Ex-Etiquette: Don't badmouth deadbeat dad
Q: Although my ex was granted visitation years ago, he rarely sees our son, who’s now 6. Dad pops in for a day or two and then decides to show up again in a year. My son adores his father, but I’m afraid his on-again, off-again approach to parenting is hurting our child. Father’s Day is coming up and it’s one of those holidays that my son gets a call from his dad. Maybe — you never know. Because of that, if his dad does call and wants to see his son, I’m thinking about preventing him from doing so. He has never paid child support. What do you think?
A: Although custody laws differ from state to state, it is our understanding that a parent can’t legally stop another parent from seeing their child when visitation has been ordered by the court. That doesn’t stop many parents from trying because, like you, they think they are protecting their children. And of course, as mothers we understand that. But, be careful: preventing the father from seeing his child might backfire. All the father has to say when confronted by your son is, “It wasn’t my fault. Your mother wouldn’t let me see you.”
So what’s good ex-etiquette when you have a no-show parent? Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 3, “No Badmouthing” is a great place to start. Saying anything bad about dad will hurt your son in two ways. First, he’s bummed that Dad’s not there, and second, he’ll personalize all the bad things you’re saying.
Next, don’t make excuses for Dad in an effort to lessen the blow. Better to look for ways to reinforce the love of others who are also prominent in your son’s life. Start with something that builds his self-esteem, “You are such a great artist. I love it when you draw me pictures.” Then continue by together naming people your son can depend on. “Let’s name them all …” (grandparents, other family and friends, teachers, and most of all, you.) Although we don’t believe there is much that can fill the gap left by an inattentive parent’s insensitivity, it’s a step in the right direction.
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Something else to consider: Because your son’s father doesn’t use his court-ordered visitation doesn’t mean he shouldn’t help support his child.
Finally, a judge may agree that Dad’s shotgun parenting is not in the best interest of your son and temporarily stop visitation, so keep records and if Dad’s attendance doesn’t improve in the near future, you’ll have the proof a judge will need to limit dad’s time — if it is determined that is in the best interest of your child. Unfortunately, no-shows on holidays are memories that will stay with your son, possibly forever.