I am writing to get a second opinion on a family matter. I am currently seeing a counselor who has shared her advice, and I tend to agree with her. I had a long standing boyfriend with who I had a daughter with. She is currently thirteen years old. Her Dad was sent to prison for a non-violent crime. But he caught a long sentence. We had broken up long before his incarceration, but we still shared our daughter back and forth. Since he got locked up I decided I didn’t want her to see him. He has asked numerous times if I would let her come to see him, or at least let them communicate with letters. I said no. I still carry a lot of anger and resentment towards him, so basically: screw ‘em. Our daughter doesn’t ask about him so much anymore. However, I am seeing some acting out behaviors from her. She is rude to my live-in boyfriend, and has had some bad behaviors at school. I don’t know if it’s the fact she doesn’t have a dad anymore, or if it’s me, or what. My counselor told me she believes I have the right to cut him out of her life because I’m her mother. But now that I’m seeing behaviors from my daughter, I’m not so sure. Have you had any experience with cases like this? What do you think?
Yes, I have had numerous cases like this in the last forty years of counseling. When I started this column, I was fully aware of some serious limitations I would have in comparison to my normal face-to-face counseling. An obvious one is that I am asked my opinion on matters of which I have only limited information about. Secondly, you don’t know me, so I may lack the credibility I might have if you knew me better. That second issue is a big one here, because your counselor is dead wrong. This is not a parental rights or woman’s rights issue at all. It is only a What Is Best For Your Daughter issue. You didn’t share what your ex is locked up for. If he is for a dangerous man who needs to be under lock and key, you should keep her away in order to physically protect her. For example, if he were a wife-beating, child-torturing SOB, he needs to be out of her life. As you stated it was a non-violent crime, it could be drugs, prostitution, theft, fraud, etc., etc. Further, you stated your decision was based on your anger and resentment towards him. I don’t want to alienate you here, but that’s a seriously poor reason to kill any communication with him. You asked for my professional opinion, so here it is:
1) Tell your girl you may have errored in not letting her communicate with her dad.
2) Write him and tell him he may write her. However, all letters (at least for a while) need to monitored by you.
3) Help her to write back. As you had previously stamped out their relationship, you will need to tutor her on how to write a little chatty letter. Help her address the envelope, and mail it together if you can. Remember, kids nowadays have likely not written a letter in their lives. You’ll need to teach her.
4) After a while (six months?) you might allow him to call her. Limit the calls to about 10 minutes, at least for a while.
5) If he’s a worthless father, she’ll figure it out pretty quickly and she’ll reduce the contact.
The bottom line is this: if we use our children as a weapon to punish their other parent, it almost always does damage to them. They will eventually seek out the other parent when they are older, and will always be resentful of the parent who punished them for no reason. I don’t know if this will help her in her current acting out behaviors, but it’s likely to help her future.