I am in serious need of some guidance. I’ll do my best to keep the background info to being pertinent to the situation. Here it goes.
I have a wonderful four year old son with my terrible, emotionally-abusive ex. I left him when my son was a little over a year old and there has been many legal battles and serious ISSUES between he and I ever since. About 8 months ago he was caught physically abusing his stepson (which my son witnessed) and I was finally able to get a restraining order and complete physical custody. The incident left my son with emotional scars and a ton of guilt. He won’t tell when people are mean to him (i.e. kids throwing rocks at him at daycare and not telling the teacher) because of the guilt about his dad. He has a good therapist and has improved considerably since the incident but he is in a fragile place and needs security and to feel safe for the healing to continue.
My question is about how to handle my ex’s stepmother. She is an incredibly overbearing and demanding person who lives a few hours away from my family and calls my son every so often to chat. That’s ok with me, but she also wants to have him come and stay with her and my son’s paternal grandfather for a few days every so often. I let him go there once and for weeks afterward he was off, super crabby and the beyond normal clingy and had several nightmares. He told my fiancé that he had seen his dad but when we asked about it later he said he hadn’t. I would not put it past The Step-mom to let my ex come over to spend time with my son, even though it’s illegal.
After that instance I decided I didn’t want my son to go up to their house anymore. I’m fine with them coming down for day trips to spend a few hours with him, but not overnight. I fear that he will go up there and be exposed to his dad, or the grandparents will say bad things about me and my fiancé. I realize that it’s possible nothing happened or will happen and I could be overreacting due to my own experiences with my ex, but this is my son and I want to prevent him from having to experience any more traumas. Everything inside me is screaming to cut them off from that much access to him.
So far I’ve managed to evade her requests for visits but now things are coming to a head and I feel that it’s probably time to address the issue. Unfortunately I suck at confrontation and at not feeling responsible for other people’s feelings, so I am just a bit paralyzed as to how the hell to deal with this situation.
Phew, so there is the background. Now for the questions.
Am I being unreasonable in prohibiting overnight visits?
If not, how can I explain to this woman that those will not be happening for a long time? Email?
Any ideas of a script I can use for this?
I feel at a loss as to how to handle all of this and any help you and/or the lovely community can send my way would be very much appreciated.
– Way Too Anxious Mama
Dear Way Too Anxious:
I understand why you’re anxious, and no, you’re not being unreasonable to forbid overnight visits.
As a first step, I think you should talk to your lawyer about what visitation rights grandparents have (or don’t have) in your state. It really varies state by state, so you want to make sure you’re on solid ground and won’t end up back in court with them.
Once you’re armed with that information, make a phone call (I think phone call is best – if you email it will just end in a phone call anyway) with a script that goes like this. Rehearse it first with your fiance/therapist/good friend so you know you can stay even-tempered.
You: Hello, how have you been? I wanted to talk to you about something that’s come up the past few times we’ve talked. I appreciate the interest that you and (Grampa) take in (Son), and I’m happy to arrange for you to talk on the phone regularly or for you to visit him whenever you like, but we won’t be arranging any overnight visits until he’s older.*
Her: Whatever she’s going to say – demands, pleas, WHYYYYYYYYYYY? WHAT’S WRONG WITH US DON’T YOU LIKE US, what do you mean by “older?”, threats, etc.
It will be unpleasant and overbearing. Let it wash over you. It is noise that completely does not matter.
You: I realize that this isn’t good news, but I wanted to be straightforward and let you know: We won’t be arranging any overnight visits for (Son) until he’s older.
Her: (Moar unpleasant stuff, probably.)
You: I know that this isn’t what you want, but I’m sorry, the decision isn’t really up for negotiation. There will be no overnight visits until (Son) is older.
You: We should probably end this conversation now. Why don’t you give me a call in a few weeks and we can set up a time for you to come see (son?) Goodnight.
(*For purposes of this conversation, “older” could mean “in his 30s,” but she doesn’t have to know that right now.)
Do not explain why, do not share your anxieties, do not accuse her of illegally letting her son see your son or other shenanigans, do not invoke his therapist or what happened last time. It’s not important. What’s important is that you are his mom (& legal guardian) and you think it would be better if the question of overnight visits were left until your son is older and better able to handle being away from you & the confusion of maybe seeing (or hearing about his dad), etc. Your mantra is “No overnight visits until he’s older.” Any reasons you give are just invitations to her to try to find chinks in your armor and argue you into submission.
When you’re dealing with an “overbearing” personality prone to browbeating, manipulation, silent treatment, and/or temper tantrums, absolutely the best thing you can do is convey that you’re perfectly okay if they’re unhappy. Their unhappiness doesn’t scare you. Their negative emotions are their own problem to deal with. You’ll be over here, doing your thing. If you can get through that conversation with her without giving in or negotiating? You will have handled your shit like an EMOTIONAL BADASS.
Now, this doesn’t mean the end of it. She will bring it up with you again either directly or in some kind of circular way. She will try to get him to do her work for her: “Mama, why won’t you let me go see Grandma?” and make you the bad guy. Give her a little time to get used to the new world order. If she’s sweet? Be sweet back. But don’t relax your vigilance.
When and if she does start pushing you again, a good initial response is “I’m not interested in discussing this until he’s older. Was something about that unclear to you?” [LONG AWKWARD POINTED SILENCE OF GLARING]
The follow-up response the second or third time is: “If you can’t respect this decision I will have to seriously reconsider whether it’s a good idea for you to spend time with my son. Why don’t you take a month or so and really think about what you want to happen.” And then you shut off contact for a bit. This is like any time you have to enforce boundaries: The price of a continued relationship is respecting your rules.
tl;dr 1) Talk to your lawyer 2) Become emotional badass 3) Love that sweet kid of yours and help him be okay.