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 visitation with their other parent. Many factors come into play.
Here are some pertinent questions to ask yourself to help you determine the source of the problem. And then understand why your children are resisting contact with their Mom or Dad.
1. Are you showing signs of depression or neediness? Have you been talking about missing your kids so much they are afraid to leave you? This creates a guilt mind-set in the home. Your kids take on the parenting role and feel guilty loving or wanting to be 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.
2. Have they been privy to information, slurs or other comments that make them dislike their parent? Do they hear you complain about him or her to family or friends? Are they being raised in an environment hostile towards that parent? Naturally, they will be caught in emotional turmoil about the disrespected or alienated parent.
3. Has the other parents mistreating them or disciplining them in a different way than you do? Is the contrast between you two dramatic or extreme? This situation needs to be addressed with your child so you know how to respond. It may also require your bringing professionals into the picture advice you on the best course of action.
4. 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 conflict and tension? As parents, you are the role models your child emulates. They depend on you for conscious, mindful parenting, especially after the divorce. Anxiety, fear or confusion often leads to behavior problems in your child.
5. Was their relationship or communication with one another weak or limited prior to the divorce? It’s hard to establish a more positive relationship post-divorce in families where that parent was absent or emotionally unavailable. Consult with a divorce therapist or coach for viable options.
6. Are they holding the other parent responsible for the divorce or its outcome? Children, especially as they grow older, can develop strong judgments about their life. Blaming one parent is frequently the outcome. Talk with your child so they feel heard. Help them move past the pain. But never share adult information with kids, even teens. They can’t fix your problems, and trying to can destroy their childhood.
Talk to your child with empathy, compassion and concern
Any one of these situations can influence a child’s decision regarding visitation and needs to be compassionately addressed. In many cases both parents can resolve the problem by discussing the issues together. Equally important is reaching out for the guidance of a therapist or divorce coach.
I highly suggest that you sit down with your kids to find out what their feelings are. Have they been comfortable in both homes? Are the rules in each home too different or even conflicting? Have outside issues such as getting to school on time, bullying classmates or other challenges affecting their wellbeing? Are your children afraid of spending time alone with one parent? And if so, why?
These are complex and highly charged issues. Be aware that kids will often tell a child-psychologist “secrets” they’re not comfortable telling Mom or Dad. 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.
Get mental health support and avoid the courts
While visitation issues are certainly a legal matter, it’s essential that parents be pro-active in non-legal ways as well. It’s much easier and saner to handle situations related to your children within the family dynamic. Get the help you need from caring professionals who embrace the child-centered divorce philosophy. And address these issues as soon as possible. Make every effort to avoid giving up your power to judges and courts. 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 they can. By being attentive to seeing the world from their perspective and responding proactively, everyone in the family will benefit. As a result, visitation issues can be resolved more quickly and harmoniously.
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC, is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network. She is also the author of How Do I Tell the Kids About The Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide To Preparing Your Children — With Love! For her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting: Success Strategies for Getting It Right! and other valuable resources about divorce and co-parenting issues, visit www.childcentereddivorce.com.