Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: Please help me to understand why it seems so common that after a divorce, the parent with visitation will allow themselves to fade out of their children’s lives. In early 2009 I left my husband after repeated attempts to help him through his drug addiction. Our daughters were 11 and 13 at the time. For the first two years, he kept up his visitation schedule. Despite having as much access to them as he wanted, he stuck to the schedule for the most part and then faded away. I know so many stories of others in the same situation, whether it’s a father or the mother who steps out of their responsibilities. My girls are 18 and 20 now and they have learned that in their father’s world, they don’t matter. It hurts them deeply. Our girls are busy but they would love to get a call from their father and feel a sense of importance to him. Messages or calls mostly go unanswered. When they are together for rare holiday occasions, he cannot relate to them and he seems too self-absorbed to really listen to them talk. The conversation is dominated by him and about him. His girls are strong, intelligent and independent. He is either too self-absorbed or feels inadequate around them. What are your thoughts as to why this happens so much?
At A Loss
DEAR LOSS: I’m not aware that this happens as often as you seem to think it does. I also think that judging others based on your drug addict ex-husband’s behavior is not fair to the scores of parents who try to be good parents under circumstances that are less than ideal.
A typical visitation schedule of one evening a week and every other weekend means that it can be very challenging for the noncustodial parent to develop a consistent and close relationship with children, especially as they get older and have lots of competing interests. Intimacy is built not only through special occasions, but sheer quantity time spent together performing the mundane tasks of life in a family — going to the supermarket and school events, preparing dinner and cleaning up afterward. It is very challenging to build up an intimate family life on a visitation schedule.
It is also best for children if the custodial parent does everything possible to assist the non-custodial parent in building a relationship. Obviously, your ex-husband has done a very poor job, and I’m sorry that your children long for a relationship they can’t have.
DEAR AMY: I’ve lived in my home for almost 30 years, and get along well with the neighbors I know. But it is a university neighborhood, and there are many rental properties, including a four-family unit next door to my single-family home. The problem is caused by the neighbors in the unit closest to mine, where their front porch is about 20 feet from my bedroom window. Over the past year, their relationship has become more and more contentious, with loud yelling (sometimes going on for hours) accompanied by much door slamming. It can happen day or night and frequently takes place outside on the porch. When it happens at night, it not only awakens me, but also my dog, who will bark as long as they are fighting — and then some. I don’t know these neighbors and don’t know how to approach this, but my sleep is suffering, and it seems to be happening more frequently — at least twice a week.
Tired in Colorado
DEAR TIRED: If you live in a college town, your local police department will be intimately familiar with noise complaints. You should call the local police the next time this happens. Be specific with details.
In addition to disturbing the peace on the street, this fighting — and the fact that it is escalating — could be a sign that one (or both) of these partners is in some danger.
DEAR AMY: I’d like to offer a practical suggestion for “Struggling Artist,” who is trying to establish herself, post-college.
This artist should take a business course at her local community college. Freelancers need to realize that they are really setting up a business for themselves, and all the rules that apply to other entrepreneurs also apply to them.
DEAR BEEN THERE: Excellent advice for artists, musicians and fellow writers — or anyone in a creative field. I wish I had done this myself earlier in my career.