Vivianne’s son was just two-years old and her daughter was about eight, when they moved out of the family home away to New Jersey. Obviously, her son is too young to remember what was going on at home and why it was imperative to find safety. That’s both good and bad; good because the fewer people exposed to such behavior the better, bad because it’s hard for him to understand why his mommy and daddy don’t live together.
Now Vivianne’s ex has decided he doesn’t want to see his children and she’s trying to shield them from his rejection. Here’s Vivianne:
After I moved out to New Jersey, I would drive the children to his place in New York each weekend. Then in April 2009, something happened. He started harassing me horribly and he decided he wasn’t going to see them anymore.
My daughter couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see him and she would call him but he wouldn’t return her phone calls. There were a lot of tears. I did everything I could to have him contact her. Eventually I had to place her in counseling to help her learn to deal with it because as mercurial as he is with with me, he can be just as unpredictable with them but not as overtly. My biggest challenge is learning how to help the children through these periods of crisis with him.
“I’m certain your father’s probably going through something right now. I know your father still loves you. I don’t understand why he’s not returning the phone calls.”
I try to be honest. I don’t want to lie but I don’t want to put added pressure on them. It’s very difficult. I hope I’m saying the right things. I know I cannot speak ill of him. I know it would hurt them more. I don’t criticize him in front of them and I don’t say anything negative about him. That’s not difficult for me to do because I always teach my children that it’s not nice to speak ill of anyone and to treat others as you would like to be treated.
It IS difficult for me when my son looks at me and asks,
“Do you still love daddy?”
I tell him,
“I still care very much about your daddy and I know your daddy loves you.” Then I move on.
Those direct questions are difficult to handle. I don’t want them to know what is actually going on, the stress and tension I feel with him or the depth of the things he’s done. They don’t know he doesn’t pay child support, they don’t know that he flat out told me he doesn’t want to see them or that he doesn’t want anything to do with them. They don’t know that and I want to keep them insulated from that.
My role is to soothe and to try to normalize their situation as much as possible. A lot of people say children of divorce never get through it or they have a much more difficult path in life. I try very hard to not allow my children to fall into that.
I know it would have been a much more difficult path for them if I had stayed in the marriage as opposed to getting out. I think it was better for me to get out.
The Divorce Coach Says
I think this must be such a difficult situation to deal with. What do you do when your children’s father decides not to see them, not to have any contact with them?
I think I might try to put it terms of dad being sick (it sounds like Vivianne’s ex is mentally ill) and not being able to cope with visits. And as Vivianne does, reassure them that, in his own way, he loves them. I think she’s right that her children don’t need to know all the details at their age. As Kristie said, he might be your ex but he’s still their father and will always be their father. Who knows, maybe at some point he will regret his decision and choose to be better dad.
Not speaking ill of your ex is a cornerstone of parenting post-divorce but remember, what you don’t say impacts your children just as much.
Photo Credit: PEEJOE at Flickr