Child no longer wants to visit me - need advice
My son is 12 years old and lives with his mom.
Travelling there and back is a 6-hour drive. Because of this and the fact that I work full time, since his mum moved when he was 3, I have only been able to see him during school holidays and a court order is in place to guarantee those dates. Although this is obviously not enough, I have always been consistent and never missed contact on those dates.
It's always been a difficult situation, having to build our relationship back up from scratch each time and then him leaving a week or so later -- just as we are starting to build a real connection again and him starting to feel comfortable being here.
However, now that he's getting older, I've been getting more and more of a sense that he doesn't want to be here. I always prepare loads of activities to do/days out etc. but due to his age, all he really wants to do is stay in his room and play on his I pad. I feel like he's only going along with stuff I try to do together because he's afraid telling me the truth will hurt me.
I just sat down with him and had a really good honest conversation in which he opened up and confirmed that he finds it really stressful coming over, that he finds it difficult to get used to the different environment and it makes him feel uncomfortable. Not that there's anything about the environment here that would make him uncomfortable. It's just that me and his mum are very different and lead very different lives/ have different values. He also confirmed that he didn't really feel like going out and doing stuff due to his age. He said that coming down to see me for a week (two weeks during the summer) was too much and that he wanted to see me for a shorter period. He also told me that he's had this conversation with his mum many times and that she had told him that he was going to have that conversation with me sooner or later. I've been finding it really difficult over the years feeling like I'm forcing him to be here and that he doesn't want to be here, so I told him that he was at an age now where he was old enough to decide how long he comes for. He said he wanted to come for half a week instead, but I got the sense that he didn't want to come at all and just didn't have to courage to tell me. In fact, when I told him that he didn't deny it, and sort of insinuated that that was true. I told him that if he didn't want to come that I didn't want to force him, but I'm now wondering if I should have said that. We also talked a lot about his feelings and how anxious he gets socially.
Now that I've had an hour to think about this, I'm wondering if I said the right thing. As much as it hurts feeling like I'm forcing him to be here when he doesn't want to, I don't know if giving him the choice is the right thing to do. On the other hand, it's been so many years now that I've known that he doesn't want to be here, no matter how much I try to make it as fun as possible, I know that I've been fighting a losing battle. Yet if I give him the choice, I'm almost certain that reducing the time from a week to half a week will lead to him eventually choosing not to come at all. And once that happens once, that will likely be the end of it, as it will be even harder for him to gather the courage to come. His mum is also very likely to encourage him not to come.
What is the best thing to do in this situation? I've already told him he can reduce the amount of time he spends here so I feel like I can't take that back. But what if he decides to not come at all? Should I just let it be and hope that one day when he's older, he'll want to reconnect with his dad? Given how consistent I've been over the years, I'm confident that he knows by now that I have always been, and always will be there for him.
I'm sorry to hear your story and you must be feeling very hurt. Could you see him from his mother's house and perhaps stay over somewhere nearby for the weekend? You could then be involved with his life like taking him to football or other activities. Maybe you could have a holiday together. As children get older they become more involved with their friends and its hard to see the bond breaking as they become more independent. Could you consider a holiday with him and a friend of his? Activities could also include a friend if he prefers. I don't suppose he has any friends where you are so he's limited on what to do. It might be time to review the situation and find something that works for both of you.
@Champagne, thanks for the suggestions. I have actually already suggested these two options to him. Although he does have quite a few friends in school that he enjoys spending time with, he doesn't see any of them outside of school. He's told me that he doesn't have any friends outside of school that he sees when he's at his mum's.
Him and his 4 sisters don't get to go out much or have much social interaction with others when he's at his mum's, aside from when they are at school or when he is seeing me. According to him though, this his how he likes it. He seems perfectly content just hanging around his home not doing much. That is his comfort zone and he doesn't really like stepping out of it.
As for doing activities he likes, I always ask his opinion on what he'd enjoy or like to do, whether near his mum's or here. It's just that as he's grown older, our options have become quite limited.
Well done for acknowledging your sons feelings and wishes. I guage the following:
He's an introvert who prefers spending time in his main domain which is the bedroom in his mums house.
Although his wish to mainly stay overnight at his mum's should be considered, it's important to weigh that up against his developmental needs. This include spending time with you as his father, being social and gaining perspective by exploring new things.
Have stay away from your house at a theme park, abroad or done quad biking?
@mrstrange Yes, you are correct in your assumptions. I have taken him to France on a couple of occasions on holiday, as well as various parts of the uk. I regularly take him to theme parks, although as he gets older, he's starting to lose interest even in them. The plan for this holiday was to go to Wales for a few days and go rapids canoeing, treetop high rope course, theme park etc. We were going to do this on the second week of the holidays but unfortunately, he just wanted to go back home. As for Quad biking, he isn't interested. I've had a motorbike for many years and despite my encouragement, I haven't managed to convince him to jump on the back. He isn't interested in what traditionally you would call "boys" activities.
If his mum would encourage him to come here despite his reluctance, it would be easier, but she is encouraging him to try to convince me to reduce contact. It's tricky because it really requires encouragement from both parents. I would feel a lot more confident telling him he's just going to bear with it if his mum and I were both on the same page. I stay out of discussing things like that with her as in the past, it's never ended well when I suggest anything to do with our son that doesn't align with her own opinions.
After some thought, and based on the comments I've had here, I think I've come to the conclusion that it's still definitely in his best interest to keep seeing me -- even if he doesn't think it is -- and that I should keep encouraging him to come on the set dates. Maybe make that time a little shorter if he so wishes so that at least he feels like his feelings are being considered.
Some kids or even adults go through periods in life when they just want to keep to themselves. However it's not mentally it physically health if sustained for too long.
What does he do on his ipad or computer? Play video games or watch specific youtube channels? If so, have you taken any interest in them?
Have you consider doing the Triple P programme for teenagers? If can be helpful in understanding, managing and raising happy teenagers. It's not an expensive online programme, won't solve all issues but provides a toolkit of things that you can put into action from say one.
@mrstrange He watches youtube videos and plays a game called Roblox. He has online friends that he speaks to on there too that also play Roblox and other social games. I take an interest in what he watches and comment sometimes. I also play video games with him, although social / role-playing games I can only do in short bursts. I've managed to find some games that we both enjoy also. I do realise it isn't healthy for him to do just do that all the time and it's one of the reasons I worry.
I used to limit the time he spent on his Ipad to a couple of hours a day. I still think that is what is appropriate, but I worry it would just make him not want to come here even more as the rules here are quite different to what he is used to. It's difficult to feel like you have much of an impact when you only see your child for a week every 2/3 months.
I have never heard of the triple P program, I will take a look. Thank you for the suggestion.