By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
Parenting after divorce is always challenging, especially when your children act out. One big issue is handling children if they resist spending time with their other parent. Many factors come into play.
Here are 6 crucial questions to ask yourself which can help you determine the source of the problem and understand the reasons why your children are resisting contact with their other parent.
- Are they feeling guilty or disloyal about leaving your presence? This can easily influence how they react to visits or time away living with their other parent.
- Have they been privy to information, slurs or other comments that make them dislike their other parent? Do they hear you complain about that parent to family or friends? Are they being raised in an environment hostile towards that parent?
- Has their other parent been mistreating them or disciplining them in a different way than you do? Is the contrast between both parents dramatic or extreme?
- Are you sending mixed-messages to your kids about their other parent? Are you co-parenting respectfully with one another – or exposing the kids to your inner conflict and tension?
- Was their relationship or communication with their other parent weak or limited prior to the divorce? It’s hard to establish a more positive relationship post-divorce in families where one parent was absent or emotionally unavailable.
- Are they holding their other parent responsible for the divorce or its outcome? Children, especially as they grow older, can develop strong judgments about their life and blaming one parent is a common outcome.
Any one of these situations can influence a child’s decisions regarding routine or holiday visits and needs to be compassionately addressed. In many cases the parents can resolve the problem by discussing the issues together or with the added guidance of a therapist, mediator or divorce coach.
Are you unknowingly creating a parental alienation mindset?
Sometimes we are not aware of the subtle ways we influence our children’s feelings about their other parent. For example, it’s not uncommon for a post-divorce parent to show signs of depression or neediness in the months after the divorce. Some parents confide in their children about their emotional turmoil or missing them so much when they are away. This can result in children who are afraid to leave you – creating shame, blame or other forms of anxiety in the home. Consequently these kids take on more of the parenting role. They also feel guilty for loving or wanting to spend time with their other parent. If this is the case, you are doing them an injustice and robbing them of the joys of having two parents to love.
I highly suggest that you sit down with your kids to discuss these issues and find out what their feelings are. Ask pertinent questions and be sure to listen to their responses. Have your children been comfortable in both homes? Are the rules in each home too different or even conflicting? Have outside factors such as getting to school on time, class bullies or other challenges affected their wellbeing? Are your children afraid of spending time alone with their other parent? And if so, why?
These are complex and highly charged issues. Again, seeking the advice of a professional counselor or divorce coach can be useful for both parents in uncovering the motivation behind your children’s behavior or anxieties.
Keep in mind that kids will often tell a mental health professional “secrets” they’re not comfortable telling their parents. Listen to your children without judgment or lecturing. That only puts them on the defensive and stops the flow of communication. See if a family meeting to resolve issues together will work. When everyone contributes to and agrees on new rules, they are more likely to be followed.
Avoid making family decisions outside of the family.
While visitation issues can be a legal matter, it’s essential that parents be proactive in non-legal ways as well. It’s much easier and saner to handle situations related to your children within the family than by giving up your power to judges and courts. Get the help you need from caring professionals who embrace the child-centered divorce philosophy. Address these issues as soon as possible. Your children will appreciate your care and loving attention – and thank you when they are grown.
Children benefit from having healthy relationships with both parents whenever possible. By being attentive to seeing the world from their perspective and responding proactively, parental visiting issues can be resolved harmoniously for everyone in your post-divorce family.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a Divorce & Co-Parenting Coach and author of numerous books, e-courses and programs on divorcing with children and co-parenting successfully. For instant download of her FREE EBOOK on Doing Co-Parenting Right: Success Strategies For Avoiding Painful Mistakes! go to: childcentereddivorce.com/book