change of scenery
I have been parenting my two older daughters with a man who continually manipulates and invades my parenting with them. The oldest, now 20, ran to his house when she was 16 to gain the promise of a new car, etc. She is just now telling how he manipulated her (from her end) to gain permanent access. My attempts to co-parent with him were exploited as, at that time, he was telling me I was being too soft on her and needed to be firmer in my discipline and then was going to her and telling her what a nasty, controlling character I was and that she needed to get away from me. So, I let her go live with him. Less than six months later she called crying and wanting to come home because of the way he was treating her (he was beating her with a belt and I know he has done this because he, himself, brags about it) and I told her no because I didn't want to give the impression she could manipulate between the two of us to always get her way. Now, 5 years later, she's unable to keep a job or pay her bills and all he says he couldn't "fix her" because I had messed her up too badly before he got her. He has written her off as a lost cause.
He has now started his campaign with my younger one (15yrs) and has involved his entire family in the battle. When I disciplined this child for routinely breaking phone times, after she had lost both privileges for short periods of time (she was on the phone and computer at 3:00 a.m. daily, was sleeping through school and failing classes), by turning her phone off for several months to allow time for her grades to recover and removing the computer from her use except for school projects and supervised time, he ran out and got her new equipment to use "only at his house". Then called me and told me "you will regret your decision as the time will come when you need to reach her and you can't". He made sure of this happening this summer by refusing to give me her number and deleting my messages to her that I left on his home voicemail.
He then proceeded to keep her all summer, failing to return her at the end of visitation and stated he was modifying custody when the police confronted him about violating the court order. However, nothing was ever filed and she ended up back in my home just 2 days ago, very angry because I would not consent to her staying there and pave the way for her to go to school at his house.
Additionally, he claims my daughter does not respect me and I need to get counseling to determine why and that she just "needs a change of scenery" to his house to regroup and get away from me.
I feel I have lost my daughter. She is very angry.
He has gone out of his way to make her older sister look like a liar. He defrauded the IRS this year by claiming the older one on his taxes and got caught, so he apparently printed out a new copy without her on it and showed it to my younger daughter to convince her he'd done nothing wrong. I NEVER said anything about what he had done - to the younger child. Of course, since she's a liar, the younger one despises her and trash talks her constantly. Of course, she doesn't believe a word of what the older one says about what life with dad is really like.
I'm also hearing I refer to him as the "devil" and have done so since she was seven. Again, false. He has accused me of many things, poor parenting, lying, keeping the children from him when he refused visits, telling him about my personal life, etc. All are a smokescreen and are actually things he does or has done to me, but it appears my child has bought into it.
Now that she's back at my house, but calling his "home", I am seeking counseling for the two of us in an attempt to repair the damage to our relationship done by him and his well-meaning family who are just trying to protect her from her awful mother. I fear it is too little, too late. At this point, she refuses even to unpack. It's as if she's waiting for the mothership to come and save her.
While this is going on, I find out the family has been calling the older daughter to make sure I'm of stable mind and the child is safe in my home. Additionally, they have called daily to check up on her and "make sure she's ok". They and her father are promoting this false view that I am an out-of-control, hatefilled, psychopath that she needs to fear.
I was totally blindsided by all this. I thought we had a normal teen situation with the typical ignoring, "forgetting", privacy issues, autonomy issues and such, but this is far more sinister.
If I discipline her for anything, he just undermines it. At this point, any discipline for any infraction would be seen, and promoted by him and his family, as getting back at her for running to him. Do I just let her go to him and hope for the best? Any further suggestions?
I'm not the only one that doesn't have a clue how to handle this situation.
Maybe this could be a new research topic and book? I see lots of parenting books out there, but none ever address this issue.
I can say that apologizing to her and asking her to assist in helping me change my parenting style did break down some walls. HOWEVER, she is still talking about when she goes to live with dad and still refuses to unpack.
First, accept my disclaimer that says you should see a helper (counselor/therapist) to help you decide how to handle this since these are complex and terribly high stakes scenarios; however, I can offer a few thoughts.
First, remember that serenity prayer (letting go of what you cannot control) and focus on maintaining your own rules for your daughter. If you change things because she threatens to tell Dad and/or leave, then you will soon be negotiating with an out-of-control terrorist. Yes, she might bolt because you set a reasonable limit, but that will be her decision and her consequence. Always remind her that you set limits precisely because you love her too much to allow her to do things that could harm her.
Second, if she does bolt and then begs to come back, allow her one "take-back" but warn her firmly that this is a two strike game, and if she leaves for Dad's a second time then she should consider that a one-way trip. Many kids "get it" after that first tour with Dad.
Third, if she leaves and then stays at her father's remember that you are in this parenting game for the long-term, not the short. As she matures she will begin to understand that loving parents are limit-setting parents, and if you can keep your cool and keep telling her that you love her, she will eventually see you as the more mature parent to link with as she transitions into young adulthood.
Dr. Mike Bradley