Ask Amy: Deadbeat dad should not pop in on child

October 14, 2013 

Dear Amy: I am recently divorced with a 4-year-old daughter.

My ex (her father) hasn't been in my daughter's life for most of it; the last time she saw him was almost two years ago.

He has a bad drug problem and has been in and out of prison during her short life. She doesn't remember him and, of course, doesn't count him as her family.

My question is this: He sent her a birthday card and said that at some point he might "pop in" to see her.

I don't want this "in your life today, disappear tomorrow" act, so I didn't give her the card. Was I wrong to do this?

Our divorce decree stipulates "no contact." He may not be aware of this because he didn't bother showing up in court for the hearing.

My daughter is happy, well-adjusted and thriving in school and activities. She is loved by her family. I want what is best for her.

Suggestions?

— Loving mom

Dear Mom: Your ex is violating the court's "no contact" decree, but he is reaching out and this calls for a response from you. I agree that because there is virtually no relationship (and because of your daughter's age) you should hold on to this card for now, in order to share it (and other things) with her when she is a little older.

You should respond to him directly. Send him a copy of the court order and let him know that if he wants to contact his daughter he will need to communicate with you. He should not "pop in."

I am the child of a "pop in" parent and so I can speak to the experience of the child. This presents a series of confusing challenges — through life — but it is most important for you to be honest, consistent and loving as you help your daughter to understand the reality of her father's life. The worst thing for you to do would be to deny his existence. The second worst thing you could do is to allow him to manipulate her.

If he demonstrates that he is motivated to have a safe, even limited relationship with her, then you two should work out a way to do this. Your local department of family and children's services can coordinate supervised visits, parenting classes (for him), and mediation for both of you.

Never trash him. Never call him a bad guy. Your daughter will cycle through different feelings and reactions to him through her life, and you should be in her corner every step of the way.

 

You can contact Amy Dickinson via email at askamy@tribune.com, follow her on Twitter @askingamy or "like" her on Facebook.

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