This is a personal story. I have a couple of reasons for writing this. One of those reasons is simply because I am a writer and writing is how I do things. Another reason is to help other people. Recently, I have seen and read of other people trying to protect their children and feeling guilty about it.
Before I begin, I must clarify two things. First of all, as I write, it may seem matricentric with the mother as resident and father as non-resident. While I do realise that these situations can occur the other way around, it is still most common for mothers to be the resident parent and it is the case for me. Secondly and, perhaps, most importantly, I am absolutely an advocate of children spending time with both parents. I truly believe that, with certain but very few exceptions, it is a cruel person who would deny a father his child (or vice versa). In my honest opinion, a good mum will not push a dad away or prevent him from seeing his children. I must digress here for my intention is not to rant.
So, here is my story. I have two children. They each have a different father. My eldest child has a good relationship with his. My youngest, however, does not have the same. When I finally left our shared home in March 2014, I made sure that my son still saw his dad. I would take him over there on a Saturday. We began with having days out together but, without going into detail, this set-up didn’t work. I then started leaving my son with his dad for a couple of hours eventually encouraging him to stay overnight. My son didn’t want to stay there. Of course, I felt bad for making him stay but I would have felt bad for not encouraging it. It was a no-win situation for me. I could make my child go to his dad’s knowing he didn’t want to go or I could be ‘one of those’ mums, seen as someone who had stopped a father seeing his son. I have seen too many mothers deny their children a relationship over petty or selfish reasons, and I have seen too many loving fathers made to feel like they don’t deserve to be a dad or their children are better off without them. Sometimes this leads to them feeling unable or unworthy to fight while manipulative mothers turn children and other family and friends against them. I won’t deny that there are plenty of dads who simply do not bother but I am also very aware that there are mothers who play the game. I didn’t want other people to think this of me.
I continued making sure my son went over to his dad’s every weekend. After a while, it became every other weekend or would cancel because he had other plans. My son was so relieved each time he didn’t have to go to his dad’s, especially once I’d met my new partner. Since the day they met, my son has preferred my partner’s company to his dad’s.
My son had begun to get quite upset, not really understanding why he had to go to his dad’s. All I could say was ‘because he’s your dad’. I knew my son’s reasons for not wanting to go – mainly because he was just ignored, left to watch television while his dad played computer games. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problem with children watching TV sometimes but I do have a problem with it being all they do. Dad never cleaned or tidied either. I’m not the tidiest of people myself but there is a big difference between a couple of dishes in the sink because you haven’t got around to it yet and having a house full of rubbish all over the floor, dishes constantly stacked, and mess everywhere because you just can’t be bothered. As you can probably imagine, I was reluctant every time to send my son.
What I did, in the end, was to let my son decide. After he’d been going for about a year, I told him he’d have to keep going for another year, which happened to be his 11th birthday. I thought this a reasonable age to decide, and a reasonable amount of time to give his dad a chance at being a dad.
Well, in the end, neither my son nor I had to make the decision. I had decided to ask for maintenance. Not long after this, my son’s dad suddenly didn’t have a job any more. He stopped using social media and he got rid of his mobile phone. I could no longer contact him other than just turning up at his door. I did this a couple of times and there was never any answer, regardless the time or day. He was due to have my son the weekend before my son’s birthday but we could not get hold of him. I had managed to get a message to him via mutual friends. I found out that the message had got to him by sheer co-incidence that I happened to be walking past somewhere he happened to be. He made excuses for not having contacted. So, he had got the message but chose not to respond.
Even though his dad had made it obvious he wasn’t going to make any effort, I still felt bad that I wasn’t taking my son to see him. With no way of contacting, I couldn’t make any arrangements so the choice was out of my hands.
If I thought that my son wanted to see his dad, I would still make the effort but he doesn’t. He has chosen my partner to be his dad. This is something else about which I feel strange. I don’t like children being raised to believe someone is their parent when they are not. I don’t like the idea of a step-parent taking over and replacing a parent when the parent wants to be involved (and has given no reason not to be). However, my son knows full well who his biological dad is and he knows who loves, nurtures, and cares for him as a dad is supposed to. They are not the same person.
This is not some sort of justification post, it is me getting thoughts out of my head and confirming things. I did not stop a father seeing his child, I made as much effort as I could to keep him involved so there is nothing to justify. It has taken me a long time to stop feeling bad about it, although I know I never had to feel bad about it.
I hope that this post can help other people in similar situations. The main points I am making is that there are times you will feel that whatever you do is wrong and that the right decision to make sometimes has to be the lesser of two evils.
I will never condone any parent deliberately keeping a child away from another parent out of convenience, spite, bitterness or selfishness or even opposing parenting style. It is normal for a good parent to feel guilty if the children do not see the other parent. A good parent will do what is best for the child. This usually includes ensuring a good relationship with the other parent. I say ‘usually’ because, as I said before, there are some circumstances in which the child must be kept away.
The way I see it is that if you have made an effort but the effort is ignored and you make it clear that the door is always open, then you have done all you can. My son has a loving family, including members of his dad’s family (because it’s not their fault he chose not to bother), my family, and my partner and his family.
Anyway, I hope I have put my point across clearly but I think this may have come across a little disjointed. I no longer feel guilty that my son doesn’t see his dad because I have come to realise and accept that my son is happy. He is old enough and intelligent enough to know what he wants and I have made sure he knows he only has to ask if he wants to see his dad.
So for all those mothers (and fathers) who do make the effort or who have a good reason not to, please don’t feel bad. In those exceptional circumstances when keeping the child away is the best thing for their own safety, think about how much worse you would feel if you didn’t keep them safe. For those who have tried to keep someone in your child’s life who has proven they are not interested, well done – you can be proud that your child will know you did your best. As for those who keep a child away from a loving parent because of selfish reasons, think about how your children will feel and whether that is best for them.
That’s about all from me. Thanks for reading.