In The Best Interest Of The Child

There was a spirited discussion on CocoaMamas about whether or not fathers should (be able to) walk away from their parental responsibilities. One reader contacted me and said she wanted to share her story, which includes her making a conscious decision to not allow her child to see the father. The names and certain elements of the story have been changed to protect those involved.

Linda knew her daughter’s father for at least 10 years or so and they had worked together at some point. She wasn’t particularly attracted to him in a romantic way and they’d been generally friendly with each other. He liked her, but she didn’t exactly return the feelings, as she found him to be quite opposite of her.  She’d experienced the loss of someone close to her and sought the shoulder of someone who didn’t know this person as well, we she felt that was what she needed at the time. She would later realized he never asked her about the person or the loss. She learned early on that he was rather self-absorbed, which was a turn off.  They began to spend more time together during this time of grief and one thing led to another and they became intimate. They stopped “seeing” each other when she became pregnant.

She had some health complications while pregnant with her daughter and his contact was sporadic at best. Though he made promises to be there, he did not hold up his end of that. She sought support from her friends and for some reason, he was threatened by that. He felt it threatened his manhood so in efforts to compromise, she asked her friends to give her some space and allow him to come in and fill the role they had agreed to take on. Shortly after, he left to go overseas for over a month. Back at home, she was living with friends, occasionally sleeping on couches, facing eviction… she really struggled, all with no assistance or emotional support from him. When she’d reached a low place, she decided it was best she return home to her family. She wanted him to “be there” but she realized it was primarily because she did not want to be a single parent; it wasn’t that she wanted to be with him. She wanted to devise a coparenting plan, but it became clear to her that he was more focused on living his life uninhibited by the responsibilities of being a parent.

When he returned from overseas, he moved in with her, having had a change of heart. He stayed all of three weeks. In that time, he helped her with cooking and cleaning. Later, he went to one doctor’s appointment, the one appointment where she learned that her daughter needed to be induced due to complications. It was by chance that he was there for the birth, as she feels he likely would not have been had things turned out differently.

After her daughter was born, he came by every day for two weeks, then the visits became less and less. Then he stopped coming altogether. Because her daughter was premature, she required special care. He once asked if he could take her and keep her at his mother’s house for a month and Linda declined, citing the baby’s health issues. She did, however, let him keep her overnight once. When she called to check on her daughter, he snapped her telling her to leave him alone, that he could handle it. As any mother would, she worried about her child. He became uncooperative, ignoring her requests and special instructions. It became difficult to establish consistency.

In their daughter’s first year, he saw her no more than 10 times. He gave her money while she was pregnant, but after, his sister bought clothing for their daughter a few times. At this point, she had no idea where he was even living. After promising to come and cancelling several times, she took matters into her own hands and requested that he give her advance notice when he planned to take their daughter or come visit. He didn’t agree to this so as their daughter got older, she decided she didn’t want him popping in and out of her life, making promises to come and not showing up, etc.

When she moved to another state, back home with her family, he claimed she moved to keep his daughter away from him. She faced eviction, had nowhere to turn, and did what she felt was best for her and her child. She then sought to set up formal visitation and while he agreed to the mediation, she became sick and was hospitalized. He would later claim that she bailed on the mediation in efforts to keep him from seeing his daughter. To rectify this,  she filed papers to provide him with established visitation, even paid to have them delivered and he never responded. When she suggested he filed for visitation on his own, he said, “Over my dead body.”

What followed were a series of harassing, abusive emails and texts, questioning her capability as a mother, making her feel like she was responsible for his not seeing his daughter. Her responses became standard, “File for visitation.” He refused. He once randomly sent a box of clothes. Another time, he sent a picture of himself. In his emails, he rarely asked about his daughter. It was all about him, about the pregnancy, about all of the things she supposedly did to him. For her well-being, she made efforts to send her daughter to see him. She sent her through a friend or her sister. She insists that he make efforts to set up a formal schedule, but he refuses. He seems to want to see his daughter when its convenient for him, on his own time, which is almost never.

While Linda feels at this point he is of no use, she ideally wants him to be a part of his daughter’s life. She wants him to become more consistent with calling and visiting. She wants him to show that his daughter is more important than anything else going on in his life, but he has not done that. She is willing to compromise, meet him half way, but she feels finds that he is not willing to compromise. However, he would copy pictures from social media outlets and post them as if he was present at the events (like birthday parties). He makes it look like he is an involved father, when he is not.

She decided that it is in the best interest of her daughter to detach. It is also in her best interest because when he engages with her, he becomes abusive. She told him to focus on their daughter, but he rarely speaks of her. He uses his communication to berate her and she has had enough. She doesn’t think of him as an evil man, just immature, misguided, and unable to prioritize. When she feels that he finally understands the importance of having a solid relationship with his daughter, she will feel more comfortable letting him become a regular part of her life.

Thoughts?

16 thoughts on “In The Best Interest Of The Child

  1. Mainly I think that she needs to 100% accept that keeping her child and his relationship alive is not her burden to bare. I also think that men who have no real desire to co-parent frequently blame the mother. It really is ok to let go of the “hope” that children will always have positive social interactions with biological relatives, even parents. If we really felt that all that mattered was blood relatives we would not engage in intimate relationships with co-parents as women. It takes a village; and her co-parent is not the only positive male mentor she could introduce in her child’s life.

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    1. Tanji,
      that is my exact feeling. My daughter has dozens of men and women around her so she really doesn’t feel like she’s “missing” anything. She has no clue who this man is (though they’ve met) and I don’t feel comfortable throwing her to the wolves so to speak just because they share blood/DNA. The people that love her are the ones that have been there for her since day one and call her constantly to check in on her, send her mail. My exboyfriend (whom I barely speak to) even set up a college fund for her. So she has people. I just wanted to challenge the notion that “THE BIOLOGICAL FATHER” has blanket right to pop in or pop out just because they’re the biological.
      I think it’s more complicated than “can a father walk away”? Sometimes a mother has to take her child and walk away to do what’s best for the child.

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  2. I really wish that my own mother had made the decision “Linda” is making. My father by all outward accounts was successful and by outward accounts looked like a good father to have. He was a professor, a frat, and a community volunteer. The truth was he never visited even when he said he would. He would put the new wife (there were 4 by the time I was 18) before us no matter what. He missed graduations, birthdays, and everything else. He tried to make sure he paid as little child support as possible (when he did pay) and blamed my mother who eventually had a nervous breakdown when he left her at 8 months pregnant with my younger brother. He proceeded to come into our lives sporadically the rest of our lives. It was hurtful each time he said he would do this or that and did nothing and then blamed us for expecting it! Sometimes detachment is the kindest thing you can do for your child.

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  3. I also truly believe that a child’s primary caregiver should be healthy and free of abuse. Happy mothers make for happy children. To allow abuse into your life, Linda, would be at a great detriment to your child.

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  4. A man who is abusive towards a mother deserves no access to the children. The parents dont have to be together or even be friends. But respect is expected and the interaction should be cordial and free of abuse.

    I would NOT be comfortable sending my child to be around his father if his father was abusive towards me. Nope. Not gonna happen.

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  5. I don’t disagree with what others are saying, although I don’t think the issue is so black-and-white. She doesn’t think he’s “evil,” which I take to mean he is not emotionally or physically abusive to the child (even though his sporadic visits and failure to follow through on promises might very well be considered abusive.)

    There is an obligation to separate our relationships with fathers from our childrens’ relationship with their father. There is a point at which we have to remove our children from interaction with the other parent, but I’m not sure the picture painted above is that situation. I don’t think it’s as simple as “he’s abusive to me, so he can’t see them.” Moreover, having other loving male figures is wonderful and necessary, but it is not a replacement for a father. At the end of the day, a child may be missing something because of an absent relationship with the person who helped create them. That’s normal. We might not be able to provide that relationship, but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that it’s not unique and special; we shouldn’t pretend that the absence of it doesn’t have the potential to hurt.

    I’m not saying “Linda” has made the wrong decision. I don’t know enough about her life, her relationship with her ex, or her ex’s relationship with his kids, to make that determination. But I’m not comfortable with a knee-jerk “that’s right girl; you cut him off!” reaction. Her children will suffer for the absence of that relationship, and it’s important to try to maintain it, even if there is a personal cost for herself.

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    1. I don’t know ORJ – I hear what you are saying. But I was struck by the words “abusive” – I don’t know what that means explicitly, and you’re right, we would need to know more about that to make a more informed opinion. But if a woman tells me the father is abusive towards her, then I don’t think her being abused by him can EVER be healthy for the child.

      And I also question whether one can truly separate the parents’ relationship with each other from the relationship with the child. Where the parents can hate each other and each parent can still have a healthy relationship with the child. If a case out there exists, please let me know about it, because I have never seen it. People talk about it as an ideal, but I’ve never seen it. Even when as adults, our parents do each other wrong, that seeps into the parent child relationship. I think that’s because we are made to work as families, not as these autonomous relationships. You can’t be beating or verbally abusing my mother or father and then expect me, as a child, to not bring that experience into my relationship with you as my parent. You can’t expect that the wounds my mother holds do not seep into her every day experience of mothering – that’s impossible, and an unrealistic, if not unfair, thing to as of a person.

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      1. I don’t disagree with you. I also don’t want to downplay the seriousness of the word “abuse.” But the father described sounds like a jerk. Self-centered. Mean in emails. Immature and misguided were 2 words used. Should a “jerk” not be allowed to see his kids? I don’t know. I wondered, and maybe I’ll get push back for this, whether what she’s really pissed off about is his unwillingness to be who she wants him to be, and his unwillingness to be less of a jerk to her.

        I agree that these relationships all bleed over into one another. But I’ve always respected my mother for building my father up in my eyes, even though his behavior in their relationship (and, often, in ours) did not merit it. She presented him as flawed, like all of us. She never bad-mouthed him, even though if pressed, she was honest about his shortcomings. She understood that, no matter what, part of how I would define myself as a child would be linked to how I saw him. That is what children do; their relationships with their parents impact how they see themselves, and it’s important to recognize that.

        Now, she was not in a situation where she had to navigate visitation, and so it wasn’t exactly the same. But nobody is well-served by an immediate “cut him off” response. I’m sure Linda is thinking hard about it. I just wasn’t willing to co-sign on cutting him off given the story told in the post.

        As for whether the children will suffer from anything, we never really “know for sure.” But I think it’s safe to say that our relationships with our biological parents are unique, and are not the same as our relationships with people who love and support us, but who did not give us life. I should have said her children MAY suffer for the absence of the relationship, and accordingly, the decision to cut him off completely is a very complicated one to make.

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    2. “Her children will suffer for the absence of that relationship, and it’s important to try to maintain it, even if there is a personal cost for herself.”

      Disagree.

      What you’re basically stating is one of the top reasons victims of domestic violence stay with abusive spouses. They are willing to sacrifice themselves and absorb the “personal cost” to try and maintain relationships between the children and the abusive parent.

      The child suffering from absence is the father’s fault, in this case. Had he made a conscious effort the first few years to be an active and consistent part of his child’s life and steer clear of making Linda feel like shit during every interaction, this wouldn’t be an issue.

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      1. Like I said above, obviously abuse should not be tolerated just to maintain a connection with the child. But even in those cases, we have to acknowledge that something has been lost. We might agree that it is better for mother and child to be disconnected from father. But a relationship has been severed there, and there’s a cost. You said yourself in your response that the child “suffers.” Yes, it is Dad’s fault; but the child is still suffering.

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  6. I understood that you did not disagree with me but I do disagree with just this one small point your making. I happen to be thinking about this a lot lately hence why I’m dwelling on it a bit. I think that we get stuck in the perception that biological relationships with parents have to be held in a higher regard. Yes those relationships are often different, for those of us who maintain positive social interactions with parents, and uniquely with their parents. However, I believe it is the presumption that these relationships will be unique that often leads us to prioritizing them over ones that could have been much healthier.

    I also think that the privileging of blood over non-blood is what makes our society generally apathetic towards loving, helping, and nurturing strangers. That sad reality makes me increasingly ill. Sometimes the same women who will go to bat for their “family” would not lift two fingers to reach out to another person. I think that if you are truly inviting of people you would be just as willing to invite a stranger into your life as you would a family member. If you put that into the context of co-parenting, integrating a surrogate parent into your life would be an attainable goal.

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    1. Tanji, I COMPLETELY agree with you that we privilege biological relationships over non-biological ones, to our detriment. You are SO right that it encourages apathy towards the plight of people who are not related to us, and that that is problematic. I agree that “family” has less to do with blood, and more to do with relationships and support, whether or not those people are related to you.

      I meant only to suggest that it’s a different relationship; not better, not worse, not more special. Just different; and in that difference, unique. There are only 2 people in the world who collaborated (hopefully in the spirit of love) to give you life; we might decide that it’s not all that important, but there is nothing else like it. And, that I understand when adopted children who have had loving and stable homes go off in search of biological parents, just to be able to meet and interact with the person who gave them life, even if that person was not there. There is something miraculous about giving life to other human beings, just as there is something miraculous about the love we share with those who are not related to us by blood. And, again, children build part of their identity based on their relationships with the people who we call their “mother” and “father.”

      I am, however, also willing to admit that maybe the “uniqueness” I put on it is just a product of my socialization. Maybe in an ideal world, biology wouldn’t even be important enough to be called “unique.”

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      1. I don’t think biology affords anyone rights or privileged access to children. Why? It takes next to nothing to make a baby these days, as we can see by all the kids that keep popping up. You speak of love? Yeah, we HOPE children are conceived in love, but these days, that isnt always the case. Many children are “Ooops” and “WTF??” babies. So then it becomes the responsibility of the parents to decide if they are going to proceed with carrying the pregnancy to term and then how they are going to go about making the best life they can for the child.

        In a situation when a father agrees to help the mother, through pregnancy, after birth, etc and he defaults, that is a problem. When he walks away or his itneraction is sporadic because he has better things to do, I think the mother, who by default has become the primary care giver, has EVERY right to make the decisions about her child. That includes who she exposes that child to and who she allows to have impact and influence on that child’s life.

        I have no interest in letting my son form connections or bonds to fickle people. I have no interest in exposing him to people whose absence and false promises will hurt him. Consistency is CRUCIAL for small children. If a parent cannot provide that, then that parent has to deal with the fall out of the decisions made by the other parent.

        Linda was content to set up an arrangement where even he could come every 3 months, as long as it was consistent, something her child could rely on. He was not interested.

        And no, I will NOT accept my son’s father being verbally abusive towards me and grant him total access to my child. It speaks of his character and that is NOT who I want raising or having influence over my child.

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      2. Again, I did not say that biology should afford privileged access. I just said that it is a unique relationship that cannot be replicated; that in an ideal world, we might want that relationship to be cultivated; and that I’m not sure we should sever that relationship because Dad is a “jerk.” I agree that consistency for a child is important, but do we really want to draw a line that says “you and your father can’t see each other because Dad is a flake”? Again, I’m just not sure. I am not characterizing, btw, Linda’s situation as “Dad is just a flake.” Rather, I am responding to your claim about consistency; I do, however, maintain my ambivalence about the description of Linda’s situation.

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