My depressed ex wor­ries our child

Newslink - - YOUR HEALTH -

Q: My daugh­ter’s fa­ther and I split when she was 3. That was 8 years ago and she’s now 11. While he and I don’t talk much at all, we’ve lived in the same neigh­bour­hood to make it easy for our daugh­ter to have ac­cess to both as needed. We’ve been shar­ing care week-on/week-off for years.

Un­for­tu­nately, he has been depressed since be­fore our sep­a­ra­tion. He also makes un­healthy life choices and has no so­cial life. This is be­com­ing a prob­lem for our daugh­ter now and she’s start­ing to ask to spend more time with me.

She is very at­tached to him and quite torn be­tween her loy­alty to him and her own feel­ings and needs. She craves a ‘‘nor­mal’’ child­hood, rather than one where she’s sat­is­fy­ing his needs of com­pan­ion­ship. What is the best way for her to pro­ceed with care and self­de­ter­mi­na­tion? A: It sounds as if you share a very em­pa­thetic young daugh­ter. It’s tough for a young girl to feel torn be­tween her par­ents and I agree you need to tread care­fully.

There are some vari­ables that could in­flu­ence your path for­ward but you didn’t elab­o­rate on these points. Does your 11-year-old un­der­stand that her fa­ther has a men­tal ill­ness? Is her fa­ther needy for her com­pan­ion­ship or just any­one’s? Is she able to have friends around at her fa­ther’s house?

And I also won­der what you mean when you say, un­healthy life choices? This phrase makes me ner­vous that she could be ex­posed to his abuse of drugs or al­co­hol.

It’s clear that you’re all at a junc­tion right now. It’s sad for your ex, that his daugh­ter is want­ing to pull away but I think her needs are the most im­por­tant here and they should be made the pri­or­ity.

You two, the par­ents, have had your turn at child­hood and we all know it is short and spe­cial and we need to nur­ture this brief time. I think you should start by hav­ing a chat with your ex, away from your 11-year-old and see if you can make a new ar­range­ment.

A week-on/week-off is ob­vi­ously too much time at her fa­ther’s but the last thing she needs at her age is to feel guilty and re­spon­si­ble for his hap­pi­ness. It sounds as if your daugh­ter will want her fa­ther’s dig­nity main­tained in this reshuf­fle.

If you can’t agree on a new plan, then seek some ex­pert help. It might also be a good idea to talk to your daugh­ter about men­tal health is­sues, or again, get some­one to as­sist in this dis­cus­sion.

The main thing is that your daugh­ter feels lis­tened to and her opin­ions re­spected. This prob­lem will only get harder as she gets older, so now is def­i­nitely the best time to deal with it. ❚ Mary-anne Scott has raised four boys and writ­ten two nov­els for young adults in­clud­ing

She has a new book com­ing in March, called

As one of seven sis­ters, there aren’t many par­ent­ing prob­lems she hasn’t talked over. To send her a ques­tion email life.style@fair­fax­me­dia.co.nz with Dear Mary-anne in the sub­ject line. Your anonymity is as­sured.

She’s torn be­tween her loy­alty to her dad and need­ing to be in a sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment.

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