Divorced dad is guilt-tripping his boys.

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am a mother of 5 children and 1 step-child. My 2 oldest sons, ages 8 and 7 are by my ex-husband. After getting married to my current husband he inlisted into the army. When then had to re-locate to a new state that put the boys about 1200 miles away from their father. Their father now has a new girlfriend and a new baby and the boys don’t seem to want to accept her or the baby. Also their father is supposed to provide the transportation for them to get to his house for visitation but he says he can never afford this and then hardly ever sees them.

I try to promote a good healthy relationship for them with their father and his new girlfriend but I don’t know how to continue to do this when he is very manipulative and neglectful to the boys. He NEVER calls them and tries to tell him only about all the things he will buy them if they come see him and also what he would get them if they would only come live there. Also this is how he writes them after our oldest son sent him a letter asking if he could spend part of the summer at the grandparents:

” That is very good to hear but your comment that your going to Ohio for the summer I don’t think so punk you’re going to spend as much time with me as possible so that you will start loving me like you did when you lived up here you have spent to much time away I remember when you never wanted to leave my side I want things back that way I miss you son and it hurts me to hear you say that you don’t want to come see me and your new brother

I love you
Daddy”

There are just so many things that make me feel that he is controlling and abusive in some ways most of it in the way he talks to the boys. I just don’t know what is right for me to do? Do I try to continue to support and push this parent relationship that I feel is unhealthy? I just want to do what is best for my kids, I grew up without my father and I am having a hard time figuring out what kind of relationship would be healthest for the kids? Please help!!

A: This is really, really complicated. Some divorced dads find the situation so painful that they don’t call, not because they don’t love their kids but because it makes them miss the kids all the more. Some divorced dads are so inexperienced in dealing with young children that all they can think of for attracting their attention is promises to buy things. Is it possible that the kids’ father is more clueless than controlling? Is it possible that he really can’t afford flight tickets? In spite of calling your boy a “punk,” his letter is quite poignant. He sounds more hurt than manipulative. Since you’re the one who moved away, maybe you could offer to help with flight tickets once in awhile. A little practical help might buy a great deal of good will.

The kids and their dad have to forge their own relationship. As long as you believe that they are safe with him, they need to have time with him. Stick with your divorce agreement. There is no need to be argumentative about the facts. If he does try to guilt-trip you or your sons, don’t rise to the bait. Just do what you are supposed to do and expect him to do the same. You should never, ever speak badly of their dad to the boys. The kids need to figure out for themselves what kind of guy he is and how to be with him. If he doesn’t provide adequate care or if it turns out that he really is hurting them, you’ll need to go back to court to revise your visitation agreement.

If the boys do start visiting their bio-dad regularly, his wife will be co-parenting your kids. You want to have the best possible relationship with her that you can manage. Then you will be able to easily communicate the kids’ needs, concerns, and progress with each other. When the women have some ease in their relationship, kids seem to transition better as they go back and forth between their parents’ homes.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Jan 2008

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). Divorced dad is guilt-tripping his boys.. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/01/26/divorced-dad-is-guilt-tripping-his-boys/