My son’s father is not meeting up with him

Parent Question:
My son’s father is not spending time with our 11-year-old son regularly. How do I explain this to my son?My ex has a history of multiple mental health issues. When we all lived together my son experienced those periods where depression caused his dad to withdraw. I tried to protect him from the addiction and related anger issues. We spoke to him about depression and how dad would feel better soon.

In the two years since I moved out with my son, his dad has seen him infrequently. He agrees that his living situation means it is not appropriate for our son to go to his house or stay overnight. He stepped up during the first lockdown last year and saw our son two to three times a week at my house when school was closed.

Now, however, his dad is declining to take me up on seeing our son in person one day at the weekend. At the same time, he is repeatedly calling and texting our son on his phone. Our son mostly does not answer or text back. I’ve talked to our son and he says he would like to go to the park to play sports with his dad at the weekend and talk on FaceTime twice a week. His dad won’t agree to do this. I can see my son is disappointed.

I recently instructed my solicitor to proceed with the divorce, my ex is angry and since I started the divorce proceedings he has stopped seeing our son. I don’t want to explain the absences by saying dad is depressed and will feel better soon as that’s not what is going on. I know the huge importance of not talking badly of the other parent in front of the child.

I would really appreciate some advice on how to talk to my son about his dad not agreeing to see him in person.

After separation it is often challenging to establish arrangements to ensure children have good contact with both parents, especially when one parent does not have appropriate child-centred living space. You are also dealing with the extra challenges of your son’s father’s addiction and mental health problems.

To your credit, it also sounds like you are prioritising your son’s relationship with his father and doing a lot to facilitate this, by for example previously allowing him to visit your son in your home two to three times a week and making an effort not to “talk badly” about him in front of your son.

Negotiating with your son’s father
One way forward is to try to and negotiate with your son’s father to regularise contact with his son. Would it be possible to arrange a meeting or telephone conversation to do this? If communication is difficult you could consider the option of family mediation (see national free mediation service at Even if you have tried mediation before, it might be worth trying it again and this time focused on negotiating the best contact arrangements for your son.

Alternatively, you could also communicate via a family member or friend you both trust. This person could talk to his father and explore how contact could be restarted in person and also recommend he attends professional support (see below). I appreciate that communication can be fraught between separating parents especially during court proceedings. Though it is important to do what you can to keep communication open and focused on the needs of your son.

In improving communication, it is worth taking time to appreciate just how challenging things might be for his father. As well as managing his depression and addiction, he may be struggling with adjusting to being a separated father, finding the best way to have a relationship with an 11 year-old ( at the start of adolescence) who does not live with him.

Also, it sounds like he is unhappy with the separation and divorce proceedings which can add to the tension. Understanding where he is currently at, will help you reach an agreement for your son.

How to talk to your son
In talking to your son it is important to try to explain what is happening in a truthful way that supports his relationship with his father. You could emphasise that his father ringing and texting him is a sign he wants to keep contact and then you could explore with your son how he can make the most of these ways of communication.

If your son asks why his father has not met him in person recently, you can honestly say you don’t know, and that you will contact his father to try and arrange this. Make sure to check in with your son about how he feels about the separation and encourage him to talk to you about this. Knowing that he can tell you how what he feels and that you will listen is really helpful.

Seek support
Going through a separation can be a tough isolating experience. I would encourage you to seek further support by getting counselling, or joining a support group with other parents in similar situations. Have a look at or for some options. These supports will help you tease out your dilemmas re contact and now best to talk to your son.

His father could also independently seek support and attend these services also – this might help improve communication and contact also.

John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the School of Psychology, University College Dublin. This parenting Q&A was originally published in the Irish Times in October 2021. John writes in the Irish Times Newspaper on Tuesdays. His website is