A Parents Anonymous group is a great place to unload frustration, anger and heartbreak. At one meeting Tracy* was very upset and asked to speak first; she was going through a difficult divorce and the past weekend was the last straw. Her soon-to-be ex-husband had visitation from Friday until Sunday afternoon and he did not pick up their eight-year-old son Adam* as planned, and never called the entire weekend. Tracy dialed her former husband several times each day and even began to worry by Sunday night that maybe he was ill or hurt. Her main concern was her son; he had planned all week long what he and his dad were going to be doing during their time together. He was disappointed and angry— again. She started to cry, “Adam’s dad is just trying to hurt me so he does this to our son!”
The group members offered Tracy solace and gave suggestions; go to court to enforce or change visitation, contact the ex-mother-in-law and one even suggested ‘retail therapy.’ Shopping may add to his collection of computer games but it was not going to make Adam feel any better. It just seemed like the members at group had no answers either.
Debra*, our group facilitator, listened then said she had a similar experience with her own children’s father a few years earlier. The children waited on the front steps but because their dad had been a no-show pretty often, her daughter quickly returned to her bedroom in a fit of anger, “He doesn’t care; why bother!” Her son continued to hold out hope his dad would arrive and waited longer; “Maybe he had a flat tire, what if he was in an accident— you just never know, Mom!” Each time it would break her heart and it seemed there was nothing she could do to help him.
As dusk settled and it began to get chilly Debra’s son finally came inside. She could tell he had been crying, “Wash up— dinner is on the table and we have a good movie for later.” It hurt her to see her children so upset but she felt it was important for them to hold their dad accountable for his behavior, not her. Her husband had many ‘lost weekends’ and realized you cannot change others behavior, you can only change your own.
In the years to come, both her children understood their dad had a drinking problem that they couldn’t do anything about; he loved them but he was an alcoholic. If Debra had gotten angry, called him names or fought with him the children might have understood the situation differently. As difficult as it was, she was able to separate herself emotionally from her former spouse and his drinking to focus on the children’s needs and keeping them safe.
Tracy left the meeting feeling a bit better, at least now she knew she had an option. Rather than trying to make her ex-husband follow through on weekend visitation, she intended to focus on her own behavior and response to her son. She was ready for her son the next weekend her ex goes AWOL.
During a no-show visitation a parent’s goal is to validate the child’s feelings of hurt, disappointment, frustration and anger. Children take cues from our own behavior – good or bad – and respond accordingly. If we are angry, they will become angry. If we behave calmly, they are more likely to remain calm.
“How about we have a bite to eat till mom/dad gets here?”
“It must feel awful— very disappointing.”
“I’m so sorry Adam; I don’t know why your mom/dad didn’t make it.”
“You have a right to be upset but please don’t assume the worst until you talk to mom/dad.”
Have you ever tried to console your child when the other parent didn’t arrive to pick them up? What worked for you? What didn’t work? We would like to hear from you.
*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Talk with a Volunteer or Find a Group in New Jersey:
1-800-843-5437 or 1-800-THE-KIDS
Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc.
Phone: (609) 585-7666
Fax: (609) 585-7686