What To Do When Your Kid Doesn't Want To Go To Dad's House 😢
This week on our @WTFdivorce Instagram confessions, a reader sent in this problem they were dealing with:
Not sure how to handle it when my kids don’t want to go to their dad’s house. 😢
This situation can be so triggering.
I just want to acknowledge that right off the hop.
And it's completely understandable that as a parent, and you hear those words, ‘I don't want to go to mom's house’, or ‘I don't want to go to dad's house’, that you would instantly be terrified.
And it's pretty easy for your mind to jump to conclusions.
Like, there must be something terrible going on over there.
How to reframe this way of thinking
Something that I ask clients to get them out of that line of thinking and to just put this into perspective so that we can get out of that fight, flight, or freeze portion of our brain, and access the logical reasoning portion of our brain, our critical thinking and problem solving brain is the question:
Does your child agree to do everything that you ask or tell them to do?
Do they always want to go to school or daycare, or maybe even grandma and grandpa's house?
Or do they sometimes meet you with some resistance to those things?
And the answer is always well, ‘no, they don't always.’
Okay, so we can acknowledge that. Even as adults, sometimes we might have a great job that we love and we're really passionate about, but it doesn't mean that every Monday morning we are just jumping out of bed, running to the door, ready to go.
It's a normal part of life.
How to address this situation
With that being said, this does need to be addressed.
Some action needs to be taken here because your ex is on their way to pick them up. Or you've got to be out the door in five minutes to go and drop them off.
So what you want to do is to respond with empathy, and validate how they're feeling.
And then gently provide them with supportive guidance to move forward.
I think where parents can go wrong is that they respond with toxic positivity.
So they'll say something like, ‘What? you don't want to go. Don't be silly. You're going to have so much fun. Daddy has all these things planned for you! Or, 'mom’s doing this.' Or, 'come on, let's go. Don't be upset. It's fine.’
And if your child, in that moment, is feeling very much, like it's not fine.
You've really invalidated how they're feeling and you're not creating a safe space for them to be honest with you and open about how they're feeling.
And you're not providing them with an opportunity to have you there alongside them to help them work through and manage those feelings.
What can we say to our kids when they don’t want to go mom or dad’s house?
An appropriate response might sound something a little like this:
‘You know what? Living in two homes can be really tough, sometimes. I know this can be so hard. I love you.
Tell me more about what you're feeling right now. Tell me more about what's going through your mind in this moment.’
And then listen. Really listen.
Encourage them to lay it all out there for you.
And some things that you can do to work on some preventative measures that you can take would be to create as much structure, stability, and predictability for your kids.
So you can have a calendar that shows where they're going to be and when.
And if you’re able to do this with your ex, maybe you each have a calendar so that they can see, okay, how many sleeps are at mom or dads, and what do we have to look forward to?
How to make transitions easier
You can also work on making transitions easier for your children by doing things like, having pick-ups and drop-offs at a neutral location and at a consistent time.
Because transitions are hard.
They're hard for kids.
They're even hard for adults.
When you're getting out of who you are at work, and trying to transition into mom or dad at home, or being a partner.
These are transitions that we have to make, and they're not always an easy shift.
Maybe you recognize that it's really hard for your little one to leave your house and they get sad and a little bit clingy.
So maybe you can try to alter the schedule slightly, so that dad or the other parent is picking the child up at daycare or at school, or maybe you meet at a neutral location.
Maybe you meet at the coffee shop and you get a cookie when you get there.
I know that sounds like bribery (and maybe it is) but you can add an element that makes it feel a little bit special, and calm, and neutral, and not this scary situation that's really uncomfortable.
I also think that after the fact, like if you find that this is happening frequently, and it's not because there's some form of abuse at the other home.
So in this example, this should be a disclaimer that there is no history of violence or abuse in the home.
Take time to reflect
But afterwards, you're taking some time to really reflect on the things that you say and do as the parent.
How you feel about your actions, and how that may be coming across that you're not even fully aware of.
So if your child says something about their other parent, and their new boyfriend or girlfriend, and telling you a story about something fun that they did...
And you kind of sigh or roll your eyes and you think that they didn't see, you're sending a message that really puts the child in the middle and makes them feel uncomfortable, or kind of question the relationship that they have with that other parent
Or for the older kids, if you are texting with a friend and really having an ex-bashing fest and your child sees the things that you've said.
It doesn't matter then if an hour later, when it's time to go, you're saying ‘It's fine. You and your dad, or you and your mom have such a special relationship. You guys do great things. They're a great parent.’
That really goes against the physical evidence that they've just seen, that you feel otherwise. And that that's really not your perception of their other parent.
So really having an open and honest conversation with yourself about how you might be contributing to this problem.
Talking with your co-parent
If it's possible, and if this becomes a more frequent issue, and if you're not parallel parenting and you're able to have somewhat of a conversation with your ex, I would encourage you to do so.
I think that this can be common when, and this is a generalization, but mom has all the knowledge of all the things.
All the food that your kids really love.
The bedtime routines.
The special stuffy.
All of these really important details that might not seem like anything on their own, but when you stack them all up, it's like your kid's makeup is all right there. Like you have the manual for raising your children.
And if the other parent doesn't have that information, it could really impact how that child feels when they are at the other parent's home.
It can feel like they're really missing a lot when they're with the other parent.
And it's not because the other parent isn't a good mom or dad.
It’s just that they don't have the tools or the resources.
hey don't know all the extras that are needed to make the environment a comfortable, safe place to be in.
What to say (and not say) to your co-parent
So if you can share that information, and really be mindful that you're not doing it in an admonishing way.
And I think that's where parents often go wrong.
They come at it from, ‘you know, this is happening. They don't want to go. So what I think you should do is A, B, and C.’
Immediately the other parent's going to get their back up, and probably be defensive.
And, you know, within a matter of minutes, you're arguing about something that happened three years ago in your marriage.
So instead, you might want to start with,
‘Hey, let’s set aside time to talk about this.
Not at pickup and drop off. Maybe it's a phone call, or you send an email, and just saying, ‘hey, this has happened a couple of times, and I know how much fun that they have when they're with you, and all the things that you do to make their time with you special.
So I'm wondering if you had any thoughts on this. If you've even heard this the opposite way or what your thoughts are that we could do.
If you think that there's something that I could do to make this easier for our child, because I really respect you as a parent, and I want to do everything I can to support your relationship with them and your time with them.
It doesn't guarantee that the other person isn't going to get defensive, but if you have that sort of soft startup versus the harsh startup, you're giving yourself the opportunity for a more productive conversation.
And hopefully putting yourselves in a position where you can both brainstorm and come up with some ways that you might be able to just ease the hardship of having to transition between two homes for your kids.
Hope this helps!
Ashley Wood is a divorced and co-parenting coach.