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How do you answer?

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 
We had 50/50 custody of my husband's 5 1/2 year old daughter for 4 years until we moved across the country (3000 miles away) a few months ago. Now my husband is with her about 1/3 of the time: here during her school breaks and there one long weekend a month when he flies back to see her. While she has been doing relatively well with the big change and generally views her bi-coastal situation as something fun, she talks a lot about it being too long between times that she gets to see us, missing her papa, missing her home and toys here and (recently) saying she wants to be here and doesn't want to be there. We know this is normal and expected given the situation. We talk to her about all the fun things she does there, about the importance of going school... we joke about how silly it would be for her to fly back and forth every week... obviously it breaks my husband's heart to hear it, but he does his best to talk at her level about the situation and make it into something positive while still acknowledging her feelings about it.

There have been a couple times he has flown back when he has needed to be there longer than a weekend, like for court dates and such, that her mother has refused to give him substantial additional time while he is there. He volunteers in his daughter's classroom at school during the day and goes to all her extracurricular activities because mom legally can't exclude him from either of those. Right now he is there for a full week after nearly two months apart (the longest they have ever gone without seeing each other) and mom is allowing a couple hours one afternoon and a couple more another evening. There is no justification given, no previously-made plans with mom that conflict, nothing shared with him that he can get her excited about going to mom's for.

My step-daughter doesn't understand why she doesn't get to stay with her dad, why he has to take her back to mom's if he is in town, why she can't sleep over at [friend]'s house with him like she usually does when he is there, why she can't spend more time with him...

He will NOT give her an answer that gives her the impression that he doesn't WANT her with him while he is there, and he won't lie to her and make up some meeting or obligation (trust me, even if he wanted to she will not be deterred by that and will look for a "loophole" in his reason). But he is always a responsible co-parent and will absolutely NOT answer her in a way that blames her mother... But that leaves us with no idea about how to answer her when she asks directly during these trips about why she has to go to mom's or why she can't stay with him.

Any advice on what to say to her would be appreciated. This isn't a hypothetical "what if she asks?"... She is already asking. And we don't think these sorts of situations are going to go away... even if this visitation issue is fixed another will inevitably arise. So we need to come up with a way to handle it in the future so we have it ready for next time.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts on how to talk to her about it... We're usually really good at finding answers that don't contain or even imply any judgement about lifestyles or choices that are different between the two homes... this one has been a lot harder.
post #2 of 42
That is so hard. We've had a few things like that and usually use little white lies. Like when their mom wouldn't let us video with the kids. They wanted to know why, and I couldn't blame their mom (even though it was her fault), so I just said the camera didn't work on her computer.
Complete lie, but anyway, it seemed the least bad of the ones I could think of. Of course, I never thought to coordinate the lie with her (oops) and it turned out she did tell them at one point that they couldn't video because she said no.

For visits, it's really hard. It's terrible that she's being so difficult. In our case at least their mom is very flexible about visiting, so we haven't run up against this one yet. Have you asked her what she'd like you to say? Then she might at least try to give a reason or let you know what she's telling her. For all you know she might be admitting it's her decision so you don't need to say anything else.

I think with us with a 5 year old we'd just say because it's your turn to be at your mom's. He can just remind her that he loves her very much and wants to see her as much as he can, but right now he can't because she has to go to her mom's. It's not very descriptive, but it is simple. Just a simple that's-the-way-it-is type of answer is sometimes all that you can give. Best of luck!
post #3 of 42
Has your dh asked your dsd's mom how she thinks he should answer that question?
post #4 of 42
It wasn't the mother who moved 3000 miles away. I think maybe she's just not ready to do everything on your terms when you are the ones who moved away. That's how I'd feel. Since your dh is now staying at a friends house, that might also be a reason. I wouldn't want my child to stay at someone's house who I don't know. If it's on dad's time, then I wouldn't have a say, but on my time, I wouldn't want it and since I'd have a choice, I'd probably say "no."

If the father of my child moved 3000 miles away, I'd be very hurt for my child and it would probably bring out the worst in me with regards to him.

It sounds like it's going to take awhile to negotiate everything so that everyone feels valued in this new situation.

Oh, and as for how to answer? I don't think that there really is much of a way you can answer. You'd say it was her fault and she'd say it was your fault. I think I'd just try to change the subject to something more positive.

Lisa
post #5 of 42
I agree; I'd also give a "that's just how it is, and when you're older (how much older? maybe a teenager) we can talk about it more, but these are grownup things. So for now, I'm telling you that's how it is, and now [something more fun].)"

I have to say, as a custodial mom I'd also be disinclined to bend. Who knows what opportunities she never told you guys about, but passed on, because she was committed to keeping her dd near her father? She and your dsd have been forced to find some new rhythm, some new kind of schedule, thanks to the move; she's doubtless had a tremendous job of helping dd with the fact that her daddy has moved far away. Why should she allow their lives and routines to be disrupted whenever your dh happens to have extra time to spend? And who will be the one to comfort dd when a visit is missed, because something else has called her daddy away this week or this month?

It does sort of sound like you want her on a string -- your dh moves 3K mi from his daughter, he doesn't come back for two months, and yet the mom should jump to accommodate whenever your dh makes himself available, in the interests of the child. But not only is that disrespectful of the mother's time and parenting, I think it's a poor thing to teach a young girl. You don't jump because the man you adore has time to kill in your town this week. If he really wants to be with you, well, then let him make that commitment in his life, and get a local address.

I do hear a lot about unavoidable moves. Understand that not everyone sees most moves as unavoidable, regardless of career. I'm here with no family within a thousand miles and much more opportunity elsewhere. My ex is mentally unstable, and yes, there are times when I'm afraid of him and would prefer to live far away. However, both he and his parents are major parts of my daughter's life, she loves them and they love her, and she does amazingly well with our situation. I think it would damage her seriously to pull her away from them -- and, for that matter, from the friends and town she's always known. I can't begin to imagine moving away from her myself -- even if my ex were competent to take care of her on his own, I wouldn't do that. So the exciting career and the money can wait another decade or so, and I just keep my fingers crossed when it comes to physical safety. What if another man entered the picture and found a dream job far away? (Shrug) Bon voyage, cheri. Send a postcard. There is what they call a prior commitment here.

I understand all this may sound overheated to you; I've been in a position similar to yours, and of course from there it seems like the best thing to do is for all of you to just start from zero, embrace the situation that exists and work with it. The problem is that the situation may have meanings to which you aren't a party, and which can't be knocked out of the way.
post #6 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by mama41 View Post

It does sort of sound like you want her on a string -- your dh moves 3K mi from his daughter, he doesn't come back for two months, and yet the mom should jump to accommodate whenever your dh makes himself available, in the interests of the child. But not only is that disrespectful of the mother's time and parenting, I think it's a poor thing to teach a young girl. You don't jump because the man you adore has time to kill in your town this week. If he really wants to be with you, well, then let him make that commitment in his life, and get a local address.

I do hear a lot about unavoidable moves. Understand that not everyone sees most moves as unavoidable, regardless of career.
Yes.
post #7 of 42
For now, I'd stick with something simple like "right now it's time for you to go to Mom's house." "Why?" "Because that's what all the grownups have agreed on."

I would consult with my lawyer about changing the custody arrangements to allow for more visits when he's in town, rather than relying on the ex to change her whole schedule on little notice. If it's official and in writing it smooths over a lot of those emotions.
post #8 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by angilyn View Post
Dear Op, I think it will just take time. I don't think you or your Dh are wanting anyone to jump at your command, he just wants time with his child. And I am one of those people who understand having to move with a job. Not all skills are transferrable. My Dh has very limited but very technical skills and can only work at certain jobs for instance. Just be patient. If you have to go to court again to get things modified, that's what you do. Since you had true 50/50 custody before, there is probably something that can be done. Sometimes here at this site, it becomes more about the birth mom and her feelings than about the child. Your DH has rights and sounds like a loving father. He should pursue whatever it takes to have time with his daughter. The child benefits from contact with both parents.
Angilyn, unless your dh has a physical or cognitive limitation that prevents him from doing any but a very narrow range of work, or you live in an extremely rural area with few or no employers, there are choices. Not all of them will lead to good money or be fulfilling careerwise. But in most areas, two adults doing relatively unskilled fulltime administrative/managerial work will make enough to support a household. If you're a reliable person with very good technical skills, you're probably bright enough to retrain for one of those jobs quickly.

In a perfect world, I'd love to whisk my daughter away to a major city where she and I would have the art, culture, and opportunity you find in those places. It'd be like reconnecting the blood supply to my career, too. And custodywise, I could probably do it. But the priority is that she grow up with both parents and as much family as possible. It's hard enough for her that she has to see us separately; she's nearly 5, and, like so many kids with divorced parents, what she wants most is for us to be married again and all living in the same house, even though she has no memory of it. So as much stability as possible, as much family and love on a regular basis as possible -- that's what's most important. The cities and all they hold will still be there ten years from now. I can wait.

People can survive on junk food and poor personal habits for an enormously long time. It doesn't mean it's healthy or in their best interest. Similarly, kids will suck up a tremendous amount, and take a lot of hurt, before they really fall apart. You can put them through moves, divorce, LD separations, all kinds of things, and because they seem to do OK we adults are great with the rationalizations. But I believe there very often is lasting harm, lasting sadness. It's hard for me to imagine something more traumatic, if you're a 5-year-old girl, than seeing your daddy -- whom you'd lived with half the time all your life -- move so far away so that you hardly ever see him all schoolyear long. It just sounds heartbreaking. You see it all the time with the mil families, but at least there the kids are all in the same boat, and they know that their mama or daddy is off doing something heroic. And it's still awfully hard on them. It's why I can't seriously contemplate taking my daughter away from her daddy, even though I have many reasons to want to be away from him, and many reasons to go elsewhere.

It sounds as though the modification from 50-50 had to do with potential disruption to the child's schooling and the court's unwillingness to leave her mom with no vacation time with the daughter at all. That's a fairly standard thing -- courts try to avoid that taskmaster-mom/disney-dad setup. The mother has probably already given considerable accommodation in order to give the girl lots of regular, nondisruptive time with her father. When parents here move away, they are not entitled to 30%. The courts view it as the parent's choice to leave, and they give primary custody to the parent who stays. Essentially they are telling the parents that if they genuinely want shared custody, then they need to adjust their lives and careers accordingly.
post #9 of 42
[QUOTE=mama41;10905750]
People can survive on junk food and poor personal habits for an enormously long time. It doesn't mean it's healthy or in their best interest. Similarly, kids will suck up a tremendous amount, and take a lot of hurt, before they really fall apart. You can put them through moves, divorce, LD separations, all kinds of things, and because they seem to do OK we adults are great with the rationalizations. But I believe there very often is lasting harm, lasting sadness. It's hard for me to imagine something more traumatic, if you're a 5-year-old girl, than seeing your daddy -- whom you'd lived with half the time all your life -- move so far away so that you hardly ever see him all schoolyear long. It just sounds heartbreaking. You see it all the time with the mil families, but at least there the kids are all in the same boat, and they know that their mama or daddy is off doing something heroic. And it's still awfully hard on them. It's why I can't seriously contemplate taking my daughter away from her daddy, even though I have many reasons to want to be away from him, and many reasons to go elsewhere.[QUOTE]

Thanks for making these points, Mama41. The whole "kids are so resilient" allows many adults to rationalize their choices in ways that I find amazing. I say this from the perspective of someone who grew up with divorced parents.

Can the dad rent a place for the times he visits, so the child can have a 'home' when she stays with him? I can't see how irregular sleepovers at a friend's house encourage a a sense of stability. The courts won't go for that kind of transitory arrangement either.
post #10 of 42
[QUOTE=mama41;10905750]Angilyn, unless your dh has a physical or cognitive limitation that prevents him from doing any but a very narrow range of work, or you live in an extremely rural area with few or no employers, there are choices. Not all of them will lead to good money or be fulfilling careerwise. But in most areas, two adults doing relatively unskilled fulltime administrative/managerial work will make enough to support a household. If you're a reliable person with very good technical skills, you're probably bright enough to retrain for one of those jobs quickly.QUOTE]

I think you must be a lot younger than me and you are not in my situation. Full time administrative/ managerial work he has never had. As for retraining, get a company to look at someone in their 50's for that and it would be a minor miracle. He has tried for two years now to get other work and there just is none besides Mcdonald's or Walmart. My Dss's mom would be the first to complain if Dh had to take a lesser paying job just to be able to stay close to his son. She wouldn't be able to make her house payments on anything less. I don't fault the original poster at all for the move. They did what they needed to do for their family and their economic well being.

I also think the bio mom of the child in this question needs to let up the control. That is what happens when we all divorce, we have to let go. I don't think that child will come to any harm by seeing her daddy more when he comes and it could give the mom a welcome break. As long as he notifies them in advance in a polite manner. Why do we all have to hang on with a death grip to things that don't help our children? If Daddy is good enough to see during his regular times, then he is good enough to see all the time, and same with the mom.If all of us were more flexible regarding seeing the other parent, it would only benefit the child. This child of the Op would certainly benefit and would not feel the loss as much. I think the bio mom needs to reach out and give a little.
post #11 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by angilyn View Post
I think the bio mom needs to reach out and give a little.
This part I don't get. It seems like knee-jerk scapegoating and denial of accountability for one's (moving away) choices. We're talking about another human being (mom) who went from sharing the responsibility of child raising 50/50 to doing it completely on her own and having to work hard to create a new, post-move life. It doesn't sound unreasonable to want to preserve some stability for one's child. Everything I've learned about "best interest of the child" custody guidelines suggests a predictable pattern for visitation. If one parent fails to respect the child's rights in this regard, the other parent must step up and protect them, even at the risk of being labeled "inflexible" or "emotional" or whatever.
post #12 of 42
I'll write more on this later (have to run soon), but I just want to add here that the dad already moved. So, given reality, is it better for the kid to see her dad or not? It shouldn't matter if the mom disagrees with his choice to move -- this is supposed to be about the child. And this notion that visiting "predictably" has to be the priority doesn't ring true to me. The child wants to see her father, and he goes to great expense and trouble to see her, and yet she is not allowed to see him. I find that inexcusable, whether the mom approves of the dad's choices or not.

In our case (also long distance), the mom allows us to visit whenever we are in town (yes, sometimes overnight at a hotel or with family). We always tell her as early as we can, though sometimes (like extra trips due to fare sales) have short notice. We ask her, and remind her that we don't want to mess up her plans, and see if the dates work for her before we buy tickets. She has her kids' interests at heart, and always tries to accommodate extra visits. She even told us don't be afraid to ask on short notice, as the kids love the visits. I respect this about her a great deal.
post #13 of 42
[QUOTE=violet_;10907829]It shouldn't matter if the mom disagrees with his choice to move -- this is supposed to be about the child. And this notion that visiting "predictably" has to be the priority doesn't ring true to me. The child wants to see her father, and he goes to great expense and trouble to see her, and yet she is not allowed to see him. I find that inexcusable, whether the mom approves of the dad's choices or not.[QUOTE]

It's not stated anywhere that the mom is basing her decision on 'agreeing or disagreeing' re: the move. Perhaps it's different in your state, but 'predictability' and routine are a big part of custody guidelines where I am in the Northeast. If you read the original post, the dad goes to the 'great expense and trouble' for court dates; the extra visits are not arranged for the sole purpose of seeing the child.

Why isn't it 'inexcusable' to choose to live thousands of miles away from one's child and then complain that everyone else makes it difficult?

It's not a 'mom' or 'dad' thing (although it seems to be reduced to the 'bio-mama drama' scenario). When my mom moved us across country and away from our dad and his family in the 70s, it [B]hurt us[B]. We, as children, experienced great loss. When I heard the 'if mom is happy, then the kids are happy' rhetoric from advisors encouraging me to move to fulfill my potential (and even to get a darn job in the awful academic job market), I knew they were just plain misinformed. I could tap into the sense of well-being that was restored when we moved back to where dad and his family was a year after our move and recognize that I needed to make living near my son's dad a priority.
post #14 of 42
The child likely also has a routine in place for school days, and those "extra" days that Dad's there disrupts the routine. I'm not sure I'd be thrilled with that, either. Especially if *I* then had to deal with the fallout.

Is it a shame that the little girl has a more limited amount of time to her Daddy? Sure, it is. But... Daddy's the one who created that limitation.
post #15 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by mooninjune68 View Post
When I heard the 'if mom is happy, then the kids are happy' rhetoric from advisors encouraging me to move to fulfill my potential (and even to get a darn job in the awful academic job market), I knew they were just plain misinformed.
Sure. I had advisors telling me the same thing. And yes, I probably could've gotten into the Berkeley program, though there would've been more interesting work to be done at/around MIT. Yes, afterwards I'd have been capable of making more money, having a more secure retirement, possibly even finding a berth at a decent school with good tuition benefits. However, it would've meant ripping the kid away from her father and grandparents, and keeping her far from them through most of her childhood. If the idea is to improve things for the child, I don't see how that makes any sense.

Angilyn, I'm 40, and went back to work recently after a few years off the market entirely, and before that a long history of part-time work. I work in a field where I had no prior experience. Most low-level admin/mgmt jobs don't require much if any prior experience; that's why you see 25-year-old managers in retail stores. 50s are certainly tougher, esp for men, and esp if there is no BA, but I used to see my community college students swing it. Lose the farm, get a job driving truck and go to school at night to retrain. Accountancy was a favorite, and yes, they got jobs in the end. In any case, it's a bit of a reach to say that any American has to move thousands of miles to make enough to live on and pay c/s. To get a job in a particular field, yes. To get a job, no.

As for the kids' mom, you're sure she'd really want your dh to move out of her kids' daily lives so that she could keep the house? If so, she must not think much of their relationship. There's no love lost between me and XH, but if it was necessary to camp out in a small apt so dd could still have two parents around, that's what we'd be doing.
post #16 of 42
Thread Starter 
Okay, I was just not answering the original responses that made a lot of assumptions about my situation because what I am interested in is NOT why mom does what she does, but on how to answer my step-daughter when she asks. But I will address a couple assumptions quickly to clear things up.

Trust me, We know how my step-daughter's mother feels. Perhaps it feels similar to what my husband felt when his ex took his daughter away from him one day and moved 1000 miles to another state and wouldn't let him see her for months. My husband gave up his career, friends, and life to move to where she was and fight for joint custody of his daughter who she took away. Don't bother telling me that SHE feels hurt and inconvenienced by the decision my husband made because it can not possibly compare to how he felt when his daughter was taken from him and he gave up everything to be with her.

Second, the reason he is there for longer than a weekend is because there is a custody hearing for a motion SHE filed, scheduled by HER lawyer for the middle of this week. In writing the agreement he agreed to VERY generous notice, against the advice of his lawyer, for his weekend parenting time because mom wanted as much notice as possible. He gave her even more notice than required and he politely requested the additional time. He didn't fly out on a whim and call her last week to ask for extra time, then get upset when she didn't change her plans to accommodate him.

Finally, we didn't move because of someone's career, so no need to apply any of those arguments to my situation.

There are lots of other assumptions that got my back up, but I'm just going to leave it at that... As a previous poster said, this is not about the adults. Regardless of the reasons for the move or anyone's feelings about why the situation is the way it is, it is the reality we are living with. My husband and I are interested in and committed to making it the absolute best situation possible for my step-daughter. And THAT is all I am asking for advice on. Not my life choices.

So for those of you who gave suggestions about how to answer her, thank you... I have passed them on to my husband and will keep them in mind for myself if I am the one fielding those questions. If anyone else has any other thoughts on how to answer her questions, I would love to hear more. Everyone else can keep fighting amongst themselves about why parents who move away are horrible and selfish, but I will assume you are talking about someone else.
post #17 of 42
:

I like your answer! A lot of people on this board do make a lot of assumptions. Everyone seems to have their own situation and their own baggage, and they have trouble seeing through anything but that lens.

I've been on this board for a year now, and I am starting to feel fatigued by some of the judgmental responses. Especially from those telling me what to do when they have no stepchildren of their own. So I feel your pain.

I never really answered your original question (just asked one myself), because in your shoes I would have been very tempted to say "Ask your mom."

This sounds like a tough situation. I hope it works out for you guys. No matter who is inconvenienced, blah, blah blah, I hope it works out so your dh gets to spend some quality time with his dd, especially since they both seem to want that.
post #18 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by aricha View Post
Trust me, We know how my step-daughter's mother feels. Perhaps it feels similar to what my husband felt when his ex took his daughter away from him one day and moved 1000 miles to another state and wouldn't let him see her for months. My husband gave up his career, friends, and life to move to where she was and fight for joint custody of his daughter who she took away. Don't bother telling me that SHE feels hurt and inconvenienced by the decision my husband made because it can not possibly compare to how he felt when his daughter was taken from him and he gave up everything to be with her.
In my state that kind of behavior would guarantee that the mother became a noncustodial parent. Not joint custodial; noncustodial. (I've seen women lose custody because they broke custody orders fleeing with children from violent men.) Kudos to your husband for going after her.

Quote:
Second, the reason he is there for longer than a weekend is because there is a custody hearing for a motion SHE filed, scheduled by HER lawyer for the middle of this week.
Yes, OK. None of that changes what I said about that, though.

Quote:
Finally, we didn't move because of someone's career, so no need to apply any of those arguments to my situation.
I'd never ask you to justify it or explain. But for me, I can tell you that unless the move was prompted by a terrible illness -- a biological parent's illness -- and a specialist across the country, I can't imagine a circumstance in which what I'd said would change. In the end, yes, this is about the child, and the child's priority.
post #19 of 42
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mama41 View Post
I'd never ask you to justify it or explain. But for me, I can tell you that unless the move was prompted by a terrible illness -- a biological parent's illness -- and a specialist across the country, I can't imagine a circumstance in which what I'd said would change. In the end, yes, this is about the child, and the child's priority.
And when you have more than one child, it becomes a balancing act between what is in the best interest of each individual child, not sacrificing other children for the sake of one. When my step-daughter was the only child, there was no question that we both would sacrifice everything, and we did, to give her the absolute best situation for her that we could. I don't expect others to understand who haven't been through what we have been through and aren't living in the situation we are living in. And the adults still continue to sacrifice whatever we need to in order to make this arrangement work the best way possible for our step-daughter. We didn't enter into this lightly and we waited years to do it as responsibly as possible. She is doing very well with the living situation... she is simply not doing well with her papa being in town and not being able to see him and no one able to give her a good enough reason why not.

Okay, say what you want, I am all done defending the move. I can't tell you everything that happened in the last 6 years of our life to give you the lens through which I am looking. It would be helpful if, should you feel like giving me advice, you would start from a place of assuming that we are loving, stable, responsible parents doing the absolute best we can with the hand we've been dealt and putting the interests of our children above all else, with the interests of our step-daughter always above all else... even when it doesn't seem like it from where you are sitting.
post #20 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by aricha View Post
She is doing very well with the living situation... she is simply not doing well with her papa being in town and not being able to see him and no one able to give her a good enough reason why not.


I'm sorry your feeling defensive and misunderstood. Your initial post raised very difficult issues and evoked many different perspectives. That's the risk of posting one's situation on a public board, no? Some posts were critical, yes, but not with carelessness or unreasonable presentation. I can't isolate the "she's doing very well with the living situation" from the second half of this statement. This entire statement allows the adults who made the choice to separate child from parent to deflect responsibility for creating the situation. If not for the move, the other issue doesn't exist, and it's difficult to understand how one can make an accurate assessment of how well a child is really doing from 3000 miles away. 3000 miles away.

It's simply unfathomable to me as a parent to think about living permanently 3000 away from my child. Can you look at your own children and say that you would ever, ever choose to leave them behind? If I made that choice, I would not feel entitled to any control over the fall-out. But you are right that no one knows your situation like you do. Perhaps it was a real 'Sophie's Choice,' a life-and-death situation. If so, then I am sorry you've been it that position. Best of luck.
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