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June 6, 2012 6:27 AM   Subscribe

How/when/if to break the news to a 5 year old that Daddy's being deported, & whether I should take said child to visit him in jail before he gets sent away.

A couple factors that are relevant: (1) We broke up in January. He has refused to recognize this, and continues to tell the child that we will be back together whenever I bring child to visit. (2) The last thing he said to me last time we spoke amounted to, "If I'm not with you I won't visit my child." (3) a cousin's Mommy got picked up in January, so child already has a vivid example in mind of how some parents get picked up & never come back, along with some probably too-detailed explanations of how dangerous the trip back is & why some people can't/don't come back for their kids. So, basically, I'm at a loss as to how to approach this. Also, (4) the school year ends Friday and we moved 3 weeks ago. The move puts us in a different school district. So the normal sense of everything else being stable & secure really isn't there, although we are settling in nicely. If I understand the timetables, he will be sent away in about 2 weeks.
posted by Ys to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think I would term this a a crisis. And I think the gravity of this situation warrants consulting someone with some experience in this area.

Your child's school will have a school psychologist or a social worker on staff. I suggest you put in an emergency call to them about what is going on, and stress the EMERGENCY and CRISIS part of this situation immensely.

Ask for area resources that offer personal crisis counseling.

If you can get it, you may want neutral space and support for when you tell your child what is happening.

Whether you decide to bring your child to see his or her father is your decision, but either way there is going to be some kind of fall out for that decision. Either way, you should have supports in place for whichever decision is made before going through with the decision.
posted by zizzle at 6:40 AM on June 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

Okay, so let's break this down.

Child is in a state of confusing due to recently moving and new school. Moreover, this past few months have been really tough.

So, under normal circumstances, it would probably be best for child not to experience more trauma.

1. Does father want to see child before he leaves? If not, I wouldn't surprise him with a visit.

2. I wouldn't buy it when he says that he won't see child if you're not together. He's going to be in a different country, which in essence makes your breakup a lot more real.

However, her father is being deported. This, I assume, means that she won't be able to see him regularly. (Are you going to try to travel to take child to her father's new home?) She and you may regret not giving her this opportunity to see father.

So, if I were in your shoes and father wants to see child before he leaves, I'd call father and say to him "Look, she's in a really bad place right now with the move and everything. Can you please try your hardest to make this visit really nice for her so she can hold onto the memory?" Let's hope he does.

Then you prepare her. "Honey, Daddy is going to have to go away for a long time and you won't be able to see him (as often as you do now), but we will talk on the computer (Skype) every Sunday (or whatever) so you can tell him about your school and your friends and everything. Also, we are going to go and see him *next Christmas* (or whatever you know you can do) and you'll be able to play with him/read with him/whatever she likes to do with him. I know that this is really sad and you will probably have some questions for me and you can ask me anything at any time, okay? .... Next Friday (or whatever) we're going to go visit Daddy and you two can talk and make a date for what you're going to talk about on the computer in 2 weeks..."

This is of course not knowing if Daddy is going to be good about Skyping or whatever... but let's hope that he is.
posted by k8t at 6:41 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do not make promises to the child like weekly Skype sessions or traveling to visit if you do not know that you and he are committed to keeping those promises! I know k8t means well. However, in this situation, being honest with saying "I don't know when you will be able to see Daddy again. I am sorry. I know this hurts." is much better for the child, even at that young age, to hear and begin to process. Otherwise, you will damage your child's trust in you and the father. If you make such promises and then they are not fulfilled, you have essentially lied to the child in the child's mind no matter how much you meant to console the child at the time you made the promises.

Your child may ask why Daddy is being deported. You'll need to figure out age appropriate ways to explain it. One answer that works well for answering tough why questions is to phrase your answer in terms of decisions (decisions made by Daddy, decisions made by a Judge). Try to avoid judgmental statements about a specific person. For example, when my younger child asks why (birth) Mommy S cannot live with us, we say things like "Mommy S was unable to keep you save." "Mommy S made some bad decisions to live with men who hurt you." "The Judge decided your safety was so important that the Judge wants you to live with us."

Professional help may also be of benefit to you and your child.

Good luck.
posted by onhazier at 7:01 AM on June 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

Your child may be an innocent 5 year old, but you are forgetting how mature they can be. Remember when you were 5? Give your child credit, they are capable of understanding a lot more than you imagine.

I agree that you ought to take the child to the child psychologist at school or at least consult one to see how you should explain this to your child. If not, the child will toil over what happened until all of the facts are put together. If it takes years, it will mean years of confusion for your child.

You are both experiencing a great stress with moving and a break up and now the departure of the dad. I would go to a family therapist because you may need guidance to work through this yourself.
posted by Yellow at 7:06 AM on June 6, 2012

I don't know where you live, but you may have challenges with taking the child to a school psychologist, as suggested by zizzle and yellow. The school psych in our kids' school can't really do anything for a child/family unless the issue is directly affecting the child's schoolwork. (There are many times my husband and I would have loved to have school psychs address some issues with my stepdaughters, but they are both straight A students so they basically said it couldn't happen.) You may need to seek a professional therapist; depending on where you live, resources are available if that's a financial challenge for you.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:17 AM on June 6, 2012

(schoolwork and/or behavior in school, I should really say--not only are they great students but they always behave well in school too, so we were totally out of luck)
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:19 AM on June 6, 2012

The last thing he said to me last time we spoke amounted to, "If I'm not with you I won't visit my child."

Between the scariness of an institution like jail, the pain of the pending separation, and a father who may or may not reject him or offer words of comfort, I think that I would forgo an in-person goodbye unless the father strongly and clearly wanted it. I do not think that long term, that particular moment --- of seeing dad in jail --- will be helpful. I would ask Dad for a goodbye letter, and if your answer to when he will see him again is 'I don't know' be truthful about it.

I think routine and security are incredibly important for kids, and this introduces so many ways of undermining those feelings and I think that the best thing is to prop those feelings up the very best you can and provide the best picture of a universe with a little bit of certainty and sanity that you can.

If the child were older, I think I would feel differently, but five is very young.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:23 AM on June 6, 2012 [8 favorites]

Onhazier is right - don't make promises unless you are absolutely sure you and Dad can keep them.
posted by k8t at 7:46 AM on June 6, 2012

I would avoid the visit, just because you can't be sure if your childs father will behave in a way that will make everything worse. I would however tell your child the truth about what is happening, maybe in a simplified way. I would encourage contact between the 2 once your childs father is back in his home country and settled, maybe trying to organise it first before telling your kid in case he sticks to his whole I won't visit the child manipulative guilt trip behaviour.
posted by wwax at 7:57 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know nothing about this man but saying, "If I'm not with you I won't visit my child," is seriously messed up. He's using his own child as leverage. I'd be concerned that the guy would say something even worse the next time around.
posted by Neekee at 9:20 AM on June 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd only recommend a pre-deportation visit if Daddy promises ahead of time to make this as smooth as possible for your child.

Bonus thought: when considering a future visit to Daddy in his home country, please consider whether that country's laws would permit him to keep your child (or you!) from leaving.
posted by easily confused at 10:24 AM on June 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

Wow, that's a rough spot.

I'm in favor of foregoing the meeting in jail, unless Dad is 100% going to make it as positive an experience as possible.

Based on what you've said above, I doubt that he's going to be on-board with this.

Try and find a support group or other folks in your same situation to see what they've done to help ease their kids into this situation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:34 AM on June 6, 2012

Best answer: First, accept that there is nothing you can do to keep your child from being very, very sad about this. However, you can make choices to ensure it is not worse than it needs to be.

Reaching out to a professional is definitely your best bet here. However, if you are unable/unwilling to do so, here are a few things that can help...

1. Normalize it. Be honest about your feelings, but don't over-dramatize them, and be matter-of-fact about the facts you know AND the facts you don't know, and then provide comfort/answer questions that your child volunteers. If you say "I have something to tell you: your father is being sent out of the country. He does not want to go, but he has to go, and we do not know when he will be coming back, or when we will see him again." and then let your child cry and comfort them/answer questions honestly, they will weather it much better than (say) if you said "I have some really awful, terrible news: your father is being sent far, far away against his will, and we may never see him again. How do you feel about that?"

2. Don't make any promises that you are not in a position to keep. Don't say that he will Skype, or that he will see your child again someday; heck, don't even say that he feels bad about having to go! You do not know or control his feelings or actions, so don't speak to them. If asked, you can say "I don't know." Similarly, don't say "hopefully" or "yes" if asked whether you can visit before he leaves; say "I don't know, but I am going to try as hard as I can, and I will let you know when I know." Then do so.

3. Don't pretend that it didn't happen. Be open to answering questions about him, or acknowledging how you feel (within reason) rather than pretending nothing happened. That doesn't mean you should dwell on it -- be matter-of-fact -- but be honest, too. Your child says "I miss daddy", you can say "so do I" if it is true, but if not you can say "I know you do, we always miss people we care about when we aren't together." You can also (I assume) honestly say "I wish he was still here so that you could see him."

A professional can provide more guidance, so I hope you find one. Good luck.
posted by davejay at 12:31 PM on June 6, 2012 [5 favorites]

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