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"He didn't take responsibility when they were younger." Divorce and children.

"He didn't take responsibility when they were younger."

"My former husband want to have my daughter, Jill, spend three weeks with his new family this summer," Joan Rice, A dark-haired, slender woman in her late forties, spoke sharply. Since our divorce, Jack has never used the two-week summer visiting rights to which he is entitled. I am prepared to challenge two weeks; never mind three. I spoke to my lawyer. I guess he and Jack's lawyer spoke together. For whatever reason, they both thought that it would be better for everyone, including Jill and my son, Jim, if we could settle this through some kind of mediation. That's why we're here. I have to tell you that it is against my best judgement. I'm not sure what we are going to accomplish. But my daughter, as well as my parents, thought I should give it a try.

"Let me at least tell you where I'm coming from. Jill is now 15. When she was a little over three, I had a son, Jim, who is now 12. Jim was born with a severe problem with his legs. From the beginning, he required multiple surgeries. The surgeries took place over a period of six years.

"Our marriage, which I thought had been good up to the time of Jim's birth, rapidly went downhill. It was a tough time. There were a lot of expenses. During each of the surgeries, Jim was in the hospital for a week or two. Since the hospital had a live-in arrangement, I spent every bit of time with Jim in the hospital.

"At the beginning, I was so busy I didn't notice how little Jack was doing to help me. It was my family that pulled together. My parents, especially my mother, was available for babysitting and help whenever I needed her. By the time the last surgery was over and Jim was about six, Jack came home one night and told me the marriage was over. For a few years, he had been working longer hours because we needed the money -- so we never seemed to have much time together.

"Everybody has told me since that I should have been aware of what was happening. But what can I say? I wasn't. And even if I should have been aware, it seems to me that Jack should have had the decency to say something to me -- that there was a problem. Instead, he just said that he had given it a lot of thought and tht it wasn't working. He had come to the conclusion that the marriage wasn't going to work and that there was nothing I could do to change this decision. He said it wasn't worth trying anymore; the marriage was ended. Later on, it became clear that he had been running around with his current wife for at least a year. Shortly after the divorce was finalized, he remarried.

"Over the last nine years, he's been an occasional father to my children. He has, I will say, kept the financial commitments he agreed to in court. Of course, since that decision was made early in his career, it really isn't a lot of money. If it wasn't for my own parents' support, as well as the fact that five years ago I was able to go back to work, I would not be able to manage. Of course he'll tell you that he's done whatever he could. That's what he would tell me whenever I have asked for more support. And now, he has two little children and a wife to support.

"About two years ago, he began to call my daughter, Jill, more frequently. He's actually had her visit on a few weekends. It's been difficult for my daughter as well as for me. About a month ago, he asked whether Jill could join his family for a summer vacation. In all of this time, he's hardly had any contact with Jim. In many ways, I think it's terribly unfair that he calls Jill and not Jim. He does manage to speak to Jim briefly whenever he comes to pick up Jill. When I objected to the summer visits, Jack told me that Jill is now 15 and she has some rights to make decisions for herself--including what to do about her father.

"In many ways, I feel like I did when Jack told me he was leaving. I am being told that Jill is going to visit and the decision is being made without me. I feel like I'm being blamed for his lack of visiting the children. He didn't take much responsibility when they are younger. And I'm not sure he can really take any responsibility now. Why should my daughter be heartbroken and disappointed? And what about Jim? Jim never has really had a father. Jack's visits with Jill make him feel terrible."

"I am not going to argue that I was right about what I did and when I did it or why I did it. But that's eight years ago," Jack Rice, a tall, youthful-looking man spoke hurriedly. "I just wasn't able to deal with all of the problems of a baby who wasn't normal when he was born.

"I felt so badly about what I did that I wasn't able to face Jim or Jill for a number of years. And I still feel terrible about it. It's not that I don't want to talk to Jim or try to do more with him. I'm just so ashamed of myself that I just can't deal with Jim now. Talking to Jill is the one way I think I have of tiptoeing back in.

"I can only tell you what I experienced right after Jim was born. We were both upset. I understand that now a lot better than I did then. I felt that not only did I have a son with trouble, but that I lost my wife to my son and her parents.

"they were all wonderful in the way they took over. Not only joan, but her parents too. But the way they took over, I felt completely shut out and useless. When I would come home, I was told what was happening, what was going to happen and why it was going to happen. Nobody seemed to want to include me. Nobody, not even all the doctors or all the social workers or anyone. Jim's doctors never invited me to any conferences. No one was interested in how I was feeling. There was even a group discussion for mothers--but nothing for fathers. So all I ever heard was 'This is what's happened' and 'This is what you're supposed to do.'

"I was very depressed. I was very upset; and I guess I did not do the right thing. I felt that the marriage had ended by the time Jim was three. I felt like an extra person in the house; no one seemed to be interested in me. I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. I even started drinking more than I should for a while.

"Then I turned to a woman who worked in an adjoining office. With her help, I felt better and I had more courage. It was then that I asserted myself--not necessarily the way I should have--but I felt I had to start a new life. By then, the anger that I felt from my wife and her family was such that I felt I just couldn't go near them--and for a long time after the divorce, I just couldn't deal with them at all.

"What I did was not courageous. After I had two children in my new family and they were beginning to grow up, I began to feel I should try to establish more contact with Jill and Jim.

"Joan will tell you that I never held out any money from them. I did the best I could. Since I've done reasonably well over the last few years, I would certainly plan to contribute my share to whatever medical or college funds are necessary in the future.

"It may be that they don't need me, but I certainly want to do my share. I believe I am ready to do things differently. Three years ago, as I became more of a father to the kids in my new family, I began to feel depressed about Jill and Jim. The way I felt was also affecting my current family. So I went into psychotherapy. I got a great deal out of it; I really have a new view of what I did in my first marriage. Joan and I should be able to work things out so I can do more for my children. I know I have still ignored Jim, but I'll try harder there. I am willing to do anything to make something happen."


Joan and Jack Rice came to discuss a proposed three-week summer visit to Mr. Rice and his new family by their 15-year-old daughter, Jill. Mrs. Rice was opposed to any extended visit. She explained that although her ex-husband had rights for a two-week summer visit, he had never exercised them. Jill's visit would just be another offense to her younger child Jim. Their lawyers suggested they try mediation before going to court.

Mr. Rice agreed that he had not been a responsible father or husband in the past. He thought his ex-wife's negative attitude toward him was an important reason for his not visiting. he had left the marriage because he felt left out and useless in caring for their younger son who needed a great deal of special medical care. With the help of psychotherapy, Mr. Rice felt that he was able to re-evaluate his behavior and his rile in the ending of his first marriage. He now recognized that he had contributed to its failure.

Now that he had begun regular visits with his daughter, Jill, he realized how seldom he had ever included his son. He believed his daughter wanted to spend more time with him, and he felt it would be important for them to get to know one another before it was too late. He hoped that his ex-wife would re-evaluate the situation and give permission for his daughter to come for the summer visit.

In the course of the meetings, Mrs. Rice explained that she did not trust Mr. Rice's ability to act in the best interests of his daughter. She felt that as long as things went well he would pay attention to her, but as soon as Jill made any demands for consistency or for help he would flee the way he did from the marriage. She resented the fact that he had fled from his responsibility as a father after their son, Jim, was born. She felt he never understood the terrible impact that he had made on her as well as on the children. She did not believe that anything could change him so that he could behave more appropriately for his children.

Children visiting the non-custodial parent in a divorce can be difficult under the best of circumstances. Their own changing lives as well as the changing circumstances of their parents' lives presents ever new problems.

When the divorced parents have not managed the anger and disappointment they may have about the marriage, they may place the children in the middle of their disagreements.

The Rices were never able able to discuss what happened in their marriage. Mrs. Rice is still concerned that her husband will repeat her abandonment with her daughter. Mr. Rice still could not interact with his son, Jim, or understand the impact of visiting his daughter on him.

Discussing these feelings with their parents can help clarify these attitudes about themselves. Discussions with both parents present if possible, aloows the parents to discuss how their own problems led to the divorce.

The Rices were able to agree that the difficult relationship they had with each other could be a problem for the children. Although Mrs. Rice did not believe that her husband had changed so hat he could behave in a responsible fashion, she did feel that he was making an effort to change. She also felt that revisiting the past, although painful, might also free her from her own misperceptions of what happened and her feelings about her own adequacy.

Mr. Rice thought that although he believed that psychotherapy had already freed him, that it was important to hear what his behavior was like from his wife's vantage point. After a series of meetings, Mr. Rice had a clearer understanding of his wife's concerns not only about his relationship with his daughter, but the importance of considering his son in a pattern of visiting. They believed that if they could identify what were realistic expectations of visiting both for a day and for an extended time could be that would be easier to allow the visiting to take place.

They decided three-day weekend visits during the summer with both children would be better than one long extended visit with Jill. When this was discussed with the children, they were relieved. They felt they could be companions together while they learned about their father's new family.
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Article Details
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Author:Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Jan 1, 1991
Previous Article:Augmentative communication 1991.
Next Article:President's message.

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