This has been a huge issue in our lives for a long time now, and it's not getting any better - I'm looking for any suggestions you have on how to handle it. Let's see if I can explain it to it makes sense...and I'm sorry for the length - please read it and help if you can.
I have 2 stepdaughters, ages 9 and 5, as well as a daughter who is 3. We all used to live in the same city. Dh and I were as involved as their mother would permit in the dsds' lives - school volunteers, taking care of them on sick days, etc. We had them alternating weekends, holidays, and a weekday evening. Dh had been a stay-at-home dad pre-breakup, so that didn't feel like much for him, and he always asked to provide extra care whenever their mom needed it. Throughout that whole time, she did whatever she could to keep the kids' access to their dad minimal - long hours of care, sudden cancellations, making transitions difficult, negative comments about us to the kids. We had a good relationship with the kids, but the stress of going back and forth under those circumstaces was not good for them or for us. When we had a daughter together and dh became a stay-at-home dad again, it felt really awkward all around that he was available full-time to offer care, but that their mom would not increase their time with dad.
So, when I got offered a job in another city far away, we agreed that I would take it and that dh, dd, and I would move. My older dsd was really happy, and looking forward to having homes in 2 cities, thinking visiting a new city to see dad would be neat, and explicitly looking forward to not having so much 'back and forth' and conflict. We had to go to court to get an access schedule for after the move as their mom would not agree to any access. The court agreed with our pov on access, and set pretty generous holiday and telephone access. Their mom was very upset.
Through the first 2 summers, both girls came out to see us. The older one has experienced a lot of trouble despite her initial enthusiasm - some nasty stretches with telephone access, where she would scream at her dad ("you need to apologize one thousand times for everything you've done wrong ever!" kind of thing) or hang up on him, or go completely monosyllabic, a hard time sleeping off and on while with us. While with us, she has also seemingly had a good time - we made sure she got one on one time with her dad, they saw a counsellor together to adjust to the move, she helped pick out summer activities ahead of time. Maintaining meaningful access has been challenging overall with both kids, as their mom tells them not to give us certain information (where they're going, what they're doing, for a while what school they were attending), does not help them send letters/cards/pictures (although we do), and pulls stunts like not sending them with the right gear or refusing to take their calls from our house then telling them we won't let them talk to her. She has major, major issues and has had them long enough that I can tell you they aren't going anywhere.
The last 2 access periods, the 9 yo hasn't come. The mom brought it up first, saying that the 9 yo refused to come - eventually the 9 yo confirmed this. The 5 yo has flown out on her own twice, but is having some issues about coming when the 9 yo doesn't, understandably. There have been periods where the 9 yo is really difficult to deal with on the phone, lots of anger and hostility. But most of the time she is absolutely hungry for details of what we're up to, wanting home videos and pictures, and to know what her 3 yo half-sister is up to - except that she now says she isn't a 'real sister' and that it's ok never to see her again. She has said she won't come this summer, which will make it a year. Today, dh asked her if she would like to come for just the last week that the younger one is here, instead of the full time. She said "yes, yes, yes!" and said she'd put on her mom to work out the details. Her mom got on right away with no intermediate conversation with the child, and said that the 9 yo in fact never wants to see her dad again, that it's all his fault, and that he is never to bring up access again. This right after dsd sounded thrilled and said she wanted to come! Her mom then wouldn't let dh speak with his daughter again. He's so worried he'll never see her again.
So...what do I do to help him? How do we continue to support/stay in the lives of both these girls? How do we explain this to a 3 yo who loves her big sisters to death and keeps wondering if it will be the older one's turn to visit her soon?