What is visitation and how can you get the most out of it?

Visitation can be very restrictive. For example, I talk with my daughter once a month via video-conference and visit Japan once a year. My ex-wife’s new husband is always present. He directly interferes with my daughter during visitations and interrupts special moments. This is a common boundary for alienated parents. Therefore, it is important to plan visitations and maximise all contact.

I want this to be a positive post. My previous post about mediation was negative, so I want to make up for it.

This post’s picture is a Japanese shrine. The statues feature three sisters who were raised by foster parents. I do not want to misquote their history. However, it reminds me that Japanese children are strong and have a history of growing up successfully outside traditional family circles. I find this very heartening.

Planning for visitation

Ignore obstacles, focus on your child’s needs

Abductors will try their best to distract every visitation. For my first visitation, my ex-wife mischievously called the police. We met at a train station in a small town. The entire station was full of armed police, gazing at me through the corners of their eyes. While disappointing and distracting, I accepted it as being unavoidable.

My ex-wife’s husband arrived late with our daughter. He told her to run away, to prevent visitation. She hesitated and then ran away. Again, I had to keep calm and logical. I called my lawyer and they sorted it out. My ex-wife wanted a fight and for me to be arrested. Instead, I had a meaningful visitation.

Prepare for language (and other) barriers

Learn your child’s language!

My Japanese is not very good. I speak basic, conversational Japanese. Language skills are very important because abductors will insist on using their native language (even if they speak English). I think that speaking Japanese to my daughter is a sign of strength and respect. I am not perfect, but I try my best. Can you honestly say you are trying your best if you do not even attempt to learn your child’s language?

I respect that learning a language is very difficult. However, you do not need to be perfect. With Japanese I know the sounds (through hiragana/katakana), common words (greetings, numbers, colours, shapes, days, months, time, foods, animals, verbs…etc) and some basic sentence structures (20 at most). I use simple language and jackknife basic sentences. This is slow and awkward, but people understand me.

Speaking is also useful because I do not always have to rely on others. For example, when talking to my ex-wife’s husband, I can speak from my heart. Sometimes he is very rude and pretends he does not understand. I combat this by asking very simple yes/no questions. It is important for me to have a story. If my questions have direction, he will understand my intention. I think that communicating with limited grammar and vocabulary is an art form. It is not very pretty, but it can be very creative.

Obstructions from parents

Physical obstruction is common. During my first visitation, my ex-wife’s husband stood between me and my daughter. I was granted visitation without his presence. However, he insisted and physically obstructed where possible. This included:

– constantly touching and kissing our daughter;

– offering to buy her sweet/expensive presents;

– berating me;

– saying ‘no more’ when we were enjoying games; and

– being passive aggressive during any group activities.

This was very frustrating. While I think he is evil for abducting our daughter, I must accept this and focus on building rapport. Rapport is important because your child deserves a comfortable environment. Abductors will try to alienate biological parents. They want children to believe you are evil and not important. They will lie and obstruct where possible. However, you cannot! You must stay calm and resist any temptation to be disrespectful. It is easy for a large, foreign person to seem aggressive if children do not know the context. Also, no amount of aggression is good for children. By being calm but assertive, you can prove to your child that you are the bigger person. Of course you are – you have spent more than $20,000 on court fees and traveled across the world to see your child. Don’t blow it by being belligerent aggressive. You need to wine and dine the enemy, build rapport and prove that you are a caring, capable parent. Let your lawyer do the arguing…

Planning games and activities

Visitation needs to be fun. I plan each visitation like a lesson or presentation. You need an introduction, activities and a conclusion. Also, be weary of time and plan a few games as fillers.

Use Google Maps to scout out the area

Before visiting, do your homework. Where are you meeting? I meet at a train station in a small town. There are no shopping malls or play centres. Using Google Maps I found all of the local parks, temples, lakes, castles, local shops and historical sits. I printed a map (in English and Japanese) and used my introduction to discuss these places. Hi! It has been a long time, how are you? Sorry, my Japanese is bad. Today I brought a map, see? Do you like castles? Temples? Dinosaurs? Sports? Great! We have 3 hours. Lets kick a ball in the park, visit the castle, visit the temple then come back here to play a board game. Sound good? Great, lets go!

Only simple language is required for this. Also, you have the map as stimulus. Thus, if you don’t know a work, you can point. Stimulus is also good for setting a theme/story for the visitation. Themes reduce confusion and make visitation more logical.

Time your activities

Time is often very limited, so maximise it! Approximate how long each activity will take and plan smooth transitions between activities. For example if you are playing a ball game, drawing and reading books then find a place that accommodates all three. Keep an eye on how long each activity takes and transition smoothly. A good way to have smooth transitions is to use an object for multiple purposes. For example, Jenga can be used for Jenga. You can then use the blocks as building blocks. If you introduce a notepad and textas, you can make origami figures (e.g. boats and swans) or draw backgrounds. Be smart! Activities should build on each other and utilise every piece of stimulus available to you.

Keep an accurate record of time and don’t allow the abducting parent to waste your time. For example when my ex-wife’s husband said ‘I am taking your daughter to buy lollies and toys’ I said ‘fine… but I will time you… this visitation is 3 hours… I traveled for 14 hours… do not waste our time’. He got the message and did not waste time.

On that note, you should be open and honest about your time schedule. Don’t be aggressive about time limits, just be firm. I developed trust and rapport with my ex-wife’s husband by telling him my plan. Remember – he has been told I am bad and might attempt to steal our daughter. All untrue, but that’s his set of beliefs. Having a positive plan, clear activites and involving my daughter in the decision making process gave him comfort. We actually went over-time most days because I had a clear, positive schedule that all parties agreed to.

Research positive games/activites

Visitation should be fun. It is important to remember you are doing it for your child’s benefit. I will share more games and activities in another post. However, do some research! How old is your child? What do children of that age do in your home country and your child’s country of residence? Does your child have preferences?

For my visitation I bring a bag containing games and stimulus. What can you fit in a bag? One day I brought a colouring book (from the local book shop), a notepad (for games/drawing), a game of Jenga, a ball and some soft toys. This easily provided enough stimulus for 3-4 hours of visitation.

Use your child as research!

Your child is also an excellent source of research. What are their hobbies? Ask them. If you Japanese is bad (like mine), use some katakana words. はい means yes and いいえ means no. Do you like _____ is ____すきですか? With this sentence (or an equivalent in another language), ask your child what they like. In Japanese, most sports, movies, songs, games, places, foods…etc will use a word that is similar to English. Without learning much Japanese, you can make a long list of things your child likes and dislikes. This becomes very fun when you don’t know a word! Oh? Teach me! なんですか – what is it? Pull out a notepad and motion to them to draw a picture. Oh! What is it again? Aaah Anpanman? Do you like Anpanman? Yes!! Very good.

As a parent, my heart glowed when I learned what my daughter likes. Also, she taught me many things. This is important because it helps develop a 2-way relationship. You are not a scary white person speaking their language very poorly. You suddenly become a clumsy, fan, fatherly figure who is trying very hard to learn about them. Their abductors may not do this, so it is very important for their development.

This is also an example of a good transition. You can make a language game out of ‘do you like’. Maybe use cards as stimulus? Then, transition into a drawing activity where you both draw your lives. This is a good way for both of you to practice language skills, learn about each other and create drawings (aka memories) that you can both take home. I took photos of our drawings, just incase my daughter’s abductors had malicious plans.

Conclude with a recap and a positive plan for next time

Remember that each visitation needs an introduction, body and conclusion. The conclusion is very very important because it is your chance to pitch the idea of a long-term relationship and regular visitations. A court order will not win over your child’s heart. You need to do that!

Tell your child you love them!

For my conclusions, I make my daughter know that I love her very much.Y’know… in Japanese… [child’s name] だいすき! If you don’t know how to tell your child you love them, then find out now.

Use a calendar to show them your visitation schedule (set expectations!)

I also bring a calendar and show my daughter our schedule. Okay… so I will see you via Skype next week. Every month on this day, yes? I promise I will call every month. Next year, I will see you here at this time. I will come every year. You remember that? Good. I love you! I will miss you… but you are strong and beautiful.

Start planning activities

Build on the expectation that you will visit. Tell them what you will do each month and when you visit next. I will discuss Skype visitation activities in a separate post, but set that expectation. We will talk over the internet. Can you show me something every month? Maybe a book, a drawing, a toy… I would really like that! Write down a quick schedule for the next visitation so they know what’s happening. Children like structure. I think it is important to provide a solid structure and routine.

Keep a record – write down these expectations

I don’t want to be negative. However, lets be frank, many abductors will see your positive momentum as a threat. They will try their hardest to block meaningful visitation. Don’t be pushy, but write everything down. Keep a record of your plans and send them to your child’s abductors. There is nothing wrong with sending them a quick e-mail to say ‘thank you for your cooperation. As discussed, I will call via Skype next week. Please make sure my daughter comes prepared with a book, a drawing or a toy because we promised to do this.’

If things go wrong, you have a record of what happened. This is important. If your child turns 18 and says ‘daddy – why didn’t you try to contact me?’ You can say ‘I did… here is the proof’. Ideally you won’t have to. However, I think keeping an accurate record of events is very important. Also, it can benefit you! As a parent, your records provide a snapshot in time of your child’s development. While not perfect, they are the best you can get, so they are treasures.