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My Ex-husband Refuses to See Our Son

QUESTION: My divorce was final just a couple of days ago. I left my husband because he was violent. We have a ten month old son also. Since I left him he did start going to counseling and anger management courses. But he only did this because he thought he would get me back. See, he did this once before and I did give him another chance after he started counseling but he ended up beating me up even worse in front of our son (who was 6 months old at the time). So that ruined all the trust I would ever have for him.

Well now that he got the final divorce papers he refuses to see his son. I don't think this is right. My son deserves a father and for my ex-husband to desert our son is not right because I will not take him back. This has got me very depressed and I am also very confused. I'm starting to think sometimes that he has changed but he continues to yell and scream and put me down one minute and the next minute he is crying and begging for me back. It has been a very emotional roller coaster.

I know going back to him would definitely be the wrong thing to do especially because of our son. I don't want my son raised in that environment but I don't understand what I can do to make things better and make myself feel better about what I have done. My ex-husband talks of killing himself and such. How do I explain to my son when he is older why his father doesn't wish to see him? I am so confused and hurt but relieved all at the same time!!!

Please give me some advice on how to deal with this situation.

Your conclusion that your ex-husband "ruined all the trust you had ever had for him" is an accurate assessment. Your decision to end the marriage may be the best action you could have taken not only for yourself, but for your son as well.

Your sense of responsibility to provide a father for your son while understandable is misguided. Parenting (fathering) is a nurturing activity that requires skill and some level of self-sacrifice. Minimally, parenting includes care of a child that does not put that child in harm's way. You are in no way depriving your son of his "father" if you mean to include parenting in the definition of fatherhood. And it is your son's biological father who is making the decision to completely cutoff from his son, not you!

Your ex-husband continues to be himself, which includes threatening you in any way he might succeed at causing you guilt. You are best protected from this kind manipulation if you seek counseling and a support group for battered women to further understand the roots of your mistaken loyalties. This will not only curtail the potential for further harm to you and your son from this relationship, but will help ensure that you have your priorities clearly established before entering another relationship.

Something is haywire in your past experience of family. Seek to identify the roles that men and women played in your childhood and the nature of the marital contract between your parents. These are the blueprints for your recent choice of a mate. Without exploring your past, you are likely to repeat similar patterns. Taking care of yourself through self-exploration and emotional support is your son's best insurance against future relationship loss or harm.

Do not second guess yourself regarding your decision to divorce. And do not make choices out of guilt or a false promise of "fatherhood" for your son. Clinical studies have shown that single parent families are quite capable of producing loving and well-adjusted children. And there is a plethora of two parent families that fail to provide the needed balance of affection and authoritative limit-setting that their children need!

You are not deficient. You are enough for your son's healthy development. Maintaining a belief in your independent capacity to parent your son will be communicated to him, as will any belief that he is deprived of parenting because his biological father cannot parent!

Do not create unrealistic fantasies for your son, and he will not be obligated to fulfill them. Children can cope with the reality of life when they are lovingly supported in doing so. Sensitivity is spawned from life's troubles. Do not avoid discussing questions and feelings he will have about his biological father, but do not confuse him with expectations that his father fulfill his needs for parenting in any way. This would be a setup for unnecessary disappointment.

Research shows that when a single parent is capable of loving authority, children flourish. Become the best parent you can be. Do not ignore appropriate discipline (or love) as your son grows. Your capacity to set appropriate limits when needed in your child's future development will be best assured if you resolve misplaced guilt now. Unresolved guilt is often the culprit for disabling parents of their authority, resulting in misconduct and other difficulties of childhood.

Seek help to recover from the abuse in your marriage. Withdraw your energies from your ex-spouse. You are not in control or responsible for his life choices. Continued ruminations that revolve around him and his activities or threats only serve to distract you from your own life's path. Enjoy him. He is fortunate to have a mother who not only loves him, but has the courage to remove him from an unhealthy and dangerous situation!


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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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