Problems of the Visiting Parent in Divorce
Problems of the Visiting Parent
By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.
Even though he is usually not the custodial parent in a divorce, Dad still plays
important role in the lives of his children. If they are to successfully adjust
to the divorce, they need regular, frequent contacts with him - preferably weekly
or semiweekly – no matter how brief those visits may be. Such contacts
say to the children, "I still love you even though I am no longer living
Research by two psychologists, Judith Wallerstein and Joan
Berlin Kelly, has shown that for as long as five years after the divorce, fathers
who have not been involved with their children will still be missed and
will affect their children's self esteem in a negative way. Children who feel
unloved or rejected by one parent will have a difficult time learning to love
In their book, Surviving the Breakup: How Parents and Children
Cope with Divorce (Basic Books, 1980), Wallerstein and Kelly report that most
of the fathers in their study fortunately kept contact with their children,
but no matter how frequent or regular it was, it was still not enough for them.
Only 20% of the children were satisfied with the amount of time they spent with
their Dads during the first year after the divorce.
In many custody cases, bi-monthly or monthly visits are
deemed "reasonable" by the courts granting the divorce, but Wallerstein
and Kelly claim their research clearly shows this is not the case. The more
both parents can be involved with the children, the better off they'll be.
Wallerstein and Kelly also found to their surprise that
Dad's relationship with his children prior to the divorce was no predictor of
his relationship after the divorce. Some fathers who had been good parents while
still married rarely saw their children later or abandoned them altogether,
while other fathers became more caring parents.
Whether or not a father in a divorce will maintain regular
contact with his children, depends on four factors: mother's response to his
visits, his children's reactions to him, his own adjustment to the divorce
and his second wife's reactions to his children.
No matter how she may feel about her ex-husband, it is important
that the custodial mother encourage visits by the father and not make him feel
uncomfortable or unwanted when he does see the children. His visits can provide
an opportunity to reawaken old fights and wounds, but these will only hurt the
children and discourage father from seeing them.
The children's reactions to Dad can also influence his visitation
patterns. If they are angry at him for the divorce, or cool toward him for fear
of being hurt again, this will make it painful for him to see them, especially
if he is already feeling guilty about the divorce.
If Dad remarries, his second wife's feelings about his children
can also influence the frequency and regularity of his visits. Rivalries and
jealousy are normal in any family but are naturally more intense in step families.
If the stepmother is excessively jealous of her husband's attention to
his children, or threatened by his contacts with his ex-wife about them, she
can make it more difficult for him to be a loving, involved parent.
But perhaps the most important factor in Dad's visitation
patterns is his own adjustment to the divorce. If he is depressed because of
the divorce, especially if he opposed it, or feeling excessively guilty because
he initiated it , then contact with his children will only reawaken those painful
feelings. If he doesn't visit his children often, it may be perhaps because
it is too painful for him to do so.
But children should realize that because Dad doesn't come
around too often doesn't mean they're unlovable. The problem is his lack, not
About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with
Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book,
Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available
directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com,
all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors
copyright and website hyperlinks.
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