Your child doesn’t want to go to the other parent’s house, and you don’t know what to do. Thoughts run through your head about what to do, but before you start to spiral, let me walk you through some reasons why a child might not want to go with their other parent. The majority of the reasons why a child doesn’t want to transition to the other parent are normal, innocuous, and expected. Keep your emotions in check and try not to jump to negative conclusions about the other parent.
Resistance to Change
Kids thrive on familiar routines and going to a new home is a new routine that requires adjustment. It may not be that your child doesn’t want to see and spend time with their other parent, but that the child is struggling with the new routine that is out of his or her norm. Give your child, yourself, and your co-parent grace through this transition and give everyone time to adjust to the new normal.
Kids naturally want to show you that they love you and are bonded with you, and they do this by avoiding separation from you. Have you ever had to drop your child off at daycare or school and they cry and pitch a fit? Later, you hear from their teacher that they recovered within a minute or two of you walking out the door. This may be what is happening during parenting time transitions, as well. You only get to see the hard part of separation and don’t get the benefit of seeing them recover quickly and move on to enjoying parenting time with the other parent.
Is the other parent stricter than you? Does the other parent limit screen time to a greater extent? Maybe your co-parent’s parenting style differs from yours? Every parent must make choices about how to make it through each day with a child, where to use screen time as a tool for your own productivity, which battles you will pick, and which boundaries you will hold. Perhaps you are the primary parent who needs screens to entertain your child while you make dinner, prepare for the next day, or finish up a work call, but your co-parent has limited time with the kids so they don’t allow screens during their parenting time. Your child may just want to stay with you because you give them more freedom!
Are you anxious about your child going to the other parent’s house? Do you constantly worry about your child when they are with your co-parent? Do you ask your child a barrage of questions when they return from their other parent’s house? Children are incredibly intuitive, and your child may sense and absorb your anxiety about the transition. Try to avoid allowing your child to see your anxiety. Keep your questions light after they return from the other parent’s house. Do not grill your child about every moment of their time with your co-parent. Keep your own worries to yourself as much as possible. If you need help managing your own anxiety, connect with a qualified therapist to help you. The transitions will become easier for you as the custody schedule becomes second-nature.
In your custody agreement or order, there are likely rules that each parent must follow regarding treatment of their child’s relationship with the other parent. Most custody agreements require that neither parent speak negatively about the other parent in front of the child, nor let the child remain in the presence of others doing so; that neither parent estrange the child from the other parent or impair the natural love and affection between the other parent and a child; and that the parents must encourage and foster a sincere respect and affection for both parents. “Parental alienation” occurs a when a parent consistently and systematically turns a child away from their other parent and sours the relationship between the child and their other parent. This can happen when a parent speaks negatively about the other parent in front of the child, encourages a child to be angry at the other parent about the situation, or guilt trips a child for wanting to see their other parent. If your child is acting resistant to going to the other parent’s house, you may want to examine your own actions with great care. Are you making snide comments about your co-parent in front of the child? Do you act hurt or sad when your child spends time with the other parent or expresses a desire to do so? All of these actions by a parent can cause a child to resistant spending time with their other parent and may fall within the definition of parental alienation.
Connect your child with a therapist to help them cope with the new norm and empower them during this difficult transition. If you need recommendations for great child therapists, please reach out to your family law attorney for referrals. Our office frequently helps connect families and children with the support they need to weather this tough time. If you need direction on how to handle this challenge, please reach out to our office to schedule a consultation.
Lindsey Dasher is the Managing Partner at Dasher Law PLLC