They cared for vulnerable kids. Now he wants them gone

  • Thursday, October 10, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Two years ago, my wife and I took in her two half-siblings, ages 5 and 8. It was an emergency situation, her mom had real problems I don’t want to get into, and their dad was overwhelmed and we really had to step up.

Now my mother-in-law is completely out of the picture, but the kids’ father would like to resume full custody.

I was so relieved at the news. I was glad to help when we had to, but we’re still in our 20s, and I would like to get back to the carefree life we had before. We only have a couple of years before we start trying for kids of our own.

My wife wants to have the children “visit” their father on weekends until she’s sure he can hack it as a single father. It will help to have our weekends back — but we’ll still be dealing with the drudgery during the week.

And what really worries me is that my wife can’t explain exactly what will signal the dad is ready. I understand her reluctance to let go, but I say let the dad take full custody now and if he can’t handle it, then they can come back. None of these custody arrangements were ever made legal, so who are we to deny him, right? Isn’t my plan a reasonable one for all concerned?

— Worried

I’m sorry, no, it’s not — and your plan almost lost me entirely.

I’m with you fully on what you agreed to do and what you’ve given up. You are young. You are cleaning up someone else’s mess, and it does sound as if you had no real say. You were an utter champ for these kids.

Nothing takes away from that.

But the “let the dad take full custody now and if he can’t handle it, then they can come back” isn’t “reasonable for all concerned” — it benefits no one but you and could re-traumatize the kids. And it could even hurt you in the end, if the father gets overwhelmed and walks away.

That’s for later, though. For now, you have two fragile kids. The best thing for them is to ensure stability, then introduce changes gradually. You don’t just tear them from their home and safe place of two years.

So you do as your wife suggests: Send them for weekends with Dad so they all can acclimate.

When they’re comfortable, that’s when they live full time with Dad, and you can buy rounds instead of string cheese.

The care and patience you devote to this reintroduction process will ultimately be for your benefit as much as anyone’s. That’s because if anything derails it, the kids will likely be in your care indefinitely. It still might derail for any number of other reasons, but you at least can be careful not to do anything to imperil it yourself by rushing or forcing it. No matter how badly you want some air.

Re: Worried:

You might resent the circumstances, but make sure you understand you’re getting a trial run of what having kids IS. Take a closer look at your feelings on kids before trying for your own, please.

— Anonymous

Exactly, yes, thanks.

— Washington Post Writers Group

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