I am a father to a nine year old boy, I am separated from his mother and have been since before his birth. We don't really get on but we are civil for his sake and communicate maturely as and when it is required. We both have quite negative views about each other but we keep those views to ourselves as much as possible.
He stays with his mum through the week and with me at weekends.
The problem I have is that all I really want is for him to have the best chance in life in what is obviously a far from ideal situation, but I have always felt she is not giving him that. I try my best not to be judgemental, I am far from perfect myself, but I feel like I try my best and I am sure his mum does too. I live alone and work full time. When my son stays at the weekends he has 100% of my attention, and I also travel 60 miles after work to take him to sporting events at least once (sometimes twice) per week.
Examples of some of the problems I have experienced:
- I send her money every month, enough to feed and clothe him. Yet I often have to bring food with me when I visit during the week because she says she cannot afford it. She has admitted to using food banks despite her fiance who she lives with having a full time job. He goes to school with messy clothes with holes in them. I have to buy him clothes and it leaves me wondering where my money is going. But if I stop sending money then there are legal implications against me which feels immensely unfair.
- He is often very late for school or misses entire days because he just doesn't want to go. She lets him play computer games late at night and he sleeps in. She allows him to stay off if he says he has any kind of medical compliant but will only go to doctors if it's really serious. He will say he has a sore tummy and she might keep him off for several days. He is missing out on vital lessons and experiences. I have a strong intellect and I can recognise similar traits in him, but he is behind most of his class in most subjects for reasons I can only speculate on.
- I rarely get included in any information that I feel I have a right to. Last parents' night I found out while sitting in front of his teacher that he had been getting bullied by some older boys and there had been meetings about it involving the school head. It was obvious from my reaction that this was new information to me and I felt very embarrassed that the teacher could clearly see that. It made me feel like she saw me as an absent parent who doesn't care or take an interest. But I ask him every time I see him how his day in school was and he never indicated any problem and he is my only source of information. His annual school sports day was this week, I got 13 hours notice and was unable to take time off work to attend. If I had a week notice it would have been no problem. I don't know if it's malicious or just lack of care, but it really upsets me that I don't get to be involved in these things.
- There are some behavioural issues that, while I am certainly not a psychologist, I feel can at least in part be attributed to lack of attention. Any time I go to collect him or drop him off, his mum is often in bed, regardless of time of day. She hasn't worked in all the time I've known her. When he is at home I'm not convinced he gets any real human interaction. When he is with me I try to engage with him as much as possible and introduce him to children of a similar age but he just seems disinterested and unadventurous.
- And the absolute killer for me, which prompted this post, is YouTube. It's the straw that broke the camels back for sure. He recently announced to me that he has his own YouTube channel and invited me to watch, he took a lot of pride in showing me what he had achieved. He sits in his bedroom alone, unsupervised, at age nine, and has his mobile phone set up on a stand to record a video of himself playing online games on his laptop. You don't see his face and the only part of his body you see is his hands, but I feel very strongly that this is every single kind of inappropriate. The names of his characters and his live commentary both smell very strongly of attention seeking. The parent in me wants him to stop and delete the channel immediately, I work in online marketing and have a very real understanding of the dangers of the Internet. But at the same time, he is finding an outlet and I worry that if I block that outlet he will find another one that may be even more dangerous.
In all honesty, I don't know what to do. His mum has already been investigated by social services for hygiene problems in the house. I can see problems everywhere I look, but my son loves his mum unconditionally and is unaware of any problems. I couldn't bring myself to try and force a separation. And in all honesty I have a crisis of confidence in my own ability to do any better. I have a very demanding job and giving him any more attention that I do now would have a big impact on my career. My parents and her parents would both be in a position to support if required, but I don't want to put any unnecessary pressure on anyone.
Any time I consider any action I can take, I look at potential outcomes and all I see is a picture being painted of me being the bad guy. How can I give my son a better chance at a safe and proper life without causing undue suffering to him and those around him and pushing his mum to be even less co-operative than she already is, and without making him see me in a negative light?