Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Father and stepmother don't want 8-year-old to visit again
Philadelphia: On a visit to his father, my 8-year-old son got in trouble for lying, and his father and stepmother exploded, telling him he's never invited to visit again. My ex is now trying to alter our custody arrangement.
How do I guide my son through this time so it's not devastating and hurtful for him?
Carolyn: There's no way your son isn't going to be devastated and hurt by this rejection. You can only help him face it and work it down to a manageable size so that it doesn't damage his ability to trust people and form intimate ties as he grows.
To get there, you need guidance and a safe place for your son to talk about things he's not ready or able to say to you. Eight is old enough for him to have strong verbal skills, but that doesn't mean he's capable of identifying and expressing his feelings.
Through your pediatrician and/or your boy's school, please find a reputable child specialist who gets good results with helping children through trauma. Therapists aren't superheroes, but there's just no substitute for a good one when the stuff hits the fan.
And stuff like this is hard to imagine. I'm sorry.
Re: Poor kid . . .
Anonymous: What could an 8-year-old possibly lie about to be banished? It sounds like they were looking for an excuse.
Carolyn: I agree, it does. All kids lie! They're trying it on. Nurture Shock summarizes research on this and explains the developmental reasons. It also demonstrates good and bad parental responses to lying. This one was so bad it was probably beyond the scope of studies.
Anonymous 2: The only justification I could imagine is a threat by the child to make an unjustified claim of child abuse, especially sexual abuse. If I were the stepmom/father, I'd want nothing else to do with the child either. Which sounds harsh, until you consider the possibility of being labeled a sexual predator.
Carolyn: In that case, I might not want the child in my home without outside supervision. However, having "nothing else to do with" a child so young and (hypothetically) troubled? Not an acceptable option. The father and stepmother could remain involved by trying to get the child the necessary help. Washing your hands of your own 8-year-old is not right.
Anonymous 3: Dude, is your ex allowed to disown an 8-year-old? Seriously — that man needs counseling, too. . . . If one of my brothers tried this, my entire family would line up to (metaphorically) slap him. And the child would still have the support and affection of the extended family.
Carolyn: But you're talking about a functional family. It's possible the ex's family is anything but, given his behavior here. . . .
Sometimes the custodial parent's best course is to make the part of the world s/he controls as loving and safe as possible and to give the child a means to identify, process and dispose of any residual anger.