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The Coaching Situation

I had an affair with a married man. This affair produced a child. He wanted me to have an abortion which I refused. Throughout the whole pregnancy we had no contact. I delivered a healthy baby girl and although I didn't contact him directly he was aware of the birth by means of mutual friends. When she was born he made it very clear that he would only be there financially. The first time he saw his child was in court when she was 7 months old. He was ordered to pay support, but gave up visitation.

We returned to court 5 years later for a modification hearing and since then he has decided that he was to establish a relationship with his child. We agree that it would be beneficial to her for them to meet but it would be done very slowly, and he would back off if problems arose. The situation went very well or about 6 months, and he started becoming very demanding. He would threaten to take custody of our daughter, he started harassing me at work, criticizing the way she has been raised; second-guessing my decisions, and started telling our daughter that his wife was her Mom. He goes so far as to tell her she HAS to stay with him because the court says so. He wants her completely in her life; he wants to see me lose custody.

No visitation rights have been established through court; the only legal papers I have concern support. We follow guidelines that would set by the court, they are very rigid and allow no flexibility. We aren’t consistent with them because I am too afraid to place any restrictions. I am very bitter because I did the work and provided a loving family for her and I scarified my career to be home with her. Initially he didn't want her and now he is making my life Hell because I had her. He on the other hand got to finish and graduate college, and start a career. It is very upsetting to me when I get the phone calls and she is crying because she wants to come home. Her Father will not listen to her pleas. He demands that she stay with him. He always tries to blame me and never wants to take responsibility for her hurt himself.

I believe this sudden change in him is because of stress he receives from his wife because of the affair and his wife controls him. If there are no major holidays or major visits coming up we can talk at length about her without problems. I am very afraid that the child will suffer damage emotionally from this vicious tug-of-war he has started. I only want what is best for our daughter I don't want him out of her life just let her decide how she wants to proceed and let express her own feelings. Her and I have an open relationship, where we talk about likes and dislikes. I openly tell her she won't hurt me if she wants to spend time with her father. She expresses herself by crying, clinging, and sleepless nights.

I am afraid that somehow I will lose my daughter. I’d prefer that her father has weekly visitation where she will be home by bedtime. I just don't want him to punish me for his lack of emotional support the 5 yrs he was not around. I want him to realize that she is intelligent and is a good judge of character. He cannot make up for lost time and in order to get respect he must give it.


The Coaching Response

Each parent has their own fears, guilt, and control issues that spin out from it. It's unacceptable for parents to work out issues using their child. The two of you need to come to an agreement. Either use a mediator or go back to court. Having a neutral person makes it easier to determine what's important to each parent and find good solutions. You’ll have a higher probability of getting what you want using a third party. Contact your court clerk's office for information about mediation programs in your community or contact a lawyer.

Getting a mediator will ease your fears about your daughter being taken away and create boundaries with a legally binging agreement. It’s important that both parents needs are addressed so you can be free to be more loving parents. When visitation rights are drafted out, keep in mind that these rights may change as circumstances and needs change for all parties. In the meantime, rather than fight, I'm going to give you some suggestions to make the current situation easier. When you're more relaxed and less worried, your child will be able to handle things better. Just telling your child that things will be okay isn’t enough since children pick up on the emotions we think we hide so well.

Prepare your daughter for visits with her father so that they are more enjoyable. Help your daughter change focus by finding out what she doesn’t like about visiting her father. What might she be afraid of? Does she miss you? Ask many questions. Don't make ANY assumptions about what she experiences there or why she experiences it. Draw her out as much as possible. Ask what she thinks would make her visits more fun and enjoyable. Find out from her what she likes doing while she's there. Encourage her to ask to do more of the things she likes to do while she's there. Prepare more activities for her to take with her that she really enjoys doing at home.

Address her fears by emphasizing positive experiences. If one of her fears is of separation from you, do things to make her visits more comfortable. Have her take a picture of you, something of yours she really likes, or a stuffed animal that you create a story for. She can talk to the stuffed animal while she's away. Use your imagination along with hers to create the story as you go along. Make your language positive when you talk to her. For example, say that you like having her visit her father, that you're happy she gets to spend time with him and get more love. Under no circumstances mention your fear of her being taken away while she's around. When you deal with her father, establish rules that you follow with almost no exceptions. For example, he's not to call you at work. If he does, tell him that you'll call him when you're home and hang up. The ONLY exception would be an emergency with your daughter while she’s in his care.

When he criticizes the way you are raising your child, for example, your answer will be to thank him for his input and change the subject. Do not respond to whatever it is he tells you. What you’re doing is defusing what he says by not responding to it. Just because another person expresses their opinion, that doesn’t mean it has any relevance. Do the same thing when he second-guesses your decisions. Thank him for his suggestions and change the topic. Avoid arguments, because you'll end up fighting over who's right. Make it unimportant that his opinion is different than yours. It’s okay to not agree with someone and to not talk about it.

When the father tells your daughter that his wife is her mother, do you mean he's telling her to call her stepmother “mom” or is he saying her stepmother is her real mother? Question what’s really being said. If you're not comfortable with your daughter calling somebody else “mom”, look at the situation differently. These days, it‘s common to have blended families. Your daughter will not love you any less if she calls her stepmother “mom”. Tell your daughter she’s a lucky girl to have two mothers to love and watch over her. That she gets extra love having a second mother, not less. Your daughter is old enough to understand that you're her “real” mother. If you're afraid of losing your daughters love, then need to explore your feelings in more detail.

Your emotions run high when you have to deal with the father. Whenever we are emotional, it affects how we interpret things. Being afraid that your child might be taken away further influences what you hear and see. Fear builds upon fear. Once you take action and create a situation that'll be acceptable to you and the father, you will find things become easier.


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