Help Me Explain Visitation To My 8 Year Old

As some of you know, I am divorced from my first husband. I’m going to try to stick to just the facts here, and leave my personal opinion of him out, but I’m not sure how well that will work. Please forgive me if my bitterness and anger poke through.

We have an 8 year old son together (and a 12 year old daughter, but she doesn’t factor into the current situation). Our son - hereafter referred to as Boy - gets standard visitation with his dad through court order. When Boy was 4, his dad went to prison for two years, and when he got out is when we divorced (finalized in 2006). The court granted Boy’s dad standard visitation rights: every other weekend, Wednesday evenings, half of summer vacation, and alternating holidays. Boy has never seen his dad on the Wednesday visitation, as he’s never come down for that one. (He lives an hour and a half away.) For a short period of time after my ex was released from jail, he seemed to have gotten his life back on track, and we both made a real effort at being on friendly terms. That lasted about a year, then things started to slide downhill. My ex began getting into trouble again, for minor drug charges and some hit-skips with his car. He ceased paying child support, though his father does occaisionally give me a small percentage of the amount every few months. He began showing up late to drop off/pick up Boy every single time. Now he wants to switch which weekend is “his” every third or fourth time, and rarely picks Boy up when he is supposed to.

The dillemma:
I am (understandably, I think) fed up with his antics. It’s putting a strain on my time and my patience, and I am working towards getting the custody decree modified. That’s between my attourney and me, and I can deal with that just fine. My problem is not looking like I’m being a heartless asshole in the eyes of Boy. He doesn’t know about his dad’s past, and the problems that arose that led to the divorce. Our divorce papers even have a clause that anytime I speak to Boy regarding his father, I have to “foster love and goodwill” or something to that effect. And even if I wasn’t bound by law, I see nothing good coming from telling a child “Oh, your dad is a piece of shit and you are far better off without him.”

The question (nd the point of my OP):
When my ex calls and wants to switch weekends yet again - which he has done twice this month already - and I tell him “no” - which I am definitely going to do - how can I explain that to Boy? I really don’t want to see him hurt, and without lying I don’t see how I can justify putting my foot down. The last time this came up, Boy’s dad fed him some line about me trying to keep the two of them apart, which of course hurt Boy and made me look like I don’t wan him to be happy. I can’t very well show Boy the paper and explain that the court says his dad gets him only on certain days, because thn he will wonder why I’ve allowed the switch in the past. Boy is wicked smart for his age, and he’d be all over that little loophole.

And so it is, Dopers, that I come to you. Hopefully you will grace me with some of your wisdom; and, if not tell me what to say, at least help me to see the direction my conversation needs to take.

If there is anybody who is still reading, who hasn’t fallen into a catatonic stupor, there’s pie and beer in the fridge for you. Thanks a million. :slight_smile:

Seeing as I have no children myself, I don’t feel qualified to offer any advice, but I did want to send out a virtual hug to both you and the Boy for this to get better.

I’ll be sending good thoughts y’all’s way.

Do you have the resources (friends to visit, money to go places, time) to make other plans for all “your” week-ends?

Have you considered the ‘Because I’m the Mommy’ approach?

If the Boy is that smart, couldn’t you be honest, and say your not putting up with the ex’s little power games/irresponsibility/disrespect to his son* anymore?

Could you be tough enough to change plans on the Boy yourself all the time, just to demonstrate how disruptive and disrespectful it is?

  • I like that last one; tell the Boy it’s not right for the Ex to keep changing plans unilaterally, the he, the Boy, deserves better.

Disclaimer: I am not a parent, nor am I a child of divorce. I did, however, once fill a year-long position as an 8-year old.

What about simply explaining that Dad wanted to switch weekends, but you can’t do that, because you need to do X on the weekend in question? I.e. keep it a practical, not a moral or legal issue. 8 is plenty ould enough to learn about scheduling and priorities and such. If Mom needs to do X on sunday afternoon, and Dad wants to do Y on sunday morning, and Boy has homework, then something has to go.

Best of luck to you. I hope things improve.

The first stop should be a counsellor who specializes in parenting after separation. Although it would be best if both you and the father could attend this together, I realize that this will not happen. But even if you alone participate, you might find some utility from the counsellor in dealing with the ongoing access problems. Your lawyer should be able to refer you to a good one, and work with that person in building your case to vary access.

Beyond that, consider that “parental alienation” is one of the trendy issues in family law at the moment, so take great care in what you say to your son – assume that everything you say will be pulled out of him, distorted badly against you, and used against you in court.

With that as the context, you might wish to keep discussions with you son of the access issues to a minimum, or simply not discuss them at all. Just because a child wants to know something (e.g. why dad skipped access, or why mom won’t let dad re-schedule access, or why there has to be an access schedule at all), or just because you want to explain something to a child, does not mean that such a conversation would be advisable. Sometimes in the big picture it is better to simply say that that is the way it is, period, rather than involve an eight year old in discussions over very sensitive issues that will reflect badly on the parents, and possibly leave the child feeling that he is the cause of the problems.

A practical way out of dodging the re-scheduling problem is to have activities scheduled for the weekends on which the father does not have access – that way when he wants to reschedule to another weekend, you can honestly say “Sorry, but the boy and I are skiing at Lutsen that day.”

As I am sure your lawyer has already advised you, keep a log of all access, all access problems, all communications with the father, all behavioural changes that your son has, and all concerns that your son raises.

Or just hire two guys named Vinny to mediate. :wink:

Now, I am not the child of divorced parents, and neither am I a divorced parent, so maybe I don’t really understand all the issues, but is there a reason you can’t say “Daddy couldn’t come this time”? (I’m honestly asking if there’s a reason that’s bad.)

I have to get to bed for now, but I wanted to answer this first:

That works fine for when Boy’s dad bails (and is, in fact, exactly what I say to him), but when they are on the phone, as they were this evening, and he says “Hey, Boy, sorry I missed last weekend. How about if I get you this time instead? We can carve pumpkins and go trick-or-treating together. Won’t that be a blast?” Then I have to be the one to tell Boy that he can’t go to his dad’s house this weekend.

I’ll be back on when I wake up. Thanks for the helpfulness so far! (hugs faithfool because she helped loads)

The problem is when, next month, kid asks Dad why he didn’t come last month and Dad says, “'Cause your cunt of a mother said no when I tried to come get you,” conveniently omitting all the schedule shuffling he’s putting her through. Plus, of course, your heart just breaks when the kid has his bag packed and is just sitting on the couch waiting for a doorbell that never rings.

I agree that scheduling something - anything - on your weekends with your son is the best way to handle this. A, it gives you something fun to do so you’re not always the laundry-and-homework parent and dad’s always the go-to-the-zoo parent, and B. it’s a lot easier to say “I’m so sorry, but we’ve got plans this weekend; I kept your scheduled weekend with him open, though,” to both the kid and the father.

And finally, consider why you’re resistant to moving things around. If you are busy and if it is an imposition, then by all means say no. But if you’re just planning on hanging out at home anyhow, then maybe saying yes is the way to go. It’s not your job to teach this guy how to keep a commitment, and teaching your son how to be reasonably flexible isn’t the worst lesson in the world. (Your son will learn how to keep a commitment by watching you, and when he’s just a little bit older, he’s going to be asking to make weekend plans with friends, so he’ll learn for himself why dad moving his dates around sucks.) Again, only if you don’t have plans, of course. Flexible is one thing, doormat is another.

Re.: ‘Daddy couldn’t come this time’:

Child: “Why not?”

Child: “Why can’t he come next weekend instead?”

Child: “Daddy says you won’t let him come.”

No matter what the responsible parent says or does, the child will want dad to be there, and will put the parent on the spot to put things right in the child’s opinion. This puts the parent in a no-win situation. Might as well recognize this, and leave it at ‘Daddy couldn’t come this time’ without further explanation.

I think I’d be somewhat straight with the kid. Before he talks with his dad, show him the schedule that mom and dad have agreed to. If dad suggests a different date, you’ll need to put your foot down and say no. When kid asks why you said no, just repeat, “Your dad and I agreed on a certain schedule, so that we can work out our own lives. I wish he could get together with you on the dates that he agreed to, but if he can’t, that’s his choice to make. You’ll have to ask him why he can’t get together with you then. As for me, I think it’s very important to stick to the agreement that we made, and I am going to be with you on the days that I agreed to be with you. This is a decision for your parents to make.”

If dad tries to involve the kids in it, check whether the custody agreement has any clauses about HIM fostering love and goodwill. Talk with him about the idea that he needs to do any negotiations with you, not with the kid, and the kid needs to be left out of it.

If he refuses to do so, maybe get the lawyer involved. Meanwhile, be firm with the kid. “This is something for mom and dad to figure out. If your dad tries to set up a new time with you, please let me know: he needs to figure that out with me, not with you.”

I say this as the kid of parents who went through a nasty divorce. You’re absolutely right not to get your kid in the middle of it. It may piss the kid off that you won’t explain it, but them’s the breaks. You’re the parent, and you’ll do the kid no favors by explaining it at this point.


There is a simple solution to that – have the access order varried to include a term directing that the father shall not talk to the child about re-scheduling access (or any number of other things that he should not be talking about), and that access shall not be rescheduled at the request of the father. Courts tend to take a dim view of parents who either manipulate children for emotional blackmail, or who are simply too dense to recognize that both parents and children require a reasonable degree of stability in working out parenting arrangements.

I second (third, fourth?) the idea of scheduling your own activities on the weekend in question and telling boy ahead of time - even if it is only a visit to the batting cage, riding back at local park, going to skate park or whatever.

I would also suggest getting a calendar to put in the kitchen and have it marked with “daddy weekend” and “mummy weekend” and then maybe get boy’s help to schedule what you will be doing for mummy weekends? This need not be a spoil the kid initiative, it can simply be visit the grocery store or whatever - just enough such that “your” weekends as clearly marked and scheduled.

But a question to muffin - why the mmediate jump for a counsellor? As a society we need to rely more on ourselves for problem solving that always looking for an outside solution…

I’m the custodial father of three boys, two of who were younger than eight when the divorce was final, though the custody issue wasn’t totally settled until the youngest was ten. I can tell you right now, you’re not going to like my advice. You have to decide to decide whether it’s better to put your foot down or your arms out. In other words do you want to be right, or do you want to be Mom?

Like your situation my ex was involved with drugs. To this day she never honors the custody agreement, or her child support orders. Our agreement is more generous, she can have the boys every weekend. In real terms that means she sees them about once a month. You know what they still love her, but overtime they’ve gotten used to her flakiness.

It sucks to be your place, I know, I spend a lot of time there. Nothing you can do will help, but a lot you can do can hurt, the child. Yeah that means my plans frequently change, I’ve learned to deal with it because ultimately this is my fault not the kids.

So as not to leave you with a total downer there’s this, the one thing that has worked is multiple calls. I have the boys call to make the arrangements the Sunday before. I call the next day to confirm it. Mid week I have them call again to confirm, and the day I again follow up. The night before I follow it up with yet another phone call. It’s kept at least the once a month visit more or less reliable. Yes it’s irritating as hell. I’m sorry I can’t give you better advice.

If it were anyone other than freekalette. . . . :smiley:

Oooh. I like this. I had nuthin’ until I read this. I vote for this.

Sending another hug your way. This definitely doesn’t sound like an easy situation. I wish the best for you and your son.

Simple fact: self-counsel has failed. It would be nice if the parents could simply talk out the problems, and come up with simple strategies to minimize conflict, but the fact is that they have not been able to do this. At this point, the problems can continue, or can grow worse. If professional assistance, either through a counsellor specializing in parenting after separation, or through a family lawyer, or both, can break the log jam and stabilize access, then that result is far more important that any ideology or process of self-counsel.

A counsellor specializing in parenting after separation will:
[li]help provide an objective eye to the situation that the parent may not otherwise have;[/li][li]help the parent come up with strategies that the parent might not have thought of on her own (anything ranging from creative court orders to group decision making to lord knows what); and[/li][li]help recognize potential land mines.[/ul][/li]
The object of the exercise is the best interests of the child, which in part will be found by stabilizing the access problems. The object of the exercise is not self-reliance over professional assistance.

freekalette and her son are in a mess, and should use whatever resources are available to work their way out of that mess. When your car breaks down, you can work on it yourself, or you can take it to a mechanic. When your tooth aches, you can pull it yourself, or you can visit a dentist. Don’t let the process stand in the way of an effective outcome.

Finally, even if the counselling is a complete waste of time, it’s having taken place will be valuable when making a run for an access variation order. In that sense, it serves a two-fold purpose. First and foremost, it helps address and mitigate freekalette’s parenting issues. Second, even if it fails to help resolve the issues, it bolsters freekalette’s legal position.

Coming from the kids perspective (I was in his spot from age 2), I’m going to have to ask the same question as WhyNot. Is there a reason you can’t switch weekends every now and then? It is inconvenient, and you don’t want to be taken advantage of. But, it can go both ways. My parents swapped weekends about once a month (with the same every other weekend agreement). It doesn’t have to just be Dad who asks to switch weekends; there were weekends when my mom wanted to switch too. It will also work better for Boy as he gets older and will want to make plans of his own in one place or the other. Most of the things you and Boy want to do will not plan themselves around Dad’s weekends- grandma’s birthday, weddings, sleep overs, school plays etc. Being flexible can be a win-win situation if both sides can agree, and not letting Boy see his Dad as often, even if it is Dad’s fault, will only cause him to hold it against you.
If you and ex aren’t on good enough terms for this kind of a mutual agreement then I would suggest just being honest with Boy. This is a situation he is going to deal with for the rest of his life and he is going to have to understand what is actually going on eventually.
Good Luck! I know how impossible your situation can be. hugs

Sorry to have taken so long to get back in here; my sinuses hate me ATM, and therefore brain functions are at an all-time low.

I really like the idea of having a clearly-marked calendar for his weekends and mine, where I can write down our plans and Boy can see what’s going on. But what about weekends where nothing is planned? I’m all for having the visitation rigidly enforced, but in the meantime things are pretty flexible.

Speaking of which, Stuffy, I do like your advice. I just don’t think it’s what would be best for my family. I followed your advice for some time, and was flexible enough that my ex seems to have forgotten that I do, in fact, have a spine. Like I said upthread, I am trying to leave out details and personal attacks, because I am already biased, and I want the Dope’s unbiased opinion (insomuch as they are able to give it to me.) Suffice it to say that a new approach is in order.

Mufin, I love you. Your post had me laughing until I hacked up half a lung. :smiley:

I really appreciate all the hugs and good wishes for me and Boy throughout this. I’m normally a laid-back person, but this mess has me totally strung out and ready to snap.

Oh, one other thing. My ex and I did do the counseling thing, right after the divorce. He and I had some sessions with someone specializing in divorce/custody cases, and he even had us role-play different less-than-ideal scenarios to see if/how we could work around it on our own. Shortly after the counseling ended is when things began to slide. I have my own humble opinion on why that is, but make of it what you will.