Originally Posted by Sunshyn74
...DD cried every single night for almost 2 years. Sometimes for hours. Only because she didn't want to go to her dad's for his weekend and Wednesday evening visits.
Somewhere between #3 and #4, DD started having panic attacks about his visits. He still made her go. He took them on a vacation in august 2012 that he had to cut short because DD cried so hard while they were gone. I had to talk on the phone with her for over an hour each night to try to calm her down. He went to bed and left her up crying and on the phone with me. When I told him to sit up with her, he refused. He cut the vacation short and stopped his overnight visits with her, just taking her during the day on his weekends. It didn't help her crying. She wanted nothing to do with him at all.
The last time she went was in October 2012 for a day visit. He was picking them up at the soccer field. She had a complete panic attack at the public field. I had to physically put her in his car. It was awful. She was crying and begging not to go...
She is in counseling. The counselor can't get anywhere. We do not believe there is abuse, and it's been discussed deeply. She says she doesn't like her dad because he is mean. She lists details of how he is mean, but none equal abuse... DD says she WILL run away if he makes her go anywhere with him. She means it. She will run away and call me to come get her.
I have never talked bad about him at all. Ever. He says I am turning her against him by talking bad about him. I do say if he made a poor decision, but I do not talk poorly about him.
Youngest goes on the visits by herself. She handles it pretty well... Oldest actually has a harder time with youngest being gone. Ex doesn't have her call home at all while she is there. Even when she was very sick (vomiting for 12 hours) he didn't call or text and didn't even tell me when I picked her up. She told me on the way home.
My question is how do I help oldest DD? I want her to have a relationship with her dad. How can I help her?
It sounds right to have her in counseling. Would you consider trying a different counselor?
Your daughter's hysterical aversion to her father, that is out of proportion to her specific complaints about him, does sound like parental alienation, so it's understandable that your frustrated ex blames you for poisoning her against him. (If you're lucky enough not to be familiar with P.A., it basically means the favored parent - you - do/say subversive things to manipulate the child into irrationally hating the other parent and clinging to you. The subversive things may be overt or very subtle.)
H-O-W-E-V-E-R, if you were trying to alienate your daughter against your ex, it would be more far more typical for you to write to a forum like this (where we don't know you in real life and will tend to believe whatever you say) and defend your daughter's hysteria (ex.: "He abuses her, but her counselor won't believe me and our biased judge won't let me terminate his visitation rights! I can't say exactly what he's done to her, because she's so traumatized that she won't tell me, but I know he's done something and I must protect my daughter!") It would also be very strange, indeed, that you support your younger daughter's relationship with him. So - based on what you've written - neither P.A. nor abuse are the problem.
That leaves your daughter herself and her ability to handle change / disappointment / uncertainty / other people's difficult personalities. If that IS the problem, then the importance of her learning better coping skills extends far beyond her relationship with her father. You don't want her, for example, feeling overwhelmed by the stress of semester exams in college and having no skills for dealing with it except to subconsciously avoid them altogether, by having panic attacks that land her in the hospital. Thus, if her current counselor isn't making any progress, she may need someone with a different personality and approach. You need a "failure is not an option" attitude about this. That said, I'd be very, very reluctant to let someone prescribe anything for her (and I'm sure some professional out there would recommend medication). She's either starting puberty or only a few years from starting it. Except in the most extreme cases, I think it's imprudent to diagnose any type of mental/emotional disorder in a child who may simply be very hormonal. This is the time for kids to begin learning how adults manage their strong emotions, not that we have no control over them and can only mask them with mood-altering substances.
Not knowing your daughter, I can't form an opinion about whether the certain drama of forcing visitation is better than letting her skip it, which reinforces that she controls whether or not she sees her dad. Visiting him becomes a higher and higher wall to scale, the longer she goes without doing it. I can see arguments both ways. That's why it would be nice to have a counselor you feel IS making some progress with her, then he/she could recommend what to do.
Like you, I sometimes acknowledge to my kids when I think my ex (their dad) has made a poor decision. I think it teaches kids to doubt their own sound judgment, if they witness a parent make a mistake or a poor judgment call, but are told there was nothing wrong with it, simply because the adults in their lives are afraid to admit that parents are fallible. Yet, given your daughter's oversized reactions to things, I'd recommend tempering your acknowledgment of your ex's faults with a heaping dose of compassion for him. Perhaps only you can teach her that her father is worth knowing and spending time with, despite his faults. For example:
1- Obviously, the revolving door of girlfriends around his kids is undesirable. But plenty of men who miss being married and miss their kids jump quickly into a new relationship - and if that one doesn't work out, they jump into a the next one. You see this a lot with older men who lose their wives. People are dismayed, thinking this means the man isn't mourning his spouse. Instead, having her around may have given him such a sense of comfort and stability (even if he didn't show it) that he just can't stand being alone after she's gone. Some men do this after divorce, too. A divorced man who yearned for the freedom to sleep around will simply do that. But a man who's quick to have a new girlfriend get involved with his kids, to move her in, to date women who will bring more children into his home misses having a wife and kids around. Your daughter may believe her father didn't value family life because he didn't engage in it and express himself the way you do. But his behavior - if you can look past the distasteful side-effects - indicates the opposite.
2- Obviously, it would be better if your ex seemed more motivated to see his oldest daughter; or if he had handled her hysteria differently during his visits and vacations with her. But clearly he's not wired to deal with hysterical women. He chose to marry someone so even-keeled that you became sufficiently dissatisfied with the marriage to divorce him, without any of the usual screaming, yelling, fighting and crying. Your personality is what he can handle, what (at least once) felt comfortable for him. He may be every bit as incapable of dealing with your daughter's crying and panic attacks as she is, of dealing with his reserved, distant personality. That doesn't mean he's not hurt or upset inside, about the lack of a relationship. It'd be nice if he could change, but the older people get the less likely that is. Your daughter is young and can certainly change. Her life will be better if she can find a way to connect with her dad as he is - limited, imperfect, but not abusive and still her father.
3- It sounds like it bothers you that your ex doesn't have your younger daughter call daily when she's with him and that he didn't discuss it with you when she was sick. But if she's only away from you for a couple nights at a time - and if she wasn't sick enough to go to the doctor, just a routine childhood vomiting jag - it's perfectly acceptable for you and your ex to have different approaches to these parenting issues. Of course you feel your instincts are best, because they're yours. Let your older daughter know that doesn't mean her father's instincts are wrong. If you dropped off your kids for the weekend at a babysitter's house, the kids would be "away from home". The absent parent(s) would be constantly in the back of everyone's mind and the sitter would be likely to maintain frequent phone contact and to call the parents back the second one of the kids became sick. It's good that your daughters' father doesn't look at his parenting time that way.
While you acknowledge your daughter's disappointments with her father, also try to teach her that even people who are limited and hard to understand can still be worth knowing and loving, especially when they're family. And sometimes the best parts of a limited person's character and motivations are best seen in their most basic actions, not their words or the superficial aspects of their behavior. She's old enough to have such discussions and begin to understand what you're saying. Even if it doesn't really sink in until she's older, it may help her move toward a healthier relationship with her father, long-term.
Hats off to you, for seeing past your own understandable disappointment and frustration with your ex's limitations and recognizing his inherent importance to your children.