(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Child Custody Trauma
How can I minimize the bad effects on my child of my ex getting part custody?
(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Right now I want to welcome Christina to the phones. Christina, you have a custody issue?
Christina: Hi. Actually, I'm a grandma and it's my daughter who is kind of going through the custody issue.
Dr. Kenner: What's going on with her?
Christina: She has a 3-and-a-half year old and an eight-month old and her ex, now, is in the Navy, so he's stationed about 45 minutes away from where they were. They don't live together anymore, but he's stationed at the base, but he's getting transferred to Texas, which is - I don't know how far it is from where she lives, from Fresno, but it's quite a bit. The agreement, he wants her to agree to do three months out of the year, alternating every three months, that he keeps the baby, the eight-month old, because that's biologically his. The other 3-and-a-half year old isn't, so he wants to take her to Texas to live there with him, because he's being transferred with the Navy. Then she keeps her an additional three months and then rotating back and forth through the year. My concern is this going to have some kind of effect, mainly on the 3-and-a-half year old, not only is she going to feel, I think, like she's losing a sister and a daddy, which is kind of the only daddy she ever really met.
Dr. Kenner: There is no way around it that there's enormous pain for children and they are ripe for misinterpreting things and there's a wonderful book, and it probably would be good for a 3-and-a-half year old if you go very slowly in it. It's called Dinosaurs Divorce. It may be on my website, DrKenner.com. What is so good about his book is it's cartoons. It's about kids going through a divorce with their parents, but it opens up by saying if your parents are getting divorced, you are not to blame. And that opens up the conversation for the kids, because sometimes kids - especially at the age of three-and-a-half but really at any age - they feel like, "Oh my gosh, Daddy yelled at me because I didn't make my bed or put away my toys and now Daddy is going away. It must be my fault." Something random happens, they get punished and then they think that it's their fault. One of the biggest things is to realize that she is not at fault, that this is an adult issue and Daddy is going away. Is he planning to stay in her life, the 3-and-a-half year old?
Dr. Kenner: He isn't?
Christina: No, not really. He's only agreed to take the eight-month-old because biologically that's his daughter. The 3-year-old is from a previous relationship, but he's been around about two years.
Dr. Kenner: She definitely needs, you need to find out what questions she has or what misinterpretations she has or her mom can do this. I know you're the grandma. If you're sitting with her and, "I miss daddy," if she calls him daddy? "Honey, tell me what's going through your mind, what are your thoughts?" You could even animate little stuffed animals. "Hey, what's going on with you? Tell me what's on your mind?" She might say, "I miss him. He doesn't love me anymore." Well, that may be the case. But what do you say to a 3-and-a-half year old? The teddy bear may say, "That must be sad. You're feeling sad. I love you." You know, the teddy can snuggle up with her or something. There are ways to work with a child so that they feel loveable. They do need to go through the loss. You can't deny that. You can't fake it, "Oh, he'll always love you. He'll be back. He just had to go far away." I wouldn't engage in lies like that. I don't think it helps anybody short range or long range. I think it's just that mommy and daddy are not together anymore and maybe - I don't know if we'll be able to see daddy. It's a very awkward situation. I would definitely tell your daughter, and if you want to too, there's another book, an adult book, called Helping Your Child Through Your Divorce, by Florence Bienenfeld. That is up on my website, a thumbs up on that one. That one you'll probably have to order, it's not as easy to get. It starts off by showing dramatic pictures that people have drawn, illustrating what it's like to see their parents going through a divorce. And it's very a wake-up call to especially the dad in this situation that he is making decisions that are painful. Are you at liberty to say why they split up? Did they cheat or they just grew apart?
Christina: At first he was saying that they just kind of grew apart, but a month after he left, he gets married to someone else.
Dr. Kenner: Oh my.
Christina: So I'm assuming he cheated.
Dr. Kenner: Oh my, this is not good character. To have that happen a month after, when he's got an eight-month-old baby right now - I would try to work with the kids so they feel very connected and that's a bond that can't break. You work with what you've got. He's out of the picture and that may even be better for the 3-and-a-half year old, if he's got not the best character possibly? And in terms of the little one going back and forth, I think that's an issue that if you read the book, Helping Your Child Through Your Divorce, they may rethink that. That's an awful lot of travel back and forth. It means that little one has two mommies - his new wife and your daughter - and it's very hard on your daughter to lose her child for three months. That's something that should, if they haven't agreed to it yet, if they could read that Florence Bienenfeld book together, both the father who is in the Navy I understand, and your daughter, I think that may help them really not what people typically say, "Do what's best for the children," but they really mean, "Do what's best for me," but really do what's best for the children and they'll both feel better about themselves longer range if they do that. Listen, thank you very much for your call.
Christina: Thank you.
Female: He's not having an affair. He could just be involved with, um, I don't know. People who get together to invest things and the place that they invest things is filled with potpourri and that's why his shirts smell so sweet when he comes home. It's possible.
Male: Yeah, it's possible. It's possible. It's possible we could find your husband neck-deep in potpourri and investing things.
Dr. Kenner: That is from Shall We Dance? That's a darling movie. However, affairs are not so darling. But if you are in an affair yourself and you know what that's like to live a double life, where you have to hold the knowledge of the affair but try to keep it secret from your wife and your children or your husband and your children, or if you're on the other end - the person who is the hurt party, not the unfaithful party but the hurt party - and you never suspect that your partner would betray you and find out that he or she has, that is a nightmarish situation. You definitely want to get some help. I highly recommend the book After the Affair. Even if you're not planning to stay together, that's a fabulous book. Sometimes the best thing to do is to part ways. But that involves a lot of thought going into making life-changing decisions like that.