The divorce decree is clear. Children under the age of 18 are to go to all scheduled visitations with their father. Should be easy, right? Well, it has been anything but. There seems to be a trend within our four children. The older the child is, the more adamant they are about not wanting to visit their father.
Our 18 year old has no memory of any positive interactions with him. She remembers being in the same vicinity as he while family fun was being had. But that was as good as it ever got for our oldest daughter and her father. When she was about 13, she started approaching me about his behaviors that were very unsettling to her. At every family meal, he called her a pig, admonished her and her siblings, then moved on to whatever topic disgusted him the most at the moment. His criticisms and shows of aggression were getting worse, and she felt he was becoming abusive in general. When she did try to talk to him, he just got angrier.
She wanted me to know of all the sneaky things she’d seen him do. She had lost the ability to respect him and she couldn’t remember even liking him. She was growing more uncomfortable around him. I do remember how horrified she was by her father’s behavior after I asked him to take her to all-day soccer tournaments. The next day she begged me to make sure he never took her anywhere again. If she found herself in his presence, she quickly tried to get away from him. At one point he showed up at her soccer banquet, and when she saw him already sitting in there, she refused to go in. The rest of the evening I tried to change her mind.
During the divorce, our second child started refusing visits with his father also. Our first-born had been avoiding him for a while, and now the 11 year-old had started to grow distraught and nervous around his dad. He would complain of headaches and stomachaches and would try to retreat in his room for long periods of time, not wanting to talk or play. For the first time, I noticed he was experiencing problems with school and starting to put on weight. He had always been quite shy and passive and when my ex’s temper would flare, which was almost a daily occurrence, our son would completely shut down.
Back at that time, my husband responded by filing contempt charges against me. I had to explain to the courts that I wasn’t comfortable threatening them or physically forcing them into their father’s car. I didn’t want to start forced visitations. This was because they were 14 and 11 years old at the time. Plus the kids were so adamant. My ex’s attorney angrily demanded that I make them go in the same way I made them do anything else they refused to do. But there has never been ANYTHING they have adamantly refused to do. These children have never behaved like this. Until then they’d never offered to be punished instead of doing what was asked of them. These were red-flags. If any of the kids acted this way about going to school, for example, I would know something was seriously wrong and thoroughly investigate before blindly sending them on their way. During the marriage their father hadn’t been involved in parenting to any significant degree. And the children had never wanted spent large amounts of time with him. Once the divorce started and the older kids found out they were expected to stay with him for days at a time, they panicked.
Now, three years later, the third child is refusing many visits. Recently my ex told this child, now 12 yo, that he would sue me if she didn’t get into his car. She was almost hysterical. From the texts I received over the weekend, her anger never faded. The kids have very lasting, deep resentment toward him when they’re forced to visit. However our youngest child is 8 and she has a fairly good relationship with her dad. She’s had spells where she just doesn’t want to visit him. But most of her issues were from when her father used to hide his phones so our youngest two kids couldn’t contact me.
After the divorce ended, I was able to talk the middle two children into giving their father a chance. Although the oldest refused, the other children stuck fairly closely with the visitation agreement. The second oldest child went about half of the time, the third and fourth children went to all of them. But with time, they’re growing more upset. I keep suggesting they talk to their father, but they tell me that I don’t understand. “You don’t know what it’s like to spend time with him or tell him something he doesn’t want to hear!!” They are scared to express their feelings to him, and they feel depressed after being with him. In fact, one of our children has never really been able to sleep at his dad’s house.
Another big source of contention is their dad’s girlfriend. The kids cannot find any appreciation for her personality and they aren’t happy with her parenting them. However they are expected to treat her and her little boy as family when she lives there. Sometimes their father refers to her as his wife and she lives in his house, but sometimes they break up “for good” and she moves out, until they make up. The kids are never sure what to expect when they arrive at their dad’s.
Recently my ex told me that until the kids are 16, they have no say in whether they visit him or not. I don’t think he understands how much they resent him over that. The kids are also pretty upset with the idea of me going back to court. The last time he filed contempt, he asked for me to incarcerated. If that had happened then or were to happen now, the kids would never forgive him.
I would love for our children to feel good about going to his house. After the divorce, when the kids WERE visiting their dad, my stress lifted more than I can express. All along I have encouraged the children to visit their dad, and many times I’ve successfully talked them into going. As the children have gotten older and are refusing visits again, my ex has demanded that I “show them who the adult is” and do whatever it takes to make them visit him. I still believe that’s beyond what the courts would want… to damage the kids further by threatening and trying to physically force them at this age. (I HAVE physically forced children into his car up to the age of 9 or 10, but it’s awful.)
Our children are great kids who’ve lost trust in some adults because of forced visitations. They would be so much better off if their father could find a way to attract them into his life instead of forcing them. I pray he will find some clarity and work on being a dad the kids can believe in and enjoy.