My son did not pay child support; I am very upset by his irresponsible attitude. What should I do? | australian way of life


My 27 year old son is the father of a two year old little girl. He and his girlfriend broke up shortly after the baby was born. They were living with his girlfriend’s family and she had agreed to move in with my son and his father after three months. When she changed her mind, he felt betrayed and the relationship soured.

I had concerns about their plans to have a baby from the start, but we were only informed once she was pregnant. My problem is that my son has not paid child support to date. He says he will start paying once his ex-girlfriend allows him to visit her daughter unsupervised.

He perceives his ex-girlfriend as controlling and vengeful. I sense she is bitter about how things ended, but she is a good mother and protective of her child. My son recently showed interest in another girl and mentioned he might have a baby with her. I’m very upset with his irresponsible attitude towards parenthood, so I said I wouldn’t speak to him again if he got another woman pregnant without at least a modicum of commitment to self-care and financial support. I wonder what I should do if this situation were to arise?

Eleanor says: Let me start with an observation: it seems to me that a shared structure echoes through many interactions here, in which one person tries to get another to do something using a threat or an “either” . Your son wants his ex to change the rules about visitation with his daughter, so he’s using child support to try to do it. His ex wants him to be or do something different, so she’s holding back time with their daughter until then. And now, desperately concerned about the future, you really hope your son makes a different decision – and the prospect of losing contact with you will.

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to stop other people from doing what we think they should be doing.

The problem with or-elseing in romantic relationships is that it tends to leave only two possible outcomes. Either the person does what we want them to do, or they don’t. If they do, it may be hard for either of you to forget that they only did it on a barrel you built – it’s hard for them to feel confident and for you to feel confident. And if they don’t do what you wanted, you end up with a punishment that is often as painful for you as it is for them.

It would be so much better if we could guarantee that just stating the ultimatum would give them a reason, turning them into a real felt deal. But it’s not often that someone who is already making scary decisions becomes more rational when they feel under attack. Often, the “or else” just adds resentment and hierarchy to an already bitter disagreement.

You have reason to worry here. And if those reasons were uniquely yours, I would say it was your prerogative to exclude your son. But if he has another child — in fact, even with the first — things won’t work out for that little kid with a less responsible adult around.

I wonder if you could make some progress instead trying to help your son feel like someone who could provide financial security and independence, instead of just someone who should.

Sometimes the parts of our life where we get it wrong are where we never thought we could do well, “I’m just like that.” It takes real energy and self-control to break irresponsible habits – I wonder if hearing “you’re up to this task” might fuel it more than “you’re not and you should. ‘to be “.

Helping people make better choices is often more about stimulating their imagination than forcing their behavior to change; they must be able to imagine a different life with enough detail to pursue it. So maybe whether he has this child or not, your goal could be to fuel that imagination. Wouldn’t it be better to be independent? Isn’t he tired of not being trustworthy? He has the character and the ability to change! (For example: “I really know that you can be the greatest and put [daughter] above this fight with [ex]”.)

Ultimatums leave boot prints on relationships that are very hard to dust off. You might find, for everyone here, that real change is more likely when you invite the other person to be the one to push for things to be better.

This question has been edited for clarity.

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