Q. My stepdaughter is 4, and her real mother is constantly in and out of jail and has 86 felonies. She gets visitation every other weekend, (If she shows up). Every time our daughter comes back from her visitation she is a completely different child. When she gets home she just sits there for hours on end and won't say anything.
A. This is, indeed, an unusual situation, though it is very common with separated parents. Generally, the child living with the mother goes to the father for the weekend. But the effect of the meeting is the same: the child behaves queerly Ė either loud and noisy or absolutely sad and silent.
Since you cannot do much about this difficult situation, you have to manage it properly so that it does not leave such an impact on your child.
First of all, give up the idea of any kind of therapy; it is not going to help. You, as an adult and parent can do much better.
There are basically two different situations. One is when one of the parents is causing the problem; and the other is just the differences between parents and homes. In this article I am going to focus on the former Ė the problem parent.
How do you identify the problem? There are various features that suggest that. For instance, the parent canít be relied on. He/she promises to call or come, but fails to do so. This raises the hopes of the child and heightens the disappointment later on.
Then, when they do go for a visit, they are often ignored, or merely have to fit in with the adult's own (often inappropriate) plans. In other words, despite their protestations of how much they care, the child is clearly very low on their list of priorities.
An unreliable parent does not only disappoint the child but many times you have to change your plans because the other parent had promised to come and take the child but didnít turn up.
Then, in addition to their unreliability, they may also use the child as a pawn to convey messages (usually uncomplimentary) to the custodial parent. Or they may just spend the whole weekend criticizing and derogating the mother.
All of this is very harmful to the child, as it undermines all sense of worth and belonging. They desperately want to be loved and accepted, yet at every turn they seem to be cast off by this parent who, at the same time, keeps saying how much they care.
Unfortunately, parents who are this slippery, are often equally difficult to deal with through the courts. They are adept at casting themselves in a good light, since there is rarely any factual evidence to back up mom's complaints.
My advice is: donít let the situation continue and worsen. If you find yourself in a similar situation, act fast, even though it can be quite difficult.
First step is probably to seek some clarity through mediation or the courts. This is one of the rare situations when access to the other parent probably should be denied. However, getting the courts to agree will probably be difficult.
The best you can get, however, is a somewhat clear agreement on the question of visits. You will have a clear idea of the exact date and time of the visit. But you will still have to handle the phone calls during the week and your child in the eventuality when the other parent promises to come but does not show up.
In that case, abide by the agreement and put your foot down if there are delays and deviations from the promised time. Give him ten minutes more and if he doesnít turn up, follow your own plans. Go out with your child and have a good time. Donít wait at home and sulk. Donít be available to adjust with his convenience.
Keep a record of exactly what happens and when. You will need this when you go back to court. You may also want to seek expert opinions to testify as to the effects of all of this on the child.
Whatever be the situation, it is important for you to be warm and affectionate towards the child. Remember, these visits and the unfulfilled promises hurt the child much more and he is not old enough to handle that. As an adult and a parent, you have to be magnanimous and provide positive support to your child at such times.
Remember, this is not a comfortable situation for both of you. If you feel none of this is working, think of moving to a different town or state, so that the problem of weekly visits is taken care of once and for all. This is the last resort and should be taken after cool consideration, lest you become the bad guy. Take some time to think of the situation. You may want to talk it over with a friend or counselor before you take such a step. Donít let your prejudice against the other parent blur your reason. It happens to people; it may be happening to you. Make sure you are not over reacting.
nike tn Need some ideas for handling your children's behaviors? Why not take a look at Dr. Noel Swanson's children's behavior newsletter. His book, The GOOD CHILD Guide, is also one of the best available. Visit here for more parenting articles. ~ai602
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