When you're an absent parent

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 5, 2011 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,
I'm Mexican but I lived in Chicago for 15 years. I have a son who is just about to turn 4 years old. His father and I separated when Bobby was just a year old. I was fighting for custody for two years and when I finally was just about to get it, my son's grandfather made me do something horrible that I got deported to Mexico.

Now I live in Mexico since last summer without my son. It's been horrible because I know my son is suffering too.

I cannot have communication with Robert (my son's father) because his parents don't let him. All I want is to see my son and my attorney tries to get a good agreement with Robert's attorney but since his parents are involved they don't want me to see my son anymore.

This is such a long and sad story and don't know how to handle this anymore.
Thank God I can call my son every night and also I see him every other Sunday through Skype. But other than that, Robert is not willing to let me see my son in person.
My son has told me a few times that we cannot see each other anymore because I'm too far from him. And when he says that to me he sounds sad and upset.

How can I handle this or what when I say to him.

I love him to death and I know this is affecting him too much.

I really appreciate your time for reading me.
Thanks a lot.

From: A desperate mother, Toluca, Mexico

Dear Desperate,

As an absent parent (regardless of how or why you are absent), the best thing you can do for your child is to maintain regular contact and be a consistent presence in his life. Don't spent time on your phone calls talking about how sad you are to not see him, or asking him how much he misses you. That will only make him sad and, eventually, could become a burden for him to the point where he won't want to talk to you.

Instead, use your phone time to be a presence in his life and to build a relationship with him. Read him a goodnight story over the phone. Maybe the same story every night will be a source of comfort. Create a ritual for saying goodnight. Teach him Spanish. Tell him a story about yourself, about when you were a little girl, or about what you did today. Most of all, ask him questions: "What did you do today? First, you got up...Then what?" Help him to make a narrative of his day, almost like a story book. "What did you wear today? What's your favorite color to wear?" "Did you do anything silly today?"

If you are able to communicate via the mail, send him drawings you make & ask him to send you his. Make it your goal to be a positive, interested and loving presence in his life, so that as something happens during the day, he will think, "I can't wait to tell mom about that!"

OK, here are some "don'ts:"

Don't take it personally if some conversations are shorter than others; he's a kid. What's important is to be someone he can count on, even if it's just for a phone call.

Don't bad mouth his dad or his grandparents. Just don't go there. When he mentions them, go out of your way to be generous: "That was nice, that your dad took you to the zoo." And then bite your tongue so that you don't say, "I wish I could have been there, too." If it's grandma birthday, tell him, "Wish grandma happy birthday for me."

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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4 comments so far...
  1. "...my son's grandfather made me do something horrible that I got deported to Mexico."

    Made you do it????

    Posted by j April 5, 11 07:56 AM
  1. I am sorry that you can't see your son, I can't imagine how that feels as my son is almost 4 too! I think Barbara's advice to you is so great. All you can do is interact with him as positively as possible...good luck to you and I hope you can see you soon asap!

    Posted by Kristin April 5, 11 02:47 PM
  1. This is a very sad set of circumstances. Take Barbara's advice to heart. You absolutely cannot burden your son with your sadness and frustration. He did nothing wrong and should never be made to feel guilty for loving his father and his father's family regardless of how you feel about them and the situation. It's great that you're able to speak with him every night. Make sure that is a positive part of his day.

    Posted by Sarina April 5, 11 04:53 PM
  1. Barbara's advice is great. I think it would be excellent if someone could refer the LW to some legal resources that might be able to help her. She needs help with immigration, and then she needs help getting some kind of joint custody or visitation rights. She probably also needs counseling to help deal with whatever "horrible" problem got her into this mess in the first place. I hope she gets the help she needs to turn her life around.

    Posted by geocool April 6, 11 09:58 AM
 
4 comments so far...
  1. "...my son's grandfather made me do something horrible that I got deported to Mexico."

    Made you do it????

    Posted by j April 5, 11 07:56 AM
  1. I am sorry that you can't see your son, I can't imagine how that feels as my son is almost 4 too! I think Barbara's advice to you is so great. All you can do is interact with him as positively as possible...good luck to you and I hope you can see you soon asap!

    Posted by Kristin April 5, 11 02:47 PM
  1. This is a very sad set of circumstances. Take Barbara's advice to heart. You absolutely cannot burden your son with your sadness and frustration. He did nothing wrong and should never be made to feel guilty for loving his father and his father's family regardless of how you feel about them and the situation. It's great that you're able to speak with him every night. Make sure that is a positive part of his day.

    Posted by Sarina April 5, 11 04:53 PM
  1. Barbara's advice is great. I think it would be excellent if someone could refer the LW to some legal resources that might be able to help her. She needs help with immigration, and then she needs help getting some kind of joint custody or visitation rights. She probably also needs counseling to help deal with whatever "horrible" problem got her into this mess in the first place. I hope she gets the help she needs to turn her life around.

    Posted by geocool April 6, 11 09:58 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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