'Forced Visitation' - similar to 'Mandatory Rehabilitation'?
September 2, 2009 4:56 PM   Subscribe

Should she make the kids see the dad? The kids do not want to go and there is not a visitation order in place.

I am dating a woman (I'll call her Mary) with two kids ages 7 (Sally) and 5 (Kevin). The biological dad (Bill) does not spend time with his kids. He might call on or near the birthday. He may see them a couple/few times a year. He works, but does not pay child support. Mary does not pursue it because "if someone supports their children, they should want to, not have to." She struggles financially, but would rather live without his forced donations. I understand that paying child support and spending time with the kids are separate issues, but it is a detail to consider before answering my question. There is no visitation agreement. After a recent visit, Bill asked Mary to bring the kids back for another visit. They do not want to go because they "will miss Mommy".

Mary has gone the extra mile to create the opportunity for the kids to have a relationship with Bill, Bill's new girlfriend, and the rest of Bill's family (cousins, uncles, parents, etc.). Mary initiates telephone contact with Bill to arrange visits, convinces the kids to go, transports the kiddos both ways (1.5 hours one way), stays (on occasion) overnight with them or takes numerous telephone calls to console them because they think she may never come back. In my opinion, the kids manipulate her by crying and acting out because they do not feel close to Bill and do not want to be alone with him. They also believe that Mary is the only stability in their life. Are they too young to make the decision to go/not go? If you ask them if they want to go, they cry and say 'no'.

She maintains that the kids should not cut Bill/Bill's family off. She does not fear for the safety of the kids, but has told me that Bill does not always put the kids first. She calls him an idiot and has no faith in him as a father which is why she left him. I have a feeling (no proof) that it may have been an abusive relationship. I also think Bill is still trying to control her on some level. When Mary mentioned that we were dating, Bill voiced his disapproval even though he is currently in a relationship and she clearly does not want a relationship with him. In Bill's mind, he is the father of the children and can dictate her life.

Mary asked me if she should make them go to see Bill. I did not answer that question, but I did suggest that Bill should step up to the plate to see his children. She called him and he agreed to pick them up on Saturday instead of having an overnight visit. They agreed on a day and he did not show up or call.

Should she reach out to him? Should she bring the kids to him? We need a fresh perspective here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No! Don't force children to see a parent. My mom tried to do this with me and my sister, and we ended up resentful. It didn't bring us closer to him, it just made us all angry. Don't force anything, wait until they're a few years older and can make their own decisions, and then let them decide, whether or not either parent likes what they've decided.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 5:03 PM on September 2, 2009

To your question, no. Don't force kids to see a parent who's not interested in seeing them.

To something you mentioned but didn't ask about, I'm unclear about her attitude toward child support.

Parents have legal obligations to financially support their kids. It's irrelevant if Dad wants to be involved in any other way, but he's got to pay for their upbringing.

She's being a little silly here and if anything, you might want to probe a little about that.
posted by dzaz at 5:23 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

What dzaz says.

Also, if the kids cry that much at the mere suggestion of s visit .... who the fuck knows what really goes on during these visits. Maybe the adults are mean to the children? Or worse?

Seems awfully cruel and irresponsible to force the kids.

FWIW - I understand the mom asked you... but if she had it together concerning the father of her kids, this wouldn't be such a dilemma for her. He isn't good enough to live with (marry, etc.) she doesn't want a DIME from him to support their children - but it is OK to leave her precious children in his care without her direct supervision and they're CLEARLY in distress when they visit??

There is more going on here than you realize. Specifically, control issue from both father and mother.

You write, "....the kids manipulate her by crying and acting out because they do not feel close to Bill and do not want to be alone with him."

I humbly suggest the children are mirroring the behavior they witness between their mother and father. Plus, visits w/ the father are obviously unpleasant, for who knows what reason.

I further suggest that if you strenuously objected to your GF regarding her engineering all these visits neither the children nor the father seem keen on... you'd be the one in the dog house.

Go ahead. Try giving her that fresh perspective. See what her reaction is.

I hope for the sake of the children she surprises me....
posted by jbenben at 5:41 PM on September 2, 2009

she shouldn't force the issue, but she should always be encouraging of it and she should never call him an idiot in front of the kids (not that she does, but it's a hard thing to remember).
posted by nadawi at 5:41 PM on September 2, 2009

I think the kids are too young for stays with dad without mom around. If the dad wants to see them, let him come out for the afternoon and take them somewhere fun. Otherwise, this sounds like it's not fun for them and likely to cause problems later.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 5:42 PM on September 2, 2009

I'm really taken aback by the idea that the father is seemingly unwilling to take steps to see HIS kids, and why she would put so much effort in when he's not interested or willing. Also, the idea of forcing kids to see a guy who sees so little of them sounds bad to me too.

Put it this way. If they saw him every week, some days, etc, and didn't feel like going today, that's where, depending on the situation, I might be inclined to think...no kids aren't in charge at that age. BUT he sees them maybe once a month? He's largely a stranger to them, and I'm not surprised they don't want to stay with him.

I can't see any reason to force the kids to do anything where this guy is concerned. I totally agree with others who say that Mary should not badmouth him in front of the kids, but...sheesh man. This guy has done little to be a father to these kids. Forget it.

Now, for what it's worth, I'm in the middle of a split and the idea that I might go a week at a shot not seeing my kids is the saddest thing in my life right now. I am their DAD and I can't even begin to imagine how this guy can get by seeing his kids a few times a year...boggles MY mind, so I might have the most even perspective here.
posted by Richat at 6:00 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, that second last sentence bothers me.

"They agreed on a day and he did not show up or call."

That sounds terribly disrespectful and just for a minute, imagine that the kids are older, expecting him, and he does this. It could be heartbreaking. Let this guy go into the weeds if he wants, but take the high road, in case the kids do want to know more about him as they get older.
posted by Richat at 6:07 PM on September 2, 2009

I don't think there's anything positive to be gained by forcing interactions between the kids and their father. Neither of the parties seem at all interested, and if by doing this Mary is expecting them to suddenly develop a bond, she might be making a really bad assumption. Kids are really perceptive, more than some people give them credit for. If they can tell they're not wanted, or forced onto someone, they're going to build walls of resentment very quickly. It's easy to "ruin" a relationship when they're especially so young.

So if there's no desire to see the dad, and the dad hasn't shown any real desire or effort to see his kids, it'd be best to leave the two alone.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 6:20 PM on September 2, 2009

I was married to a man who was a Bill ('cept he was called Phil). Same MO, even down to the dissing of the mother's new partner. His ex-wife was also very like Mary down to the child support etc. The kids didn't like visiting their dad because it was boring. Phil would drink, watch sport on TV, and generally not pay attention to them. They just hung around the house until it was time to go home. His house was also quite a mess. Things got a little better when I came along because I liked them and we had some fun. I also initiated a monthly payment that went into the kids' account so at least they had some financial contribution from their Dad (via me) that allowed them to buy new wheels for their skateboard, get a new game etc. But generally they preferred not to visit and would rather hang out with their Mum or their friends etc. They did not feel all that wanted at their Dad's place.

One of the major reasons I left Phil was because he was a poor father. Granted, he did not have a good father role model of his own to follow but still, he didn't make an effort. Fortunately, my ex-step-kids had a number of uncles who loved them and lived close by so at least they had some good male role models.

Should she reach out to him? Should she bring the kids to him? We need a fresh perspective here.
No, the kids should not be forced to visit their Dad. And if Dad wants to see them, he should build a rapport with them and earn their affection. Father's do not have an inalienable right to upset their kids.

Epilogue. Phil's kids are all young adults now who can choose how and when they see/talk to their dad. They have some rapport, but only 'cos the kids have grown into fine young men who do the work to sustain a relationship with him.

PS: Please do not dis Bill to the kids. Like Richat says: Let this guy go into the weeds if he wants, but take the high road, in case the kids do want to know more about him as they get older.
posted by Kerasia at 6:57 PM on September 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you trust kids that age with making decisions about eating their vegetables ? Cleaning their room ? Watching Full Metal Jacket ? Crossing a busy street ?

Why would you trust their judgment on whether they want to go to their dad's or not ?

The kids should absolutely go to with their father every time the parents agree to exchange.

If your GF doesn't want the kids to go to the father's house, for whatever reason, then she shouldn't agree to an exchange. But she shouldn't hide behind the kids and should not let them manipulate her.

My ex used to do that crap, and it's how I ended up with custody.

Furthermore, yeah it sucks that this guy seems to have his priorities out of wack. But you can't save the kids from that - they will have to deal with it sooner or later. IMO, it's best if they get accustomed to it early and often. You'll serve them best by being a quiet, but sharp, contrast to his behavior - if your way of doing things is so much better, you wont need to point it out to them ever. Be the better human at all times. Trust me, they'll notice.

Besides, people do change. He may, too. He may not. It doesn't matter too much, because parents have a nearly absolute right to screw their kids up any way they like. Almost everyone turns out OK anyway.

Unless and until he does something that absolutely mitigates his rights as a father, he's entitled to be their parent to the extent he likes.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:35 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

FWIW, when I interned at DCFS, if the kid didn't want to do a visit with their parent, they didn't have to.
posted by Amanda B at 8:27 PM on September 2, 2009

There are lots of ways to encourage/maintain relationships with people who are not in their day-to-day lives. Aunts and uncles can be invited to birthday parties, kids can make & decorate cards for relatives' birthdays or other occasions, a fall day raking leaves can be perfect for a backyard photo shoot and, with mom's help, they email their favorite shots to their relatives. Maybe there are other things to do near dad's town (outlet malls or minigolf etc.) and mom can call the dad or a favorite relative or whoever, and say "hey we're going back-to-school shopping at the outlet malls near you, how about meeting up for lunch, the kids would love to see you!"

If the kids have a sense of control over their world, they'll be more flexible as to what happens in it. The mom being martyr-ish about the visits and the money, and the dad being flaky and no-showing and all that, tell the kids at every visit, loud and clear, that this is stressful for everyone and it sucks, now go have fun dammit!

Your girlfriend's children deserve to have a true relationship with their father. They don't deserve to have him written out of their lives because he's a flake, or even if he's worse than a flake. And they don't deserve to have the forced-normalcy that your girlfriend is trying so hard to make happen. They deserve to have the relationship that he's capable of sustaining with them. It may not be what your girlfriend wants for them, but it's what's real.
posted by headnsouth at 8:32 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yeah, seven is still young enough to be genuinely scared of an adult you barely know. I have a pretty vivid memory of spending the first time I'd seen my father in years screaming and crying for my mother at seven. As you get older, you understand obligation and family and blah blah blah, even if someone's kind of a lame dad, but 5 and 7 year olds shouldn't be forced into anything.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:37 PM on September 2, 2009

As a dude who grew up with a largely absentee and shitty when he was around father, I say fuck Bill. It's a bummer to "not have a dad", but it's a way bigger bummer to be forced into spending time with one who clearly doesn't want you around and constantly reminds you of how shitty he is.

Keep it civil, and if he some day decides he wants to actually be a dad, maybe the kids will let him, maybe not.
posted by teishu at 8:53 PM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had Bill for a dad, and your girlfriend is uncomfortably like my mom. She worked 80 hours a week to provide for our lifestyle of roach-infested tenements, while his paycheck and energies were invested in taking girlfriends for expensive trips and those ladies' kids on excursions to Disneyland. She was stupidly proud of not taking his money, and of forcing a painful "relationship" (to use a term very loosely) upon me.

Everyone's talking as if it's about what he should or she should do. Fuck 'em all. This is about the kids. And I'm hear to tell you, that every time you're forced to spend time in the presence of a parent who is incapable of hiding their lack of true interest in you, it's deeply demoralizing. I knew it at 7. I knew it at 5. There's no age when ritually letting a child down is okay.

If he wants a relationship with his kids, let him know he's got an open invitation to work his ass off to earn their trust and respect; that these are not built-in features of kinship. It took too many heartbreaking years before my mom could finally be persuaded to let me make the decisions. When I did, it was simple. I just stopped calling or writing. It took years for him to even notice. It's been decades since we've had contact. I can't speak for him, but for me it marked a turning point. Huge relief. And the beginning of many years of having to learn that not all men are him -- indifferent, narcissistic, and untrustworthy -- as well as gathering the self respect that had been thoroughly undermined by so much thoughtless behavior.

This guy doesn't want to step up and take part in the wonderful, rewarding work of parenting. Please, don't force an unwilling parent onto his children. Kids have relatively simple needs, but one of the biggest of these is stability. No one has a place in their life who isn't willing, able, and committed to providing it.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 9:48 PM on September 2, 2009 [15 favorites]

We need a fresh perspective here.

That's a shame, because I can only supply the jaded perspective of one who was forced to visit their non-custodial and non-interested parent, and I'm well jaded. That perspective would be a simple "Fuck no".

I don't know about Kevin, but I'd say Sally is entirely old enough to make this decision for herself. The mother doesn't have to deal with the grief Sally experiences from the visit - from the mother's perspective, she's just being all fair and reasonable - which isn't the point. The point is the hassle the kids experience.

Anecdotally (given my sisters as controls), the kids will have a better chance at a grown-up relationship with the dad (presuming that may be on the cards in the future) if they don't grow up associating him with the shitful experience of forced visits.

People totally over-rate biological parents.

(or: what teishu said)
posted by pompomtom at 10:40 PM on September 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

In my opinion, the kids manipulate her by crying and acting out because they do not feel close to Bill and do not want to be alone with him.

What? Mary's the one "initiating telephone contact with Bill to arrange visits, convincing the kids to go, transporting the kiddos both ways (1.5 hours one way), staying (on occasion) overnight with them or taking numerous telephone calls to console them because they think she may never come back", and you think it's the kids who are manipulating the situation?

It sounds to me like Mary is the only person who is interested in Bill and the kids even having a relationship. The kids don't want it, Bill doesn't seem to want it. Mary sounds like the manipulative one here.

Tell her to leave a door open -- "okay, everyone, just let me know if you change your minds and you ever want to visit each other -- kids, you just tell me whenever you want to visit Dad and I'll call him right that second, and Bill, seriously, you just call me and say the word if you ever want to see them" -- and then drop it and let them handle it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:13 AM on September 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

It's a bummer to "not have a dad", but it's a way bigger bummer to be forced into spending time with one who clearly doesn't want you around and constantly reminds you of how shitty he is.

This, times 1000. These kids will remember this 'til the day they die. Let them a have fun childhood.
posted by desjardins at 7:17 AM on September 3, 2009

No. And as a divorce child myself who still had weekly time scheduled with her not paying child support father, and wanted to see him, and still ended up in a chain of emotionally abusive relationships in adulthood: the way Mary and Bill behave now is a terrible role modelling. An emotionally unavailable father and overfunctioning mother neither teaches these kids self-confidence, nor respect for family members. If anything, seek support from mother's side of the family.
posted by Jurate at 8:20 AM on September 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm living this situation with my kids right now. My ex-husband makes no effort to communicate with or see our children except for a call right around each of their birthdays. Once a year, he insists they stay with him for a couple of weeks over the summer (which evidently gives him a chance to trot them in front of his co-workers and visiting family and play the part of doting father). After promises to call and see them more often, he vanishes for another year.

Needless to say, my kids want nothing to do with him and fight tooth-and-nail to avoid visitation. Unfortunately, multiple lawyers have told me that I must force them to go whether they want to or not or I can be held in violation of court-ordered visitation. Furthermore, if I don't force them to see their father, the court may consider that to be an "attempt to interfere in the development of a relationship with the non-custodial parent."

Isn't that just the shit?

Anyway, forcing kids to have visitation with non-custodial parents may seem counter-intuitive and even counter-productive, but it also may be the law wherever you live. This should be a fairly easy thing to find out without actually hiring a lawyer, and you ought to be able to track down an attorney who can give you an idea of the laws in your area without charging you.

Now, in your GF's case, since there is no order in place, then I agree with everyone who says she ought to let the matter drop. It's not up to her to orchestrate visitation between kids who don't want to go with a father who doens't want them in the first place. If he's interested in a relationship with the kids, then he can take the steps to make that happen.
posted by _Mona_ at 8:34 AM on September 3, 2009

She is doing the right thing by keeping them in contact with their extended family. They deserve to have all the loving family in their lives that they can.

The visitation, I don't know.
posted by kathrineg at 4:17 PM on September 3, 2009

I was a child with divorced parents. I lived with my grandmother (my father's mother.) She made me go with him and I hated it. I didn't like him. I didn't want eo be around him. I tlod her that I didn't want to see him, and she threatened to take away weekends with my mom I didn't visit my father.

I still resent her for that.

Do not make them go!
posted by shortbus at 7:16 AM on March 9, 2010

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