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Problems of the Visiting Parent in Divorce

Problems of the Visiting Parent in Divorce

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 with you."

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 themselves.

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 theirs.


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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