I met with seven year old Emily recently. Emily lives with her very devoted mother, Rebekah, and her husband of 5 years. Emily’s birth father, Larry, contacted Rebekah requesting a visit with Emily after being completely out of her life for five years. Mom took Emily to meet her father at McDonald’s. The visit did not go well. Dad started telling Rebekah how she should be working with Emily in Emily’s presence. He then started telling Emily that she didn’t have to listen to her step-dad and that Emily’s chores were too much for a child her age. Rebekah cut the visit off early and took Emily home.
Two more visits went about the same. Rebekah made the decision that there would be no more visits with Dad- no more visits until Larry could support and back up Rebekah without trying to undermine her authority as a parent.
Now Emily was mad! And not surprisingly she was mad at Mom. In her mind, Mom was keeping her away form her dad. And she desperately wanted to see her dad again.
I considered the all of this information. I made eye contact with Emily and said, “Your mom has been working very hard for seven years now to help you to grow up right. In a way, you could look at your life as a big, beautiful Lego structure that your mom has been building just for you. It’s delicate, but quite beautiful. And now your Dad comes in and looks at the Lego sculpture. He sees all kinds of problems. He grabs a piece the structure and re-attaches it at the bottom saying, ‘That doesnt go here! It goes here!’ Then he says, ‘And this part- you don’t need that at all!’ and knocks a corner of the structure to the ground where the individual Legos scatter. Wow! If that really happened, how would your Mom feel? How would you feel if it was your partly your Lego creation?”
I didn’t wait for a response and continued, “Now lets compare. What if your dad had come in and carefully examined the Lego sculpture. He then calmly turned to your mom and said, ‘It’s so beautiful, and you’ve done so much! There’s a lot of hard work there. But let me ask about this part. What do you think about putting it over here?’ And are you sure this part is needed?” Then your dad and Mom could discuss things without Dad just coming in and taking charge- in a way, messing things up- changing things that were really going well.”
Emily seemed to absorb the information as she shook her head.
“Now Emily, I can understand how you could be mad at Mom. She is the one who said no more visits with Dad. But put your feelings to the side and think about it. Mom’s decision to stop the visits, doesn’t that have a lot to do with how Dad acted? Wouldn’t it have been different if your dad had shown appreciation for all Mom had done for and with you while he was away? And wouldn’t it be different if Dad had not made Mom feel like she was doing everything wrong? That’s not fair. Emily, you can be mad at your mom, but I think you can be mad at Dad too for not being a little more grown up and handling things differently. In a very real way Dad’s behavior stopped the visits, not your mom.”
Emily father’s continued insensitivity was the major problem. But he- a prisoner to his narcissistic world view- was probably mad at Mom, too. Now Larry could slink away and tell everyone what a B!#&H is wife was for not allowing him to visit his daughter. But Mom just hopes he will stay away- or grow up… but he’s got an agonizingly long way to go.
Jay Morgan, author and Conscious Parenting advocate