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Visitation Crisis for 11-Year-Old
Q: I will be moving in with a long-time male friend who has become much more than that in the last six months. We are both in our 40's and he has an 11-year -old daughter who he has been spending time with every other weekend. The rest of the time she resides with her mother (from whom he is divorced). The mother is VERY upset with this turn of events and while I do not think she has actually made any negative comments to her daughter (whom I have known since her birth), she has certainly clearly communicated her feelings through her attitude and behavior. The daughter is now upset and I believe she feels she is betraying her mother if she is friendly to me and now feels funny about visiting her father.
My question is: Should visitation with the father be left up to the discretion of the child? In other words, if she does not want to visit, should that be the way it is, or should that be something considered but ignored with visitation taking place anyway?
What would be in the best interest of the child?
A: This is a difficult situation and unfortunately you are the recipient of the passive/aggressive (and I might add very predictable) reactions of your boyfriend's ex-wife to your new living situation.. I feel badly for the daughter who is caught in a terrible bind. I also feel sympathetic towards the father if he will not see his daughter at all now because of her feeling disloyal to her mother.
Of course the child should not be guilted or coerced into visiting her dad, anymore than she should be made to feel guilty if she does visit him. In an ideal world, your boyfriend and his ex would be able to sit down and have a dialogue, wherein feelings on both sides are expressed and the focus is on how their daughter can maintain the healthiest, most loving relationship with both parents. In the usual world of bitter divorce this dialogue can't take place because the parents won't put aside their own anger and egos to focus on what's best for the child.
I would hope if they can't have the ideal dialogue that I described, that they (ex husband and wife only) seek out a skilled family therapist who can mediate a child-centered dialogue on this issue. The daughter has got to be taken out of her untenable position of having to hurt one or the other parent. I hope they can focus on "the prize", their child. You can support your boyfriend and encourage him to "do the right thing" but clearly need to absent yourself from playing any active role with the mom or the daughter; this is their family dilemma.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.