The Family Project: Separated father
Q. I am a recently-separated single father with primary custody of my six-year-old daughter. Her mother has her every weekend and sees her weekly during activities and dinner. Her mother recently started dating a man and their posts on Facebook include them drinking and partying on weekends when she has our daughter. Should I be concerned?
This question has two somewhat connected issues to it, panelist Mike Ramsey said.
“One, the father is worried about the supervision of his daughter; two, he says his wife ‘was not like this before,’ which shows he is worried about her, as well,” said Ramsey.
Panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo said that she thought that the custody arrangement is unusual. Panelist Chad Stefanyak said the arrangement could be for any number of reasons.
“It could be that the father lives in a preferred school district for the daughter, or it could be for financial reasons,” said Stefanyak.
After saying that the father can’t control what the mother does during her free time, panelist Denise Continenza said the best approach would be for the father to have an honest conversation with the mother about what happens with the daughter when she goes out.
“Safety concerns related to the daughter are warranted, and are the only things the father really can address,” Contnenza said.
“Keep the conversation general and non-judgmental,” Mercado-Arroyo said, adding, “Just discuss what both can do to avoid any risk to the daughter.”
Questions that the mother could be asked, said panelist Mike Daniels, include: Who takes care of the daughter when the mother is out? And is having the daughter every other weekend causing her problems?
“The father could suggest agreeing on an approved babysitter, switching visiting times and ways to keep the lines of communication open where the daughter is concerned,” Daniels said.
The panel concluded it is inappropriate to try and get information from the six-year-old.
“It’s OK to have a general conversation about the daughter’s weekend,” panelist Pam Wallace said. “The father can ask the daughter if she had fun, but not what the mother did. You don’t want the child to be put in a position of telling on her mother.”
The panel cautioned against rushing to judgment regarding photos posted on Facebook. A photo on Facebook is only a snapshot in time, Continenza said.
“The photo doesn’t explain if there is drinking to excess or a glass of wine at dinner. The photos could be of something absolutely innocent, but your mind tells you to fill in the blanks,” said Continenza.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, former teacher and school administrator; Chad Stefanyak, school counselor; Michael Ramsey, MS, LPC, Program Supervisor, Valley Youth House; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS; and Denise Continenza, extension educator.
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The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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