Why I'm allowing my child to give up time with his dad to live with me full-time

Photo: Alamy
Photo: Alamy 

Ever since my 15-year-old son Oliver* was two, he's lived between his father's place and mine. Although he's always spent more time with me, I've always believed it was important to ensure Oliver had a solid and positive relationship with his dad Jason*. 

Over the years Oliver has spent two to three days a week with his father – and now also his stepmother and baby sister. 

But lately Oliver and Jason's relationship has shifted in a way that has made me uncomfortable. Oliver regularly comes home from his dad's place feeling ignored, dejected and frustrated.

My son suffers from chronic mental health problems, and it's something that worries me when he's not here with me. It's me that goes along to the weekly psychologist sessions, it's me that takes him to see alternative therapists, and it's me the school calls when he's having one of his regular panic attacks. 

Despite me inviting him regularly, Jason hasn't been to any of Oliver's appointments for two years.

I don't mind doing it – Oliver is my son and I want to be there for him while he battles his way through this mental health minefield. But his dad not showing up does two things: 

It means Jason doesn't know what's going on in Oliver's world, and

It tells Oliver that he isn't a priority for his dad. 

Over the past two years, Jason has been drifting further away from Oliver, and it shows. He expects our son to fit with his new family while he's at their place, rather than asking what they can do to meet him in the middle or make him feel welcome. 

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He doesn't know you can't just tell this kid suffering from anxiety and depression to pull his head in, go to his room and study. He doesn't know this kid needs tasks broken down into bite-sized chunks in order to not feel overwhelmed.

He doesn't know because he doesn't turn up for our son.

I keep asking Jason to come to appointments, and I've invited him for coffee to discuss how we can work together, but he's always "too busy". 

My son has asked me repeatedly over the past few years if he can stop spending regular time with his dad and I've always said no. Spending time with each parent wasn't optional as far as I was concerned. It was important.

But now I'm saying yes.

I find it difficult to keep up with my son's mental health needs, and the idea that I'll be doing it full-time is intimidating. But on the other hand, I've noticed that I get called to school for anxiety attacks mostly on days he's supposed to be going to his dad's place.

And when I sit in on sessions with his psychologist, I notice that we spend a lot of time unpacking conversations and incidents that have happened at his dad's place that week. 

In a nutshell, I think my ex contributes more to our son's problems than he helps, and I've got enough to do without trying to pick up his slack. Slack that he seems entirely unwilling to try to pick up himself.

I make this choice with a heavy heart. I so wanted our son to have two loving parents who worked together to raise him in a happy and healthy environment, even if we weren't all living together, but I've given up on that dream.

Now my primary goal is to do what's best for my son, and to make him feel safe, secure and loved. That's something I can only guarantee at my place, and it's too important to risk any longer.