Parents Using Children as Tools of Power

Dear Dr. Hurd: I am having a difficult time understanding the actions of my brother’s former girlfriend, who is also the mother of his 3-year-old son.

When she says my brother can have him on a particular day, she always says or does something to change or delay the plans. Even in the midst of a 2 week visit, she will say she wants to see their son for 2 hours and then she will keep him overnight and delay the plans my brother has with his child.

He works shift work, does not live in the same town as his child so it is very difficult when she interferes. Because they are no longer together, she has interim custody, my brother pays monthly child support, yet there seems to be no lawyer that says some agreement should be in place designating visitations that she cannot change at her beck and call.

My family is so angry and hurt that they cannot see their nephew/grandson. Even grandparents have rights, don’t they? How can I help my brother to deal with the emotional, physical and mental anguish this situation is creating for him and for the rest of us?

Dr. Hurd’s reply: First, you have to understand that people are motivated by different things. Some people, when they have a child, are motivated by love for the child and by the desire to raise a happy person. Others are motivated by power.

Your brother’s ex-girlfriend is exercising power for its own sake by acting in a passive-aggressive way. Either she is violating an agreement already in place, or she’s taking advantage of the fact that there is none. If love for her child is her primary concern, then why the hesitation? 

If there isn’t a written agreement in place, then the person to ask about this is your brother. Why is he not insisting on one? No good lawyer would ignore his request to do so, and no good lawyer would overlook this obvious fact. If your brother’s lawyer is this negligent, then he should

seek out a new one. Maybe the family can pitch in and help him pay, if necessary, because if you all value access to the child, this enforcement is the only way to make it happen.

Since negligence of this magnitude on a lawyer’s part seems unlikely, I have to wonder if your brother is telling you everything, or if something inside his mind isn’t making him hesitate to insist on the obvious. I can only speculate. Maybe he’s reluctant to be a father. Maybe he’s only going through the motions, but not pushing like a committed father really would, because he’s not that committed. For all we know, the ex-girlfriend might have tricked him into a pregnancy. It happens.

I have to wonder about the mother, as well. Clearly she’s putting her feelings about her ex-boyfriend, your brother, over and above the child’s need and right to have a father in his life. Maybe the ex-girlfriend can handle the child on her own, and she feels there’s no point continuing her involvement with an ex-boyfriend. Still, that’s not her decision to make. She did (in my view) have the right to solely decide whether to bring the pregnancy to term, or to have an abortion. But once she signs on to having the child, she ought to recognize the reality of the father’s and the child’s individual rights.

At the same time, it’s not your decision to make either. Grandparents do have rights. They have the right to see the child and be involved in the child’s life, and in some jurisdictions these are being upheld more and more, from what I understand.

But in the end, nobody can make your brother want to be a father. If he’s not properly asserting himself and doing the obvious on behalf of his own right to see his own child, then he has to examine his own hesitation and resolve it. If he wants no involvement with this child, then he should own up to this fact and at least admit it. If he’s committed to being in the child’s life, if only as a divorced father would be, then he should step up and do what’s required.

It’s amazing how we live in a time of unprecedented knowledge, technology and sophistication about birth control and abortion, yet there are so many people having children when they’re either not ready or sure this is what they want. With many women who get pregnant prematurely, this is what’s going on. They feel a lack of certainty or importance about their own lives, and they develop an unhealthy impulse to be needed—hence, the pregnancy. Government and family members have sent the message, ‘If you have a child, we’ll take care of you and the child no matter what.’ There’s no basis for fearing having a child before one is ready, because ‘the village’ promises to enable your questionable or irrational behavior.

I have to wonder if this is what happened in your brother’s case, with the ex-girlfriend. I only make this point because I have seen it so very many times I can hardly count it. It’s too bad, because children deserve to grow up not so much in a traditional two-parent household as with a parent or parents who really know what they’re doing, why, and who are able to afford it. Your little nephew, like so many other children being born in our entitlement era, won’t be treated to that pleasure.


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