DEAR AMY: Please help me to understand why it seems so common that after a divorce, the parent with visitation will allow themselves to fade out of their children’s lives.
In early 2009 I left my husband after repeated attempts to help him through his drug addiction. Our daughters were 11 and 13 at the time. For the first two years, he kept up his visitation schedule. Despite having as much access to them as he wanted, he stuck to the schedule for the most part and then faded away.
I know so many stories of others in the same situation, whether it’s a father or the mother who steps out of their responsibilities. My girls are 18 and 20 now and they have learned that in their father’s world, they don’t matter. It hurts them deeply.
Our girls are busy but they would love to get a call from their father and feel a sense of importance to him. Messages or calls mostly go unanswered. When they are together for rare holiday occasions, he cannot relate to them and he seems too self-absorbed to really listen to them talk. The conversation is dominated by him and about him.
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His girls are strong, intelligent and independent. He is either too self-absorbed or feels inadequate around them.
What are your thoughts as to why this happens so much?
At A Loss
DEAR LOSS: I’m not aware that this happens as often as you seem to think it does. I also think that judging others based on your drug addict ex-husband’s behavior is not fair to the scores of parents who try to be good parents under circumstances that are less than ideal.
A typical visitation schedule of one evening a week and every other weekend means that it can be very challenging for the noncustodial parent to develop a consistent and close relationship with children, especially as they get older and have lots of competing interests. Intimacy is built not only through special occasions, but sheer quantity time spent together performing the mundane tasks of life in a family – going to the supermarket and school events, preparing dinner and cleaning up afterward. It is very challenging to build up an intimate family life on a visitation schedule.
It is also best for children if the custodial parent does everything possible to assist the non-custodial parent in building a relationship. Obviously, your ex-husband has done a very poor job, and I’m sorry that your children long for a relationship they can’t have.
DEAR AMY: Two weeks ago my boyfriend broke up with me. He said he didn’t love me like he used to. Right before he broke up with me we had this huge heart-to-heart about how we could both improve our relationship to make it stronger.
I was so excited because it was a new year and a good start for us. But he didn’t even give that a chance and broke up with me.
He took a break from me a year and a half ago, but came back to me and said I was all he wanted.
I am devastated and I want him back. About a week ago he contacted me and we hung out. He said his feelings were still the same and that he didn’t love me in the same way he used to, but he said it has been hard for him and he can’t just drop our relationship. He says he wants to be friends with me.
He said he can’t promise me that we have a chance in the future because he doesn’t know what will happen and doesn’t want to lead me on.
I don’t really want to be his friend right now because I want him to miss me and find his way back to me. My gut feeling is that our relationship will work out but I’m scared.
Is there a good chance for us? Does he really not love me, or is he just lost?
DEAR L: I’ve been through this (we all have, I guess). But I am telling you a tough truth: When someone breaks up with you repeatedly, then he will continue to break up with you.
Please – he may not really know what he wants, but he is messing with you in the meantime.
Do NOT hang out with him. Do NOT let him do the “let’s be friends” thing. You need to be strong and tell him, “When you figure out what you want, let me know. But I’m not interested in being your buddy.”
You also need to think long and hard about how much you are letting him manipulate and yank you around. You’re not there, yet. Please do not hand over all your power to him – once it’s gone, it’s very hard to get it back.
DEAR AMY: I’d like to offer a practical suggestion for “Struggling Artist,” who is trying to establish herself, post-college.
This artist should take a business course at her local community college. Freelancers need to realize that they are really setting up a business for themselves, and all the rules that apply to other entrepreneurs also apply to them.
DEAR BEEN THERE: Excellent advice for artists, musicians and fellow writers – or anyone in a creative field. I wish I had done this myself earlier in my career.
Email Amy Dickinson at email@example.com.