How do other people handle extracurriculars and visitation?
September 20, 2013 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Hello, everyone. My daughter visits with her dad every other weekend. We do not share any level of custody, she lives with me most of the time. He lives about 30 minutes away from our town. My daughter is 9 and really needs to be able to join clubs and sports teams and take classes. Her dad has so far refused to take her to the scheduled classes and meetings that fall on his day (with a few exceptions, but his agreement did not come easily...). We don't communicate well at all, it's a long story. My daughter now has an opportunity to take a great class with a great instructor and of course the classes fall partly on his days.

I am wondering if anyone else out there has run into this kind of issue and how you handled it, or if you have any suggestions for me about how to approach this now, and in the long term. I really and truly cannot afford to go to court on a lot of levels, so hopefully some have some other creative suggestions...but if that's what has to happen, that's what has to happen.
posted by bright and shiny to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
He's not going to magically agree. You don't communicate well, so nothing you say to him is going to change that.

If you know that the problem is logistical rather than some other objection (e.g., he doesn't want to do the actual driving to and from, versus he doesn't want to lose the 2 hours with her), then you can arrange some carpooling thing (or do it all yourself), but other than that, your options are basically:

a) accept the fact that your daughter will only be able to go to a portion of these classes, and work that out with the instructor, or
b) go to mediation (if that's an option) or court

It would be great if you could logic or reason him into it, but you can't, and you know you can't, and you have to work with that knowledge.
posted by brainmouse at 11:28 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

If you don't share custody... well, what does your daughter want to do? Would she rather take this class, or would she rather visit with her dad?
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:30 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

Conversely, would bargaining for "make up" time make a difference?

"Take her to class on saturday and you get a mid-week dinner out with her" etc.
posted by Oktober at 11:31 AM on September 20, 2013

she'd rather take the class but the dad time is court-ordered and she doesn't have a choice at this age...
posted by bright and shiny at 11:31 AM on September 20, 2013

10 or 20 years from now, will it have been more important that she maintained a positive relationship with her dad and spent as much time with him as possible (and that you avoided adversarialness to the extent possible), or that she took this one great class?

I know that giving in feels like...well, giving in, and defending your ground on this issue may not doom the father-child relationship, but need to figure out your priorities here.

One potential solution, if you can't fit in enough "enrichment" on the weeknights, is to sign her up for a Saturday class in dad's hometown and you do the ferrying to get her there on the weekends she's not with dad.
posted by drlith at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2013 [9 favorites]

When I was a kid, the answer was that I didn't get to take the interesting class on the inconvenient day.

That said, I know that things are different now and kids are typically in intensive classes and activities that CANNOT BE DENIED at very young ages. So this might be more of a "times change" thing.

But, seriously, she's 9. While I'm sure she would like to take the class, and it sounds like it would be fun for her to take the class, it's not like a Saturday afternoon arts enrichment is the one thing standing between her and growing up to be a bum.

There will always be scheduling conflicts in life. There will be other activities, probably more activities than you will even know what to do with. Her time is only going to be more scheduled from here on out. Let her have this unfocused time with her dad, which is something she won't have forever.
posted by Sara C. at 11:36 AM on September 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

Could you elaborate on this sentence?

[she ]really needs to be able to join clubs and sports teams and take classes

Why specifically does she "need" to be able to do those things?

How much does she enjoy spending time with her father? Is it quality time, with conversations and activities done together, or is she just watching TV?

Could you get your husband to agree to meet together with a professional mediator? This is just the kind of thing a mediator should be good at helping with.
posted by Dansaman at 11:45 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

If the really great arts enrichment class costs money, can you offer to organize/find/pay for an activity for her and her dad to share?

Not through her, and not in a "look how awesome and generous I'm being" kind of way. But just, "Hey, kid's dad, there's this thing happening in your town on Saturdays that I think kid would enjoy. If you want to do it with her every Saturyday, I'll pay for it and/or get her to the place"

This could be fishing or robot building or arts or a parent/kid hiking group or a sport.

Encourage their bond. Knowing that she can trust both of her parents to have her back as she grows up will be worth more to her than figure drawing.
posted by bilabial at 11:48 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is the reason that he doesn't want to take her because it cuts into his very limited time with his daughter? Have you tried suggesting giving him an extra day with her to make up the difference in time lost to these classes?

I am skeptical that this class is actually more important than getting to see her father, and even if you disagree with me, there's a pretty good chance that her father would not, and maybe that's why he doesn't want to take her to class.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:51 AM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

I disagree that the dad is more important than the class if the dad doesn't do fun and enriching things during his court ordered visitation.

Could you elaborate more on the visitation? Is the dad forced to see her? Does he pick her up, or do you drop her off at his place? Is the pick-up/drop-off stipulated in the court agreement.

If you can update, thanks.
posted by jbenben at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

The pick-up/drop-off is stipulated to be split between the two of us. So, if he picks her up at school, I pick her up at his house at the end of the weekend. He is not forced to see her, no. It is the other way around. She doesn't end up doing very much at his house, and most of the time, he's working and not there anyway.
posted by bright and shiny at 12:03 PM on September 20, 2013

If the issue is that he doesn't want to give up the time with his daughter (which seems perfectly legitimate) can parents sit in on the classes? My parents had a similar deal when I was a kid...I took swimming lessons, and whoever's weekend it was with me would take me and sit in the bleachers and watch. That was actually a very pleasant thing to have as a kid being shuttled between two households: the sense that both parents were invested in the activities I did.

Maybe he'd feel better about taking your daughter to activities if he could share in her excitement for them by watching and participating to some degree.

Maybe, though, if it's really your daughter who wants to take these classes and not you who wants her to, your daughter needs to be the one to tell her dad that. And then ask him if he can sit in on the classes and watch her.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 12:06 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you guys don't have good communication, there really is no easy way to do this without putting your daughter in an awkward position or feeling like she has to choose sides... or getting into a petty argument with the father.

Without knowing much of the back story, the father's personality and attitude towards you (good, bad or indifferent), and other factors, I can only give a snippet of my experience.

Basically, you know what she's telling you, but as it seems you don't have good communication or any trust with dad (perhaps for good reason), you can't really be sure what she is telling him, and what she really wants here. Perhaps not angering either parent is more important to her than any class she could take right now. There is no real way to determine this short of "bugging" her. (figuratively and literally).

My ex had a poor relationship with her daughter's father, in part because he would make only periodic attempts to spend quality time with his daughter. Even being the objectively absent dad (to my perception as an adult), I overheard her once telling him a completely different set of desires to see him than she was telling mom. She was 10, and desperately wanted love from both parents, and although mom never really bad-mouthed dad, she more than likely picked up the general shift in the "air" when he was discussed, so she automatically chose the side of whichever parent she was speaking with.

This may not be the case in this instance, but kids are kids, and many want unconditional parental love more than they want to learn gymnastics or broaden their horizons right now.

With that said, if she truly and honestly is super excited to take this class, and expresses this sentiment of her own accord to dad, and if he truly and honestly wants her to be happy, then this seems like the best recourse where she can end up taking the class. Unfortunately, even suggesting this to her could place her in a position of taking sides, which could be awkward for her.

I know couples who use their court-ordered days sometimes just to harass the other parent ("the law says I can have him/her, and I don't care that gramma is in town that day!") and it's fueled by resentment and fear. I honestly hope this isn't the case in your scenario, as it only leads to long term frustration and angst for everyone involved.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:15 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

How many lessons on an average weekend are we talking about here? One? Two? More?

She doesn't end up doing very much at his house, and most of the time, he's working and not there anyway.

So maybe the issue is that he's just sort of a drip as a dad and doesn't want to do the work of arranging his schedule around her, let alone her lessons, even if he's working and not with her on his weekends. Maybe he's also the sort of drip who would rather chew his own arm off than cooperate with his ex without a court order.

If that's the case, there is literally nothing you can do to coerce him to allow her to take and attend lessons that fall on his weekends. I mean, you can try the "I'm thinking about hiring a college age babysitter to take Young Miss Bright to her lessons, but that would also mean the babysitter would collect her from and deliver her back to your house on alternate weekends. If that's OK with you, I'll make arrangements for this term of Dance Lessons, and of course, I'll pay for the sitter." You'd have to actually do that, but I think the only thing is to make her going to lessons as frictionless as possible. If he says no, then he's just being Crappy Divorced Dad and you can't do anything about that.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:17 PM on September 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

So if he's not even home on many of the occasions that she's there, and if he knows she would like to do those classes, then I would conclude he's doing this out of spitefulness, selfishness, ignorance, carelessness, or some other similar negative motivation or reason. That is not bonding, that is not leading to good feelings toward him from your daughter, and that is not in her best interests. So again, I suggest seeing if you can get a mediator involved to see if the father can start to see some of this more clearly. I'd also be interested to know what your daughter says to her father about all this and how he reacts to what she says.
posted by Dansaman at 12:18 PM on September 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

I know from personal experience as that kid that you and your daughter are not the ones who need to be convinced. It may have been 25 years ago, but things haven't changed that much in visitation land.

Probably if reasoned discussion was going to work, you wouldn't be posting this.

My father also extended his "I get her on the weekend" trip to not letting me see my age 9, 10, 11, when that stuff really matters. (I was allowed only to see friends and relatives from "his side.")

Good news: he lightened up when I was in eighth grade and up (school dances, etc.) Bad news: he later characterized what seemed like a genuine lightening up as having given up, I just didn't want to spend time with him, etc. Good news again: no matter how he described his feelings retroactively, he DID let me have a normal social life in high school, and I appreciate that to this day.

Convincing him would be nice. In the meantime:

Let's say it's modern dance. Would he be willing to take her to a modern dance class that meets in his territory, so to speak? Picked out by him?

Seeing friends (no doubt a related issue or soon to be one). Can you speak to her friends' parents about perhaps being extra accommodating about bringing the friend to dad's house, etc.?

Upshot: the couple of times my mother and I forced the issue, the flak I got from him, while I was trapped at his house, made the good time/good opportunity/normal outlet 100% totally not worth the pain. I wish I could say differently. There is a lot of coparenting/divorce/open communication rhetoric here on metafilter that in no way, shape, or form characterizes my experience as a kid. Seeing your question, I doubt that you guys are in the minority, out there in the real world.

I am sorry that you both are going through this. The most helpful thing that my mother ever told me was that this era wasn't going to last forever. Eighteen and I was done. (It may sound cold, but considering my dad's total behavior over the years, this was both the logical and the charitable way of putting it.)
posted by skbw at 12:46 PM on September 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

But let's give her father the benefit of the doubt. He may not be a huge jerk. He may just feel that kids don't get to say how they spend their time, and a kid's desire to do some fun/interesting thing is legitimate enough, but can't outcompete whatever the adult feels like doing (or not).

This is not a POPULAR view in many circles these days, but it's what I grew up with, from my mom, too, for that matter, and if you have a young daughter today, you surely must remember some families like this from your childhood, even if your own family gave more weight to your desires. My mom cared about my choices as long as they lined up with hers. My dad just did not care at all about kid personal autonomy, beyond whatever other issues he had with my mom.
posted by skbw at 1:00 PM on September 20, 2013

Based on your previous question, I'm going to assume this is the same father referenced there. If so, my sympathies on what must continue to be a difficult situation, but also my kudos on you trying to make the best of it.

Is his girlfriend still in the picture? Is she a possible ally or someone who could help with some of these scheduling issues? If not, then I'd try to work as much on your end with finding solutions -- for example, is this great teacher available at another time? Later in the year will her schedule be different?

At the very least, maybe keep this a topic that you bring up, to plant the seed in his head ("I'm so looking forward to when she can join the soccer team in high school, or march in the high school band" or whatever, but things that happen on the weekends).

Maybe this is just something that can't happen right now, with this teacher and class, but I don't think that means it's not a topic that you can't revisit.
posted by megancita at 1:19 PM on September 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've seen this a few times in my circle of friends and what the smart parents have done is get a neutral third person (ususally a therapist for the child, sometimes the more expensive Children's Advocate Lawyer) who would make recommendations based on their impartial advice, after meeting extensively with the child and often both parents, and present their non-binding recommendations to both parents. The parents can then negotiatie together or present the findings in court. In my jurisdiction both parents are responsible for the cos tof extracurriculars but sometimes one parent will agree to pay the full amount if the other parent is flexible about switching dates to accommidate the extracurriculars. It sounds like your daughter could benefit from someone outside the family to explore her feelsings as her fahter does not sound very present for her and that is going to be hard on her. The advice of an on-going child-centred therapist would obviously be given more weight in any legal proceedings.
posted by saucysault at 1:31 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

She doesn't end up doing very much at his house, and most of the time, he's working and not there anyway.

Be careful about how much you trust this information -- if it's coming from your daughter, there are many reasons she might be downplaying what happens there.

As for your actual question, would you be willing to give up something in return for his cooperation? For instance, it sounds like he doesn't get any time with her aside from the weekends -- perhaps suggesting a change in visitation would help with this. Maybe he'd be willing to change out the every-other-weekend plan for some number of weeks during the summer, half of her winter break and a couple of other holidays, with occasional other weekends for birthdays (his or hers) or Father's Day or the like.
posted by Etrigan at 1:38 PM on September 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm not clear on this, but is it possible/allowed for someone else to pick her up and take her to class and then drop him back off at his house (i.e. he doesn't care what she does all day while he's at work as long as he doesn't have to deal with it), or is he just being territorial and refusing to let her do anything at all but sit at his house every Saturday because he can, dammit?

I think I'm with DarlingBri on this one: either you do all the work so he doesn't have to lift a finger, or he's just deliberately being a douche and you can't stop him. If that's the case, there's no hope.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:48 PM on September 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Here's an update for anyone who is interested: so many great suggestions and insights here. Thank you all for the input. I sent him a couple of emails talking about her interest and that I would be willing to share the driving to make it work on his days. I also mentioned that I was willing to help her to participate in something that he chose for her (or that they chose together on his time), and here is what happened. He agreed to let her go to gymnastics on his days if I did all of the driving. I renegotiated and we split the driving in half. As expected, the class has been excellent for her and she is thriving in ways that I did not expect, her body awareness and self-esteem have been off the charts and she made a new best friend. In turn, he signed her up for a skiing program and he ends up seeing her every week instead of every other and I do most of the driving for that. It turned out really well and I would never have had the confidence to approach him had it not been for this question. Thank you again. Of course, it is not all sunshine, roses, and unicorn breath, but we are better off than we were before and now have a precedent that will be hard to undo.
posted by bright and shiny at 6:38 PM on February 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

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