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My ex-wife leaves our daughter with her grandparents and goes out drinking at weekends. The Guardian.

Dear Annalisa

I am the father of a five-year-old girl, and for the past few years have been divorced from her mother.

My ex-wife and I have a good relationship with regard to how best to parent our daughter. Additionally, we have a mutually agreeable system regarding when our daughter spends time with her mother and when she spends time with me. The result is that our daughter spends alternate weekends with me and, additionally, she is with me one night a week.

My problem is that my ex-wife often likes to go out on Friday or Saturday nights, drinking excessively into the wee hours. She does this regularly at weekends when it is “her” weekend with our daughter. On these occasions, she arranges for our child to be looked after by her grandparents, who live some considerable distance away.

I appreciate that, because she is with our daughter more often than I am, she does not have a lot of time available in which to socialise. I always ensure my ex-wife knows that I am happy to have our daughter if there is a social event she would like to go to. However, she rarely accepts this offer.

I think it is important for both of us to have healthy social lives, and we both do, but I think it is important to arrange big nights out for when our daughter is with the “other” parent.

My daughter is a lovely, happy and contented child and has adjusted to the separate living arrangements with no problem. However, I feel very strongly that going out until 2am and drinking heavily, while one’s daughter is being looked after by her grandparents, and then not seeing your child again until the following afternoon is not good parenting.

How do I explain my feelings to my ex-wife? Is it any of my business?

You and your wife have successfully navigated a separation and divorce and established good co-parenting arrangements. That’s excellent and not many manage it. Well done.

You ask if it is any of your business, and the welfare of your daughter absolutely is. It should be the priority for both of you. But if this isn’t compromised, then the behaviour of your former wife and what she does with her time, is not. Your definition of good parenting may be different.

Although I note you have a pretty good time-split with your daughter, your ex-wife has her the majority of the time. It is fair to say that many social engagements tend to take place on Fridays and Saturdays and your wife may not have control over when they are, because other people may arrange them. Your ex may feel she needs to go out to keep herself sane, or whole, or she may feel it will help her meet someone else or make friends. How much, anyway, do you really know about the facts, I wonder?

Here is what she is not doing: she is not getting so drunk that she can’t look after your daughter every day (or at all, as she has her parents look after your daughter when she goes out). She is not leaving her with people you don’t know or trust. It sounds as if this happens once a fortnight, at most? (You make the point of saying Friday or Saturday when she has her, not both.) And it sounds as if she goes to quite a lot of trouble to leave your daughter with trusted grandparents – who will presumably love having her there and with whom she will love being.

I would say this is pretty responsible behaviour unless there is something you are not telling me?

I wonder what is really concerning you? Is it that you are not spending enough time with your daughter? Is it that your ex goes out more than you? Is it that she drinks too much, in your opinion? Is it that you feel left out of her life? Is it that her life no longer concerns you, beyond where the Venn diagram of your daughter’s care crosses over with yours? Or is it that you think this isn’t how a mother should behave?

If you think about what is really concerning you, perhaps you could then do something about it, if it is in your remit to. It is not that I don’t think it is laudable that you are concerned about your daughter, but I would be cautious of saying anything that sounds judgmental or censorious for the sake of it, because it sounds as if the arrangement you have is really good and that your daughter is happy. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t ever say anything if circumstances were to change. But you don’t voice any concerns at all that you feel your daughter is being neglected or abused in any way. If you did, my advice would be vastly different.

Incidentally, are the grandparents, your ex-in-laws, close to you still? Have they voiced any concerns?


This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 2 April 2016.