistically, looking back, they were both pretty culpable. No divorce is easy.

I only mention this because your kids will be taking cues from you about how to process this sort of thing, and it seems like no matter what, they're still going to be related to a half-assed dad who will be part of their life. Helping them accept and manage his faults without basically making him seem like a totally evil person (even if he is, actually) is going to be part of what parenting will be like for you.

I'm sorry, I know this isn't easy and I don't want in any way to be pointing a finger in your direction because it's clear that you have a lot of shit to deal with an a crappy ex-partner. But since you're concerned about how and how deeply this will be affecting your children I'd like to just point out that lightening the depth of his lameness might be better served by being like "yeah dad's lame, let's go hang out like a family..." instead of dwelling on it and letting it consume you.
posted by jessamyn at 7:59 AM on July 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Last week Dad called my son and told him he had tickets to go to the Red Sox. My son (a 10 year old baseball fanatic) was delighted and said, "Cool! I'll get my glove and maybe I'll catch a ball!". Dad said, "No, no, I only have 2 tickets." And my son said, "Okay. (My sisters) won't come." Dad replied, "No, I mean I'm not taking you. I'm taking GF because she's a HUGE Red Sox fan. I just called to tell you I'm canceling dinner tonight."

Oh Jesus. Moving issues aside, can you tell him that if he continues to be abusive he can't talk to the kids unsupervised, and you'll consider altering the custody agreement until he seeks help? That's either incredibly clueless (narcissistic, autism spectrum, etc.), or unforgivably cruel (sociopathic). Either way, it's abusive. I hope you had the, "Daddy sometimes doesn't know how to be nice" talk with your son afterwards to defuse any potential damage.
posted by availablelight at 8:12 AM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I agree that you should stay put, because you love where you live. That is not always easy to find. Uprooting your kids right now would probably do more harm than good. In the teenage years, friends become your whole world. It's not that many a teenager hasn't had to weather the whole new home/new school/new friends things, but I see no reason put them through that unless it's absolutely necessary.

As for your ex, he's a crappy dad, and I can only imagine how hard it is for you to watch your children contend with that, especially your 10 year old. The Red Sox game example is positively heartbreaking. Could you talk him into attending a counseling session with your family therapist but without your kids, so you could discuss these issues? Having a neutral party who has your children's best interest in mind to mediate might make him more receptive and willing to admit he's made mistakes.

It sounds like within your home, the four of you have a good relationship. Keep talking, keep being honest with each other, and have as much fun as you possibly can. At the end of the day, you can't do much about them having their father behave so poorly, but you can make your home a happy and loving place that will dwarf the significance of his atrocious parenting.
posted by katemcd at 8:28 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This guy sounds legitimately awful. It's a small thing, but you say that he calls your 10 year old directly, and the 10 year old calls him as well -- is there any way that you can route these messages through you? So when he calls the house, find out what he wants to tell your son first; and when your son says he wants to hang out with dad, you can call and set up a meeting. I don't know a huge amount about these situations but this is what came to mind first; if you can find a way to limit these kind of volatile, emotionally risky interactions between your son and his father, I think you should.
posted by telegraph at 8:34 AM on July 7, 2009


Hey, Dad! Wow, you'e been getting around! Settin' up franchises!

Yeah, my dad was just like this, and we lived blocks from him for years, coincidentally moving to the same town he moved to, and later moving away again. But since that move, living a mere two hours away, I've seen him once. Once over 14 years, and counting. The dude's a loser and apparently his "new" kids are likewise distancing themselves from him at the first opportunity.

The advice here to let your kids make up their own minds is spot on, but I would caution you not to take as extreme approach as my mother did, which really left me wondering why this guy was such a dick to me. She never said anything informative about him, only cautiously asked me how things had gone, on the alert for the emotional abuse she half-expected. I think I would have benefitted from a little of her context. Like someone above said, "Daddy doesn't know how to be nice sometimes," would really have been a ray of light.

But no kids like to move. They'll resent you for that.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:52 AM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


is there any way that you can route these messages through you?

and

Could you talk him into attending a counseling session with your family therapist but without your kids, so you could discuss these issues?

Yeah, I've tried these over the years. For whatever reason, Dad will call the teenage daughter's cell and speak to the boy that way. He doesn't call the house (or my) phone. And if the teenager doesn't answer or my son doesn't call back within a few minutes, he calls over and over again.

He has been asked by the kids' therapists over the years to come (also school meetings, IEP meetings, concerts, plays, baseball and soccer games, etc.) and these were all invites from either the kids or professionals who work with the kids. He says he'll try and is then a no-show.
posted by dzaz at 9:24 AM on July 7, 2009


Since you are happy where you are, don't move. Besides, it won't actually make anything better: your ex will not be a better father no matter what you do. Also, there's a lot to be said for them actually seeing who he is and not being able to build up some kind of illusion of Perfect Dad, which can happen when they're not in the same town. You do not want that, because when the illusion shatters, it's heartbreaking. I know whereof I speak, since my ex moved himself to a whole different state and I got to sit there with my six year old waiting all day for Daddy to show on one of his incredibly infrequent visits to our town. So, yes, I've been through this.

This is what I told my son, over and over and over again: "Your dad has a lot of good qualities but he has some big problems too, and being a good father to you is one of them. We don't know why it's so hard for him to be a daddy, but it is. It's not fair to you, but there it is."

Then I stopped waiting around for Daddy to show. If he was late, we left and did something else. I stopped making phone calls and I stopped trying to get him to spend time with his kid. Essentially, I stopped helping out, because me trying and trying and trying to get him to be a parent wasn't working and it was making me and my child insane. Lo and behold, a few years later he almost, kinda sorta, got a bit better for a while and there were an actual couple of visits. Didn't last - we're back to the 2 phonecalls a year is perfectly adequate parenting - but it did happen. It went a long way to shattering the illusion of Perfect Dad, too, which was a good thing.

So what I'm telling you is give this one up and walk away. Live your life and let your kids live theirs and just let Daddy disappear. Tell him something like, "Hey, this is apparently really difficult for you so how about we just take a little break from the visitation for a while. And no more phone calls unless you're actually making plans to hang out with the kids." Trust me, he'll vanish without a fuss. He won't see them but on the other hand he won't be calling to cancel anymore. Sure, they'll know he's staying away from them and it will hurt, but moving won't make it any different - he'll still be staying away from them and they can, in the way of children, blame you for it, along with all the other problems that go along with moving. Ignore the custody agreement - he sure is.

Good luck! Remember, kids are resilient. Honesty and love go a long way to making things okay and at least they have one good parent.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:41 AM on July 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


What you really need to do is make it perfectly clear to the kids, over and over and over again, that it's not their fault. What he does has nothing at all to do with them and everything to do with him. You may feel like you're beating a dead horse, but it cannot be said enough. I only wish someone had told me that when I was young. So much heartbreak could have been avoided. Make it gentle, make it non-accusatory (you don't want to give them the message that you hate him, therefore you hate some part of them), but just keep saying it. They'll hear you.

I wouldn't move. Their friends are invaluable. Even though their dad is a dick, he'll still be a dick if you move. Better to keep them in the schools they know, with other people who love them.

Oh, I just thought of this: would you be interested in a Big Brother for your ten-year-old? It would be so great for him to have a positive male influence in his life, sort of a balance against the negative. I don't know if he has male relatives nearby, but that would work, too. A guy who takes him to a baseball game, just because he loves baseball? Would be so great for your son.
posted by cooker girl at 9:46 AM on July 7, 2009


What an absolutely heartbreaking situation. I'm sorry I don't have any real advice for you but wanted to offer this observation:

It sounds like you're contemplating moving away from something rather than towards something, which is rarely a good idea. Running away from something doesn't make it go away, it just changes form. Now, if you had a great opportunity in the new town that you were excited about - a great job, great friends, great school, whatever - my response would be different. But in this case I don't think uprooting your kids from everything positive that they have to try to offset a (large) negative is worth it.

What a jerk, though. I cannot imagine how a father can get off the phone after the baseball conversation example you gave and not tell his girlfriend 'sorry, honey, I have to take my kid to this game and I'll make it up to you later'.
posted by widdershins at 10:48 AM on July 7, 2009


I cannot imagine how a father can get off the phone after the baseball conversation example you gave and not tell his girlfriend 'sorry, honey, I have to take my kid to this game and I'll make it up to you later'.

Or more likely, "C'mon, sweetie, let's go!"

I guess maybe my heart hurts the most. They're such sweet kids.
posted by dzaz at 11:38 AM on July 7, 2009


Dad is quite the shitbag, isn't he? I can't believe he said to a 10 yr old boy that he'd rather take his girlfriend than him. A key question that would come up in therapy was how you responded to this incident. Did you call Dad and explain how he's an asshole?

Let me explain what's going on here. Pardon my French, but Dad is drunk on "new sex". "New sex" wants Dad to help her with her kids (that's why she's dating him, because her kids need a provider, not because he's a super great guy). Because he's a twerp, he agrees because he doesn't want to get cut off. So he's turned all his energy to the new family, but only because he can get sex out of it.

Cookergirl's comment above is dead on - your kids have to understand that there is nothing wrong with them, Dad's behavior isn't their fault, it's Dad's fault. Specifically, that he doesn't have the confidence to stand up to his new girlfriend and demand that he have time with them and that they come over to their new house.

You should structure their lives around this precept, and take extra steps to boost their self esteem and confidence.

Get the kids male coaches or male drum teachers - some male authority figure who will show them positive attention and reinforcement. You will be amazed how they respond to this.

And before you say it's too expensive, Dad is going to pay for it. And you can tell him that it's precisely because of that single incident with the baseball game that he has to pay for it. If he refuses, then go to court. What a spineless dirtbag.

This story has really touched my inner psychopath.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:18 PM on July 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


Having had parents with a difficult divorce and many friends in the same boat. This situation is going to be painful no matter where you live. It's not proximity that's the problem.
posted by bananafish at 12:25 PM on July 7, 2009


Wow, I'm really sorry you have to see your kids in such pain. Your ex sounds like an absolute sociopathic nightmare. You've gotten lots of good insights in the thread above, just wanted to say you sound like a great and supportive mom and you are doing a lot of good things to keep your kids feeling loved and grounded. It's awesome they are in therapy, and I'm not sure if you are or not but you would definitely benefit from getting a professional perspective and ear. Don't move, just make sure you and your kids continue to have a full life where you are, and keep the ex to a very minimal part of these lives. It's sad and awful, and in a way they need a mourning period for what he never could be to them, and then accept it and move on. They can decide to ignore him completely, or be satisfied with the little bit of his time he gives them.

One last comment: I think it's important as some noted above to not tiptoe around the subject too much. When the ex says or does something hurtful, you can talk about it with them and validate their feelings. You don't have to go out of your way to badmouth your ex, but just acknowledge that what he did wasn't nice and your kids aren't to blame and it's okay to feel upset at their father. They deserve to be treated with love and respect and need to know that so in the future they don't end up in relationships that mimic this degradation. Also, I would stop worrying about polite suggestions to the ex and instead see about setting communications ground rules if possible.
posted by JenMarie at 12:46 PM on July 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think it's important as some noted above to not tiptoe around the subject too much. When the ex says or does something hurtful, you can talk about it with them and validate their feelings. You don't have to go out of your way to badmouth your ex, but just acknowledge that what he did wasn't nice and your kids aren't to blame and it's okay to feel upset at their father. They deserve to be treated with love and respect and need to know that so in the future they don't end up in relationships that mimic this degradation.

Oh for sure; I struggled with this for a long time; walking a fine line between validating their feelings ("It's absolutely not okay for people to treat others this way..." but not actively slamming their dad ("and that's why I threw your dad out...").

It's been years of the same message: you're an awesome kid, but not everyone is going to behave properly; it's never your fault and you can't change people who make you upset but you can remember that it's not you and it's never you.

Pastabagel, I love the whole "new sex" idea. And my boy does have a male drum teacher! But Dad says he can't afford to pay.
posted by dzaz at 1:02 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hi!!

Many years ago I was a kid who was left for another family. And there was lip-service paid to my sibling and I well into our 30's, so we had plenty of contact with our dad, but we were treated 2nd class & that was really really painful. It took me years and years to sort through the situation and I may never be totally "OK." The sibling had super hard times as a result of this situation, too.

MeMail if you care to discuss. I can only tell you what happened to us, how we felt, and how the situation informed our lives and choices as we became adults. Your situation may be different.

-Jbenen
posted by jbenben at 5:44 PM on July 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is inordinately depressing.

My parents split when I was a kid, and without going into too much detail, one of my parents was much like your ex husband.

It was much, much better for me to be away from that parent rather than risk the continual hope that this time they'll show up for my play/recital/whatever.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:37 PM on July 7, 2009


It was much, much better for me to be away from that parent rather than risk the continual hope that this time they'll show up for my play/recital/whatever.

See, then I think this also and my head gets messed up again because this is another opportunity for pain (living in the same town) because after an invite he didn't show up for our daughter's high school choral performance but we saw him the next night with GF at HER daughter's concert. Same high school. And of course, teen daughter #2 is like, "What the...?"

And after that event she just said, "Dad's an asshole," and I responded that if she felt comfortable she should consider telling him that, but yeah, it was pretty jerky but I was really happy to see her on stage singing "Carmina Burana." Then we watched "Goodfellas" and quoted dialogue, which is our favorite stress reliever.

I guess I'm just mostly flummoxed after 5 years because while he was an unpleasant dude and uninterested father when we were together, I had hoped he'd be better able to cope with his awesome kids when he had some more space. But he's worse than ever.
posted by dzaz at 3:39 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, you have to do what's best for your kids. What was best for me at the time (in some ways... it was a very complex situation that lasted about eight years) was separation. Your children may vary.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:54 AM on July 8, 2009


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