I have two children, but this post mainly concerns my daughter, who is nine. The kids' father has been mostly absent from their lives since our separation. He takes them sporadically on weekends, but has gone up to 6 months without seeing them or speaking to them at all. The kids went through a period of blaming themselves for this, and it was really hard to help them heal from all of it. Their father recently remarried, immediately got his new wife pregnant (she announced her pregnancy two weeks after their marriage), and suddenly started showing an interest in taking the kids for visits again. They have gone two weekends in a row, which is seriously record breaking.
So that's the background. Here's the issue. My daughter plays sides. Hard. She'll come here after a weekend with him, and tell me how miserable it was. How her father just played X-box all weekend, or dragged them to the dog park and ignored them while he played with his dog. She tells me all about how he doesn't even talk to them, and doesn't do stuff with them, and she hates going there. I've told her multiple times that if she has problems with him, she needs to speak up and have a talk with him about it. (Side note: I have tried to speak to him on behalf of the kids about these issues, and it blew up in my face and didn't solv anything). She says that she can't talk to him about how she feels, because she worries that he won't want to take her anymore if he knows she's not happy with his behavior.
This Sunday, the kids came home and I asked them how their weekend went. They told me all about the $170 he spent taking them to the movies and dinner (I guess it was important to him to stress the cost of it?? As they wouldn't stop talking about how great it was of him to spend that much....heh). And then my daughter proudly proclaimed that she figured out a way to make her father happy with her. She just tells him that she likes it better at his house than with me. She tells him she doesn't like it here, and that makes him "sooo happy."
I was absolutely livid, and had no idea how to deal with it. I tried to explain to her that playing sides isn't cool at all. That she can't tell her father she hates it here if it's not true, because it'll just make him mad at ME, even if the immediate reaction is him lavishing her with the attention she so obviously craves. Christ...no WONDER he brags to everyone about what a fantastic father he is, despite being completely absent from their lives. The kids are manipulating him into thinking he's an amazing father, as a trick to try and keep him in their lives! It's totally messed!
So....how the heck do I even approach this one?? I'm angry at my daughter, I really am. I know I shouldn't be, but I'm just so hurt. I was surprised at how much this hurt me, knowing she's telling her dad she hates being with me. I don't know what to do. =(
I don't have an answer for you. I just know how it feels!
My step-son has lived with us since he was 8, but I've known him and had a good relationship with him since he was 4. Especially when he's just gotten back from a visit with her and knows he probably won't see her again for a long time, he tells her he hates it here; or he never wants to be here and only wants to be with her; or he only thinks of her place as "home", etc. Honest to God, we've been in the middle of an amusement park trip where he's clearly having fabulous fun, but if she texts him, he'll tell her he's bored, doing nothing and wishes he didn't have to be with us and could be with her, instead.
I have cried like a little girl about that stuff! My feelings were SO hurt...even though I know - intellectually - that his words do not reflect reality (even in his own heart). It must hurt even worse, for you to hear that stuff from your own child, that you've raised her whole life!
My step-son is a child, in a situation few mature adults could reconcile. He wants to believe he's as important to both of his parents, as they both are to him. But he is not his mother's priority. Her lifestyle and her hostility toward his dad come first. He can't accept that and wants (needs) - to do and say whatever will elicit responses from her, that negate that. And (like your ex) she responds very enthusiastically, when he strokes her ego by telling her it sucks here and he only likes being with her. She will tell him he's the most important thing in the world to her; that she can only stand to be away from him because it serves a higher purpose: she knows he'd rather live where she does, so she's staying put until he's old enough that the courts will listen to him and let him move back there with her; and the two of them just have to stay strong until that happens. Since her actions do not match her words of selfless maternal devotion, he needs to hear those words. And your daughter needs to hear whatever it is her father says to her, when she strokes his selfish ego.
My step-son tests this out with my husband, sometimes. When he departs for his long summer visit with his mom, he'll tell DH he doesn't want to go, doesn't want to visit her at all, anymore. We don't think that's true. We think he means he'll miss DH; he worries DH will be sad that he's gone; he wants to say something to make DH feel better; and Mom conditioned him at a young age to think these are the things that make parents feel good. But DH doesn't get all excited about it and reinforce that DSS should keep saying that type of thing, so he doesn't.
It sounds like your daughter tested out telling you she hates it at her dad's, but instead of it being some major bonding moment between you, you gave her practical advice about discussing it with him. So next time, she didn't do the same thing. She was honest with you about all of the dynamics at her dad's, and how she manipulates him by saying what he wants to hear, at your expense.
Of course that's hurtful for you to hear! But there IS an advantage, in that she's female and will spill all the beans to you. You don't have to guess what she says to her dad. I suspect, if she seemed emotionally inappropriate (gloating, as though you might be amused by how she manipulated him; or seeming like she was throwing it in your face) it was because she was afraid of your reaction and therefore didn't know how to act, herself. She's only 9. As with nervous laughter, or people who smile when they're about to lie or get in trouble, uncomfortable people can project things that may be the complete opposite of how they really feel.
I totally understand your feelings of anger! But, when you can calm down, it would probably be better to direct your anger where it belongs - at your ex, who plays with your daughter's emotions and has put her in a situation she can't handle, psychologically. Then talk to your daughter about what's motivating her behavior and encourage her to be honest and not manipulative.
What stands out for me as maybe positive about this situation is that she's conscious of her motivation for saying those things, and is discussing them openly with you. It's misguided, but she is only reacting to unfathomable behavior in a pragmatic way. Having a parent come and go is a lot for anyone to process, even us adults. I can't think of any decent explanation someone could give a kid, to help them accept that parent's behavior, not take it personally, and not try to fix it. My dsd has a mother like this, and it is absolutely heartwrenching to see her dealing with the nasty reality that her own mother could take or leave her. To try and explain that it's about the parent, not the child, is useless. It just doesn't seem to have any relevance for them. So yeah, I think it's perfectly natural for kids to try all kinds of parent-winning strategies.
And I think it feels so important to them, to get that parent consistently doing their job, it might feel more important than sticking to their values of right and wrong. Saying some magic words may seem like a small infraction, if it gets her dad to love her. But you are in good shape, because she told you what she said and why. At least you have a place to start having conversations about how some people just can't get it together to be good parents,or however you want to try to make sense of his behavior. And since this is about wanting to feel secure, to talk about how she has a good, stable, loving home, and that she can always count on you, even if her dad bails again. Maybe she also has other adults to lean on in her life. And to hopefully reiterate how important it is that she not lie or try to manipulate people.
Having a parent who hurts your kids is a hard problem. It never really goes away, and it seems to color everything for them.
Step mom to Malakie, Cameron , and Aurelia
I agree with singin'intherain - there ARE positives to this. At least she is willing and able to talk to you about it, AND she knows why she's doing it.
I know that, when my kids would come home from Dad's complaining about his not spending time with them, etc., I'd also tell them that they needed to talk to him. We role played - my taking their role, while they played Dad and how they imagined he'd respond; Then we'd switch.I also tried to emphasize to them that if Dad didn't know what bothered/upset them? How could he fix it? Also that I expected them to be open with me about things I may do that bothered them. Because, again - if I didn't know about it, I couldn't change it.
I would also likely talk to her about how unfair it is to you, Dad and herself when she lies about her feelings and tries to manipulate the situation. Because then no one will believe her if it's really an important issue.
Lastly, I would consider finding a counselor for her - a third party for her to help sort all of this out. At the end of the day, she is trying to please both you and her Dad - and that's an impossible place to be. It may be easier for her to have an uninvolved person to talk to about it - and find more productive ways to deal with the situation.
Okay, REALLY lastly (LOL)... when my kids would tell me that they didn't have anything to do, their stepsibs were doing their own thing, Dad was doing his own thing, etc.? I reminded them that they could choose to be bored and have nothing to do, or they could choose to do something themselves. They could read, they could play a game together, etc. That when they were together, they always had someone to do something with.
Thanks so much for the responses. I haven't been back because I've been dealing with the crazy drama-bomb that this whole thing created. Her father emailed me. It was a 10 paragraph email full of wild accusations he claims are from the kids. I have been physically ill for nearly a week about this whole thing. I have no idea how to proceed. He wants custody. He wants to switch them to his step-daughter's school. This is coming completely out of left field. He has shown minimal interest in their lives, and then suddenly (presumably triggered by his new wife) he wants to be a father to them.
He accused me of:
1) Medicating them to get them to "stop talking back". (I give them an omega 3 vitamin in a smoothie each night, as it's one thing that's lacking from our regular diet. It's not forced on them, they ask for it. And I only wish there was a magical pill to get kids to stop talking back! Hah!)
2) Badmouthing him and his step-daughter and his wife continually on Facebook. (I don't mention them on facebook. Most of the "facebook friends" I have don't even know I'm divorced, so why would I drag that into a public forum?)
3) Calling his wife "Captain Underpants" to the kids. (I am completely baffled with this one. Completely.)
4) Being racist towards his step-daughter (she is not caucasian. The kids once asked me if she was mexican because they thought she looked like Dora the Explorer. We giggled about their mistake, and suddenly this makes me racist.)
5) Making fun of his step-daughter to the kids. (They complain incessantly about her, and I sit and listen. I don't participate. I will no longer be allowing them to complain about the blatant favortism she receives, as it's clearly being translated to their father that I'm encouraging it.)
My daughter has been experiencing bullying at school, this past month. She suffered two big losses less than a month apart and is mourning, and her friends didn't know how to deal with it and started being mean to her. It's being dealt with. I have been worknig closely with the principal. My ex thinks that their school is crap (note, he has never even stepped foot in it, or spoken to any of their teachers!!) and wants them moved to the inner city school his step-daughter goes to. He raved about the anti bullying program (um, my kids' school has one, too!) and the free daycare, and the free ice skating (???) and how it was a much better school, and he would be moving them there. I looked into the school. It scores so lowly on the provincial testing that it doesn't even make the list. They have a 71% failure rate for their testing. The school has no french program (he claimed it had immersion, he lied). My children currently go to a 100% french school. It does not have free daycare. He lied. It just sounds like a giant train wreck of a school and I will NOT be agreeing to let them go.
Furthermore, I have been stable for the four years we've been separated/divorced. Living in the same home, with the kids attending the same school. He has had more jobs than I can count. More apartments than I can count. More girlfriends than I can count. He claims to be stable now, but I have heard that before. He has even tried moving their schools TWICE before, to have the kids go to the same school as the children of his girlfriend of the week/month. I refused, both times, and he dropped it.
I just don't know what to do about this, anymore. The last time he did this to me, I ended up on anti-anxiety medication. I'm getting close to that point, again. It's harassment. It's slander. It's pure lies. And it's damaging to the kids. He has played up this school to them to the point that my 9 year old actually thinks there are no bullies there and she will have every child as a friend (???). He actually discussed this with them before mentioning it to me! Every weekend the kids go there is a brainwashing session. It's disgusting!
I don't even know what to do. =(
I have contacted a local councelling program for kids dealing with divorce/grief, and am trying to have them enrolled asap. I don't know what else to do. This is beyond the realm of what I'm able to deal with.
If he had a problem with the school, he would have been there at some point. If he had a problem with your parenting he wouldn't have left it completely up to you to parent the kids.
Maybe you should tell your daughter that her dad is starting to get the impression she and her brother aren't safe and happy at your house. I think that would help her see that her words are contributing to putting your family in a bad situation, without telling her what to say or bringing her too far into the middle. Though honestly, she's putting herself in the middle. Maybe just remind her that lying can lead to very serious consequences.
I'm so sorry he's being such an a$$. Why do some people have to swoop in and cause chaos?
Step mom to Malakie, Cameron , and Aurelia
She's well aware of the chaos she has caused because I had no choice but to ask her about a few of the points above before I called her father to discuss it (ie: wtf did you tell your father that made him think I'm drugging you guys???) I've been where she is. I'm from a divorced family, as well, and know full well the hurt it can cause and the power struggles that come into it. She is completely insecure about her relationship with her father, because he hops in and out of their lives as it's convenient for him. Usually coinciding with when he's dating someone, as he uses the kids to impress the woman with his "hero dad show". So she's found this way to latch onto him and bond with him because she gets the attention she so desperately craves when she tells him these stories. He pats her on the head and tells her she's such a good girl for telling him, and then completely rages at me over it. It has started a WAR. I hate this.
He is from a divorced family as well. And had a father who is EXACTLY like he is. You'd think he'd be smart enough to pick up on the manipulation and games. But of course that doesn't fit his agenda. To him, he has found a reason to put himself up on a pedestal as the "better parent" because she has made a complaint to him.
This entire "I want custody" argument coincidentally popped up a week after I made a complaint to him about his complete lack of child support payments (he has paid twice in the past year - both times it was half the amount he was court ordered to pay). I am in the process of having the case enrolled with the organization that collects on your behalf, garnishing wages if necessary. But it's a lengthy process, and I worry so much that it will trigger a custody battle. He doesn't like paying child support. He recognizes that if he "takes" custody from me, he will be free of that obligation, and *I* will be the one responsible for paying HIM. Most of his decisions in life are financially based - ie: how can I get out of paying X. His father has actually "educated him" on the fact that paying taxes is optional, and he has been working under the table for most of his adult life (hence the reason that getting child support is a near impossibility - on paper, he makes nothing).
I document everything. Every legitimate complaint the kids make. Or the concerns they have about their OWN well being at their father's house. I believe that if we ever did have to fight it out in court, the judge would recognize that the kids are better off in a stable environment. I'm a huge proponent of joint custody, but in our case, our brief attempt at joint custody worked out to me having the kids 70% of the time while he lied constantly about "having to work" to get out of taking them (he was actually out with girlfriends, confirmed by mutual friends or his own stupidity as he would often forget his lie and "out" himself later on). This is all documented. His lack of interest is documented, based on days he takes them, and excuses for the dates he doesn't. He up and left the country and didn't even speak to the kids for the better half of a year. This is documented. I'm really NOT worried that he'll get custody. The issue here is that he toys with the kids and tries to convince them that this is going to happen. He has done this in the past and lost interest. This only hurts THEM. Of course they want to see their father more often. What child wouldn't? But he toys with their emotions, tells them that he's going to be taking them to spend the summer with him in the Dominican (never happened) or to live 50/50 with him (never happened) and then just loses interest. ALL the time!
In the meantime, I'm working my butt off to provide a stable, loving and safe home to my children. It is thankless work, it truly is. I feel like I'm under a microscope. DH and I are walking on eggshells, being SO so careful about what we say in case DD runs back to her bio-dad with more stories that will get lost in translation. It's not a fun way to live. And then he fails them, again, being sure to promise them that he'll call them Monday night (he does this EVERY Sunday he happens to take them) and then not calling. Last night I was dealing with a sobbing DD who is disappointed by her father yet again. I told her to call him, herself, in case he forgot (because he also accused us of refusing to let the kids call him - fact is, they've never asked) and she said no, there was no point, he wouldn't answer the phone anyway and would just make an excuse for it next time she sees him.