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Should children visit parents who are in jail, or making other significantly bad decisions?

Like so many issues related to divorce and child custody, the impact to the child is almost entirely dependent on the attitude of the adults involved.

When I was a child my favorite uncle was convicted of selling marijuana. My parents are devout Mormons, and in all my life, I have never seen either of them touch even alcohol or tobacco. But without making a fuss over why my uncle was in prison, my parents took our whole family to visit him every month.

For my brother and sister and I, the trips were the highlight of our month. The visits were outside at a picnic table, with a playground, and lots of other families. My mom packed a lunch and she visited with her brother while my dad pushed us on the swings and we made friends with other children. When the weather was bad, we were in a big cafeteria room, but there were jacks and board games, and playing cards that my uncle could check out for us to use. I remember my uncle sitting cross legged on the floor teaching us what a “straight” was.

Even limited contact with a child, if it is positive and consistent, can foster a real relationship and have a positive impact on a child’s life.

The interesting thing is, he didn’t become my favorite uncle until he went to prison. It was the first time we had regular visits with him. He learned the names of our friends and what our interests were. He is still my favorite uncle today, although our lifestyles are still very different.

Regular visits alone would not have accomplished this. The key was that my uncle spent time on each visit talking with each of us. He asked about our lives, and remembered what we had talked about last time. And he was not bitter about his life. The time he spent with us was focused on us.

I think this is an example of how even limited contact with a child, if it is positive and consistent, can foster a real relationship and have a positive impact on a child’s life.

A life-long relationship with your child is worth it.

I am not saying to maintain contact at any cost. When a child looks forward to a parent’s visit, packs and waits to be picked up, and then the parent doesn’t show up, or let the child know that they cannot make it, it is devastating. It is also painful for children to regularly spend time with parents that are annoyed at their presence, or spend their visit criticizing the other parent. But in the majority of cases, continuing contact between a child and a parent, even at the cost of inconvenience and swallowed pride, is worth it.

If you do not live with your children, make sure that you do not allow yourself to be erased from their lives. If the other parent is refusing to let you be an active part of their life, contact my office, or see any family law attorney. You may be dreading opening another court action, but a life-long relationship with your child is worth it.

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