My ex husband is supposed to take our two children, who are 4 and 6 years old, every second week. Our marriage broke up about 3 years ago. There used to be a lot of shouting and things are much calmer at home now. About once every three months, he just doesn’t show up to pick them up. Sometimes he shows up 2 hours late. The children are usually very upset and my plans are ruined. He always has some excuse. I could believe him if this occurred once or twice. Although the children are upset at the time, they still want to go with him. I am at my wits end. I cannot afford a lawyer but I don’t know what I ask for if I could. Why does he do this? Why do the children still want to go to see him? What can I do?
Your ex may want to get back at you by causing you hassle. But most likely he is just irresponsible. He thinks of his own convenience and not what is best for his children. He does not make it a priority to be on time for his children.
You are in a difficult position. You see the harm your ex does to his children and feel helpless.
It is better for children to have contact with both parents. Courts are unlikely to take away access to children by their father except in extreme cases.
Your children probably love their dad and want to be loved by him. I expect that is why they still want to go with him, even though he is inconsiderate. With time they may become less tolerant of his lack of consideration.
There are some things that you can do that may help. You have to treat him like a child who is being irresponsible:
- tell him that what he is doing is harming his children.
- remind him that if he is going to be late he should call.
- let him know that if he is more than 20 minutes, late you will assume he is not coming
- if he is more than 20 minutes late, take the children out to the playground, for an ice cream or to a visit with a friend. Come back when you are ready. If he has to wait too bad.
- if he arrives to get the children after their bedtime, tough. He can come back in the morning.
- if he arrives drunk or stoned don’t let the children go with him. Call the police if necessary.
Make sure his irresponsibility does not include leaving the children in a risky situation. Does he supervise them properly when they are with him? Does he leave them unattended? If so, you can’t let them go with him.
Change occurs easier if you use positives as well. So be positive to him when he is responsible. Encourage his good behaviour. So, if he calls to say he will be a little late, thank him for calling. Give him positive feedback about things he does with the children. “John really enjoyed going swimming last week.” Being positive to your ex is for the kids benefit not for him.
Don’t get mad at him. It won’t do any good and will only make the children feel more in conflict. Just be firm.
You might tell your children that their dad has a hard time organizing his life. Explain that he loves them but is not good at doing what he says he will. Don’t make excuses for him but don’t badmouth him.
A firm but calm approach has the best chance of helping him change what he is doing. But always put the safety of the children first.