PARENTING TOGETHER APART: When Your Kids Don't Like Visitation

child at doorby Brette Sember

It’s something I’ve heard time and time again from custodial parents who were back in family court for modification of their custody orders. “My son hates going on visitation. He gets upset days in advance. Sometimes I have to force him to go. I think we need to stop visitation.”

This is a very common scenario and if your child has never once complained about going on scheduled visitation, then you are in a rare minority.

What Kids Really Hate

Most kids don’t hate the other parent. They hate the upheaval in their lives and they express it by complaining about going on visitation. At times they make it sound like the other parent is what they don’t like. “Dad ignores me. His house is boring.” “Mom makes me go to bed early. I hate it there.” Again, what the child is reacting to is the situation. Kids who live in one home with both parents have gripes about their parents, but it doesn’t mean those parents are bad parents who don’t deserve to spend time with the kids!

Don’t Insert Yourself into the Situation

In most divorces, there are some bad feelings, even years later. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that it might make you feel just the tiniest bit happy if your child is mad at, annoyed at, bored with, or frustrated with the other parent. It’s just what your ex might deserve in your mind if you let yourself admit it.

But that doesn’t mean you can encourage, support, or even allow your child’s reaction to go on. Your child needs two parents. Neither of you are perfect and your child gets fed up with each of you, but you’re both still going to be in his life. If you haven’t accepted that, it’s time to do so.

Don’t Be the Bad Guy

One thing that is particularly hard when you are the custodial parent is having to shoehorn your kid out the door to go on visitation when honestly you would be perfectly happy if your child didn’t have to go. (You wouldn’t have to have those arguments about vacation schedules or put up with your ex being late or trying to change things at the last minute).  It’s not fun to be the one forcing your kid to go when he tells you he doesn’t want to.

The solution to this is actually quite simple. Tell your child it’s not up to you. The judge has decided this is the schedule and all of you have to follow it. There are no other options. You no longer have to be the bad guy and your child feels like there is a higher power that controls the situation.

How to Improve the Mood

Even if you’re able to reconcile yourself to visitation and remove yourself from the enforcer role, it still is no fun to listen to whining or complaining. Try these tips for making the transition easier:

–          When your child comes home, ask him to tell you one fun thing he did.

–          Smile when you hand off your child. Your mood is infectious. If you act like this is a great and happy occasion, it will rub off.

–          Institute a no whining rule. Tell your child there will be no complaining about going on visitation.

–          Make it clear that your child cannot cancel or postpone the planned parenting time. Often whining is an attempt to see if you’ll let the child off the hook. If changing the plans is not an option, there will be fewer complaints.

–          If your child has complaints about what happens at the other parents’ house, tell her that that is something to discuss with the other parent, not with you.

Brette SemberBrette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce.  She is the author of The Divorce Organizer & Planner (McGraw-Hill), How to Parent With Your Ex: Working Together for Your Child’s Best Interest (Sourcebooks), The Complete Divorce Handbook (Sterling), and No-Fight Divorce: Spend Less Money, Save Time, and Avoid Conflict Using Mediation (McGraw-Hill).  Her web site is www.BretteSember.com.

4 responses to “PARENTING TOGETHER APART: When Your Kids Don't Like Visitation”

  1. Paul

    While I am in agreement to a point, in my situation it is preventing me from working so I really do want my child to go to her mother’s. That is how I really know!
    However I do not want to drag her kicking and screaming to her mother. I think if encouragement and positive reinforcement fails we need to look at the “WHY”. Is there something going on at the other house that there is something more wrong than just a child not wanting to go. Or maybe it is a child fearing. Deep deep down we know the difference as parents and as adults. The problem is when government agencies are typically overworked under paid and do not have the time to spend the critical time they need to with a child to see if there is really an abuse going on and not a parent attack.
    While I understand and agree parent attacks happen very regularly.
    The point that I am making is that the greatest fear of a real parent is that a child ends up dead because you did do everything you could because everyone told you, your in a separation so your words mean nothing. This has happened many times – the best thing we can do to prevent this is not be complacent with parents and children but be respectful! Always treat every complaint concern as genuine, for I fear to be the Judge, the worker, the doctor, the teacher, who did not act because they thought the parent was just parent attacking when they were not!
    There really are legitimate cases of where this has happened and the worst part is that the Judge, or others who were there to be un-biasly there to protect our children but failed!
    While I do value the opinions of professions I do not ever blindly accept it, for it will be I who will be I ultimately who will be responsible!

  2. Brette Sember

    You need to talk to an attorney. I can’t give you legal advice. Ask if your kids are old enough in your state to choose not to go.

  3. trudy smith

    kids have an abusive father.courts still making them go.it is visatation day and they are telling me.begging me,in tears that they dont want to go.i dont know what to do.nobody is helping.my poor children.we have spent alot of miney in the coourt system and still the kids gotta go.i have to see my kids crying and trlling mr over and over that they dont want to go.what else can i do.theres even a ongoing cps matter going on.still nothing.please help me help these kids.they are 13 and 15.and are petrified of him,please help us .

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