I have a three year old with my ex. When we separated he moved back in with his mom ( he didn't have a job, bad credit, etc... I know, I was an idiot ). These issues were a big part of our separation.

So, he now says he cannot bring the child to his moms' because she "won't let him". He sometimes pays a small amount of child support from his newly acquired part time job. This is the other reason he is unable to see her. Because he's working. Most parents work, I don't really see this as a valid reason.

Since his mother wont allow her there, he says he can only see his daughter by coming to our home. We tried this a few times, but it always resulted in him putting the moves on me and basically just causing more tension. So I said he would no longer be able to stay here to see her. If he wanted to see her, he could pick her up and take her with him.

So now he just doesn't really see her. At first I was very encouraging to him and offered to and did drive him to work as this allowed an opportunity for them to see each other.

He rarely calls to talk her, we always call him. Hes seen her for a couple of hours maybe in the past three weeks. I always thought they were very close, but he's making very little effort. I find myself listing her virtues on the phone with him like I'm trying to convince him of the merits of being involved with her. He says he wants to see her, but is not actually doing that.

Now she asks less and less about her dad. The past few times that she dId see him she was upset because she couldn't go with him and it turned into does my daddy love me? Why can't I see him etc... It obvious to me that it was very challenging for her. After a couple of days she settled back down and is happy.

So I am now beginning to think it may be better if she doesn't see him at all. Less stressful and confusing for her.

Am I obligated as a parent to try to foster a relationship between the two of them? If so, to what degree? Maybe she's just better off without the uncertainty. I would not hinder him from seeing her, but I am beginning to be reminded of " you can lead a horse to water, but can't make it drink.

  • Hi ann, and welcome to the site. Can you reformat that a bit to be more readable, paragraphs (you have to hit enter twice to get a paragraph) and such?
    – Joe
    Apr 18, 2015 at 2:05

6 Answers 6


Your maturity, sensitivity and common sense are very evident, and your daughter is fortunate to have such a giving and loving mom. Kudos to you.

You're absolutely right: you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. So, what to do?

Legally, you can't just decide to end his visitation. To do that, you have to go to court and get a ruling to deny him visitation rights, regardless of what you two might have agreed to outside of the courts (it sounds like you haven't been there yet.) Such rulings are hard to get from a court unless it can be shown that his actions are harmful to her. But just to establish a groundwork here, you should have a legal arrangement as the sole custodian.

I don't have deep wisdom here (I hope someone else does); the most important thing is your daughter's well being. Please help her to understand that she is wonderful and much loved by you, and that it's not her fault her father doesn't come by. This needs to be done constantly and convincingly for years: she is not the cause for his absence. You may need help with the narrative; it's painful for both of you to have any real discussion about why her father doesn't see her, but it has to happen.

Teach her "feeling words" so that you can ask her to talk to you about her feelings, and validate them. If she can put her feelings into words, it might help; and you can let her know it's ok to feel the way she does, and that you accept her. You might see if there's a single mom's group run by a therapist, or see a social worker about talking with a therapist who specializes in this field so you can get some help and support.

It's also ok for her to write letters to or call her father when she feels sad. Then return to the normal and fun activities and life the two of you share.

Do you know why he doesn't want to see her? (Let him use his words; the truth is better than a lie.) Maybe he feels incompetent as a dad. That could be fixed with parenting classes. Do you believe what he says about his mom? I (personally) would contact her to see if she wants to be part of her granddaughter's life and see if what he says is true; who knows? She might be able to help.

Keep encouraging the father to meet up with you both - at a park or a restaurant or the zoo - keep communications open. You don't know if he will feel differently later. I'm sure you've already tried to motivate him, but don't stop. It's important that your daughter not see you as a barrier to his visits.

It's a terribly sad situation, but you don't have to make these decisions without help. Good luck to you all.


I only met my father a handful of times, and then he died when I was 14. I admire your efforts to enable your daughter and her father to have a direct relationship.

Sometimes, the more you push someone, the more they resist. Try taking a break from "listing her virtues on the phone with him like you're trying to convince him of the merits of being involved with her."

It is probably a good self-protection mechanism on your daughter's part, that she is less interested in him now.

Ideally, they would see each other with enough frequency that he wouldn't feel like a total stranger to her (which is how it felt to me the few times I saw my father).

I agree with @anongoodnurse that the visits should be in a public place. Or, when he comes to your place to visit her, take that opportunity to go get some groceries, go to a coffee shop and read a book, go for a walk, etc.

For your daughter's sake, please set aside your own feelings of frustration with this man, and limit yourself to providing whatever cooperation is needed when he feels ready to see her (as long as she does not find the relationship more painful than it is worth).

Try not to take an 'all or nothing' position.

Your role in this is difficult.

So is his. It may take some getting used to for him to separate out his relationship with her from his former relationship with you. It can be confusing!

If your daughter feels hurt when she doesn't see him for several weeks or months, tell her that her father is finding life difficult, and is doing the best he can to get himself organized to be able to spend some time with her. We don't want her blaming herself, or taking it personally!

If your daughter doesn't bring him up, that's okay. But I would say, check in with him about once a month, on your own time, to keep the lines of communication open.


IMO, you absolutely need to encourage dad to see his daughter.

She doesn't care at all about the things you do, she just knows he's not around, and that will create anxiety. Depending upon her age and social circle, she may wonder why she doesn't have a dad and other kids do, and she may make up humorous or terrifying fantasies to explain it, if you are silent or ambiguous about him.

You absolutely need to make clear to her that she had a dad, that he was a good man, that you wish the relationship would have worked out, but it didn't, and you encourage her to look forward to seeing him, but "it's difficult" sometimes to find time and place to do so.

OTOH, I didn't say you need to take on more work, or stress yourself, to enable the visitations, nor give up your privacy or personal distance (he might well be trying to re-establish a relationship with you as well, by seeking parenting time at your place).

Finally, it sounds like both of you are young-ish, and so is the child. Keep in mind that dad may be a rough spot temporarily, and may be able to get-it-together in a year-or-two-or-three.

Therefore, I suggest the following principles:

  • he is the child's birth dad and always will be;
  • therefore, you will remain staunchly in favor of a her having a relationship with him unless he hurts her;
  • you should calmly encourage him to have parenting time, and be flexible in enabling it to happen (eg, perhaps you agree to drop-off daughter at grand-parents house, or even a shared friend's house instead of yours (eg, a play-date that he not you attends); perhaps you meet at the Mall, and he takes her for 2 hours while you do your shopping; part of his time could be taking daughter to well-baby visits; maybe he decides to volunteer in the nursery at church on Sunday mornings, in order to spend time with her there; there are lots of ways, if you get creative.
  • consider daily Facetime or phone-time between him and her. This may be an emotional challenge for you, I get it. Maybe he calls to wake you all up in the morning, maybe he just does a "goodnight kiss" over the phone;
  • while he ought to be seeing his daughter at least several times per week, it sounds like your rapidly moving down hill -- try to get him to agree to up his game ASAP (see previous paragraphs);
  • you should personally commit to try to not allow more than 2 weeks go by without him seeing and hugging daughter -- which means you might need to put out a bit of extra effort until the "hunger" gets established on everyone's part. Maybe that means calling him, asking him to pick up some stuff at the grocery store and deliver it (such as diapers, milk & eggs, and maybe some ice-cream);
  • you should non-judgementally suggest ideas ways he could be a better co-parent -- most likely he has never thought of them or heard of them, if few of his friends are themselves dads;
  • you must accept that he may not be able to co-parent now, the way you want him to; however you must not conclude that he won't be able to in the future;
  • both you and he must accept the reality that when you remarry, your new husband will almost certainly become the defacto dad; birth dad will need to accept that gracefully, and you and new husband should commit to enabling birth dad's relationship with child to continue naturally as your daughter wants; it will degrade rapidly, despite best intentions of you, birth dad, and daughter. Hopefully however, it will settle at level at which every feels loved and accepted.

As other people have said, this is a very sad situation. I can give you a little insight into my life as a father, and a few bits and pieces that I can think of. I won't pretend to have an ultimate answer to any of this, and I'm sure you'd be skeptical of anybody who claimed to have one. The following are my unconnected thoughts; I hope they're of some use to you:

When my son was born, I stood there looking at him through the class as he lay in his little cot, crying loudly, stopping for a few seconds, and then crying loudly again. I didn't know how to hold him. I didn't know how to be a father to him. I just stood there looking at a baby that didn't look much like any other baby I'd ever seen, thinking to myself, "Well, I guess I'll be taking this one home." Over the next few days, I bonded with him, and he became the most beautiful thing in the world to me. After around 19 months, I am, of course, completely comfortable with every aspect of being a father to him, even the less glamorous things. I tell you this because I'm guessing that the bonding process goes two ways; the man who can come to love his child through spending time parenting can also find that love fading as he returns to his easier life with all the carefree stuff that he could do before. Do with that what you will. On the one hand, if you want to keep him around, you're in a race against time as every day makes him less and less of a father. On the other hand, if you want him gone, you can wait until he loves her so little that he won't put up a fight and then get sole legal custody of her. I don't know which path you should take.

You should avoid anything more than a 'white lie' when you talk to her about her father or his choices. Don't tell her that he's out of state if she could see him walking down the street the next day. If he's shaking her faith in him, being caught in a lie (regardless of intent) will probably do great damage to her ability to trust you. I'd hate to think what that'd do to a young mind, but she must at least be able to absolutely trust in you.

This guy doesn't exactly sound like a winner. If you had the luxury of choice, I'd advise you to tell him to shape up or leave her life, given his poor track record and lack of positive traits. That said, there are a lot of losers who love their children with the intensity of a thousand stars in supernova; many of them do a good job in spite of their failings elsewhere.

Whatever happens, your daughter needs a positive, male role model in her life. When she wants to know how a woman should behave, she has you to look at. If she doesn't have a guy to show her how a man should act, she'll fill in the gaps using far less reliable sources.

It sounds like you've made it all about her, in spite of the difficulties. Well done, you. Please don't ruin that streak by getting involved with a guy who won't love her as his own, and who you aren't serious about marrying someday.

For what it's worth, I'm a teacher, and I see the net result of parenting hundreds of times a day. I've seen some excellent young people raised by single parents who gave everything they had to raise their kids well. You can be one of them, and single parents are massively unsung heroes in my book. I'd hate to have to raise my son without my wife around, and you're doing that, plus dealing with these difficulties, while safeguarding your daughter's heart as much as you can. It sounds like you're doing right by her. That's really hard to do. Don't give up, don't let things slip, and keep fighting for her every step of the way. One day, she will be a woman, and you'll be so utterly proud of who she has become. That will be because of her, but it will also be because of you. Keep going; you're doing well.


Am I obligated as a parent to try to foster a relationship between the two of them?

Of course not. That's his responsibility as a parent. If he won't make a minimal effort, it's unlikely that seeing her because you pushed him to will result in a good relationship for her. She will be left wanting more as he is clearly putting many things before her in his list of priorities.

I know a girl and mother in that exact situation (dad will see her a few weekends, then not see her for months, then see her again, ...) and it is not good for her emotional state. Nor her mother's for that matter.


All these people that comment putting the responsibility on you when he is a whole adult with a child. It's not your job to raise a grown up. He knows right from wrong and as long as you're not blocking him in some way you're fine . Don't encourage him to do anything. Let his daughter see who he really is with no influence from you. And if she asks about him tell her the damn truth and remind who chooses to be there each day and how love is a verb not a noun.

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