What if my child fights parenting time?
“Please don’t make me go!!!”
What is a parent supposed to do when their child begs not to visit their other parent? Nothing proves as devastating or complicated in divorce.
When a child resists being with a parent, several challenges arise:
- Both parents begin to wonder what the other parent is doing,
- Both parents get confused about how to respond to their child, and
- Both parents risk legal consequences for not addressing the challenge rightly.
Obviously, parents facing this challenge need a strategy. Whether you are the parent being resisted or the other parent, what can you do to make the situation better?
First—Both parents must get on the same page
“What do you want for your child?” At The Resolution Center, we ask this question to begin every parenting plan. The answers parents offer prove crucial to parents getting on the same page. When parents develop a common vision, you take the first step in healthy parenting post-divorce. If you can agree on the goal, you can usually agree on how to get there.
You begin reaching the goal by treating each other with the same traits you want your child to develop—such as respect, security, and happiness.
When parents show each other respect, your child’s respect for both parents grows.
When parents work to make the other feel secure (i.e. showing up on time for parenting exchanges, sharing plans for days with the child, or following through on commitments), that security flows to your child.
Perhaps most importantly, when you affirm your child’s happiness with the other parent, your child can rest in being happy. One divorced mother put it this way, “Though I miss my kids like crazy when they are gone, at least I know they are with the other person on the planet that loves them as much as I do. That helps me be happy for them.”
Every step you take to work with each other builds security and hope in your child—and helps your child enjoy time with both of you.
For the parent the child doesn’t want to visit
Confusion overwhelms a parent when their child resists spending time with them.
Many parents wonder if the other parent manipulating their child. Others revisit every interaction–trying to figure out what they might have done wrong. All parents wonder how to respond. No one wants to force a crying child into a car seat. Should you push it—or drive away?
The best first step is for both parents to work together to understand the source of your child’s reaction. If you can’t work together, then you should take steps to determine for yourself why your child might be resistant.
The good news–there are many natural reasons for this reaction.
Younger children routinely cry at transitions but quickly adjust once the transition is complete. Elementary children have trouble moving to something new if interrupted in an activity (i.e. a neighborhood game of basketball). Older children create routines with friends and often prefer these over time at either parent’s home.
When the resistance comes from a child’s developmental stage, setting a pattern for transitions and giving a clear head’s up (“Honey, you’ll be leaving in about 20 minutes”) proves invaluable. A pattern may be as simple as:
- starting the transition pattern about 10 minutes before the other parent arrives,
- setting the book bag and teddy bear by the front door,
- eating a snack,
- and saying goodbye to the fish.
As children follow the pattern, their brain begins automatically transitioning which makes the actual transition easier.
When the source for resistance goes deeper, you may need to intentionally rebuild trust with your child. (Tune into next week’s blog for tips on this.)
If the divorce resulted from you being gone too much, mismanaging anger, or having an affair—these all impact a child’s ability to trust.
Revisiting your vision statement for your children provides clarity. Parents who want their child to become secure work to build it. If absence is a factor, absolute commitment to parenting times can be the fix. If anger has been an issue, counseling to explore healthy ways to express feelings helps. The book Good and Angry by Miller and Turansky offers key insights. When other relationships have undermined trust, a full focus on reestablishing the child’s key place in your life builds the trust to re-engage.
Once trust returns, children look forward to spending time.
Finally—For the parent to whom the child clings
This parent finds him/herself in an incredibly difficult position. Is the child manipulating—or is the other parent harming? For parents who truly suspect harm, consult an attorney for options.
Once true harm is eliminated, your can offer great help. First, you should purposely show support for your child’s relationship with their other parent.
While you may feel great angst regarding your ex-spouse, your child needs both of you. Yet, some children absorb their parent’s emotions. If you can find a way to separate your experience with your ex from your child’s experience, you will be more able to firmly support his relationship with the other parent. As your child senses full support from you, he will be less confused and more willing to spend time.
Further, you can set children up well for transitions with concrete patterns.
- Coloring a monthly calendar with days for Mom’s and Dad’s houses helps children track their time.
- Encouraging your children to stop games or homework 20 minutes before the other parent arrives helps them feel ready—not interrupted.
- Affirming the positives of time with her other parent—even if those positives are yet to arrive—frames children to try.
Divorce doesn’t generally come to families where relationships work well, so it’s no wonder some children struggle. But when both parents support full involvement of both—healthy relationships find a way.
If you find the transitions to post-divorce parenting a challenge, call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com for assistance. We look forward to serving you.