If your child has ever pleaded with you that they don’t want to go spend time with the other parent, you know how dreadful it feels.
You hate seeing your child get upset, but you know it’s important for them to have quality time with their mom or dad. You’re caught between a rock and a hard place.
When “it’s time” to go to the other parent’s house, they have meltdowns. They whine that they “don’t want to go!” or they may even beg to please, please, please, let me stay here with you!
Your ex may not be of any help, either. They may think the problem is YOU. That somehow, you’re too lax, or turning your kids against them or not enforcing the agreement.
Sometimes your child is so adamant that you start to wonder what your ex is doing wrong. Is your ex being insensitive when they get scared at night? Maybe your ex is being too strict? Does your ex dismiss how the kids feel? Maybe they are bored out of their minds because there's nothing to do there and your ex spends all his or her time working.
Could be, but chances are there's more to it than you think.
But before you rush to conclusions about why your child doesn’t want to go to their mom or dad’s house, take note of these common reasons children fuss about the transitions between households.
Your first thought for why your child doesn’t want to go to your ex’s house may be to blame your ex. Is there something wrong at the other house? Are they being mean? Is there neglect?
While these situations are certainly possible, most of the time children get fussy because of reasons that have more to do with the way the transition between households is handled, rather than any person being abusive or neglectful.
Your child may not have the emotional ability to handle the transition between two completely different households very well. Not only is there packing and unpacking involved, but they (or you) have to remember to include all their school books, projects, favorite clothes, toys, and games. Maybe they don’t have their favorite toys at the other house, or they have to say goodbye to their friends or pets for a week. They may not have made any new friends where the other parent lives and are dreading being more bored or lonely.
It can feel stressful for a child to adjust to a completely new environment every week or so. Especially if the transition itself is rushed or filled with tension.
Your child is playing a video game and suddenly it’s time to Skype with their dad. They’ve just started a big science project for school, but now they have to start packing it up to take it over to the other house. Or they’re invited to a birthday party in the neighborhood, but it’s their weekend with mom, and they can’t attend.
Your child may not want to go to the other house right now because there’s a disconnect in the timing. You have your schedule, but your child is busy living their life, too. They may not always appreciate the timing of having to drop everything and head to the other house.
Maybe your child feels like an outsider, or more of a visitor at the other parent’s household rather than a resident there.
It’s hard to feel a sense of belonging when there’s not a clear place for you or your stuff, and you are lugging your suitcase back and forth.
Perhaps there are stepchildren at the other house, and your child doesn’t like sharing their parent’s time. Or the other parent doesn’t spend enough quality time with them in general. Your child simply wants to feel at home, and like they’re part of the family.
Your child may resent being caught in the middle between the different rules and routines expected at each household. You allow your child to stay up past 9 pm, but they have to be in bed by 8:30 pm when they’re with the other parent. Maybe the other parent allows junk food but you don’t. When they’re back with you, there’s a period of time that you and your kids bicker about what’s “allowed” at the other house but not yours.
Your child may not like switching between households simply because the rules and expectations are so different. They feel caught in the middle and unsettled. Imagine if you had to switch jobs every other week, and the expectations at each office were completely in conflict, and your bosses were constantly trying to undermine each other.
Putting yourself in your child’s shoes can go a long way to helping you soften how challenging it CAN be for them to have to make these types of adjustments on a weekly basis.
But just because it CAN be challenging, doesn’t necessarily mean that it HAS to be, or even that your child’s reasons are the same as what I’ve suggested here.
That’s why first and foremost, you need to check in with your child and see what’s really up.
You’ve just learned about some possible reasons why shifting back and forth might be hard for your kids, based on my professional experience working with thousands of parents and kids.
Perhaps you feel relieved that you don’t necessarily need to assume the WORST about your ex.
However, it’s still important that you take time to dig a little deeper with your child about what’s really bothering them.
If you haven’t already, set aside time (preferably not right before a phone call, Skype chat, or pickup by the other parent) to have a heart-to-heart chat with your kids. Ideally, pick a time when kids are calm and most likely to talk. Also consider whether you’ll get more mileage out of a one-on-one conversation with each child or if a collective chat with them and the other parent is in order.
You may want to say something like…“I know talking to Dad on Skype isn’t easy for you and at times you may not like doing it. However, talking to Dad on a regular basis is important and we need to figure out the best way to do that. I’d like you to help me understand what we can do together to make things better.”
If they counter with a resounding, “Then don’t make us talk!” let them know that’s not an option.
Reiterate, now that things have changed, continuing to be a part of each other’s lives is something everyone needs to work at.
Simply listening and allowing them to vent about what’s bothering them can diffuse their distress. They’ll feel heard and understood, and it may allow them to accept the schedule or transition better.
Let’s say you’ve had that conversation with your child, and you have a better idea of what’s really on their mind.
That doesn’t negate the fact that they still get upset. They may still cling to your leg just as your ex is ringing the doorbell to pick them up, or plead for you to not make them go. And you may experience a variety of emotions about that.
You may feel guilty about putting your child in this position.
You may feel sad about having to say goodbye to your child for a few days or longer.
You may feel angry about the unfairness of it all.
You may feel despair over your inability to change anything, because it’s court-ordered or because you know it’s what’s best for your child…even though they’re too young to understand it.
In those emotional moments, you may want to lash out at your ex, or blame the courts for the situation. Resist the urge to tell your child, “I’m sorry but I have to make you go, your mom/dad/the Court said so.”
Yes, it may get you off the hook momentarily, but in the end all it does is set your kids up for more distress.
Playing the “I have to” card just leaves them feeling helpless and out of control. It also sends kids the wrong message.
What kids need to hear is that it’s important for them to have time with both of their parents, whether that means a weekly phone call or sharing time between households.
It’s certainly okay to let them know you realize how hard it is for things to be different. When parents split up lots of things change for kids. Often those changes feel awkward or uncomfortable.
Reassure your kids that what they’re feeling is completely normal.
Eventually, things will change and it CAN get better.How to Make Life After a Split Easier On Your Kids
Besides reassuring your kids that you understand their feelings and acknowledging that it’s important for them to spend quality time with BOTH parents, there are other ways to make the transitions between households easier and less stress-provoking for both you and your children.
In my video program, Co-Parenting With Purpose: How to Raise Happy, Secure and Resilient Kids After You've Split Up, you’ll discover practical and soothing rituals that you and your child can do together that will lessen their anxiety and reduce the upheaval they feel when they need to switch gears and spend time with the other parent.
These are rituals that require only 15 minutes, but can help your child feel calmer and more connected to you.
I also outline several other ways you can support the important two-household concept for your kids, including how to make your child feel more welcome at your house (like part of the family, NOT like a visitor). While you may believe you’re welcoming your child when they’re with you, there are actually some common missteps some parents make that unintentionally send the wrong message to their child. I’ll help you avoid these in my program.
You’ll also get tips and advice on how to help your child deal with their feelings about the two-home concept and their transitions between homes. If your child is sad about all the changes in their life, or they’re angry at what’s happening, or they aren’t sure how they’re feeling—you’ll get the tools and insights to be able to have productive, heart-to-heart conversations with your child, whether they’re 4 or 14.Make Transitions Less Stressful
You probably already agree that it’s important for your children to have a quality relationship with both you and the other parent. With my guidance, you’ll be able to ease their distress over having to switch to a different household, build their resilience, and raise happier, more secure kids.
Best wishes to you and your children,
P.S. What if your child doesn’t want to come spend time with YOU?
That can feel confusing and heartbreaking to any parent. You may wonder if your ex is turning your child against you in some way. In Co-Parenting With Purpose, you’ll learn how to maintain the consistent and loving relationship your child needs with you, regardless of how much they’re pushing you away. You’ll get real-world tips and advice on what to do (and what NOT to do) so you can be a positive, stable presence in your child’s life, no matter what.Start Watching And Get Answers Now