In some cases, children will refuse to leave to be with the noncustodial parent. Here are some reasons why this might happen:
- A parent is not tuned in to the children's interests or is not actively involved with the children during their time together.
- Your children may be very young and anxious about separation from the parent who does the majority of caretaking.
- Open conflict is causing the children to appear to be aligned temporarily with one parent.
- In rare cases, there may be child abuse.
If your children don't want to leave their primary home to be with their other parent, having a good heart-to-heart with your ex-spouse should be the first step. The problem may be one that is easy to resolve, such as paying more attention to the children, a change in discipline style, or having more toys or other entertainment at the other home.
Either or both parents may unknowingly be causing the children's refusal to go. Following are two checklists, one for the custodial parent and the other for the noncustodial parent. Be honest. You're the only one looking at this.
Custodial Parent Q&A
- I have done my best to encourage my children's visits with their other parent. ____Yes ____No
- I do not give double messages to my children about seeing their other parent. ____Yes ____No
- I make sure my children know that, although I miss them, I know they will be well taken care of. ____Yes ____No
- I tell my children I am fine when they're away. ____Yes ____No
- I make sure to pack everything my children need so their time with their other parent goes smoothly. ____Yes ____No
Noncustodial Parent Q&A
- I understand it takes a while for my children to adjust to different surroundings, household rules, and customs. I don't pressure them to forget about their other parent when they're with me. ____Yes ____No
- I make a mental note if, after a reasonable amount of time with me, my children are not adjusting. ____Yes ____No
- I allow my children to speak to their other parent on the phone. ____Yes ____No
- I don't do my work when my children are with me and are awake. ____Yes ____No
- To stay involved with my children, I participate as much as possible in activities that center on their lives (Little League, dance class, play dates, and so on) instead of dragging them to things that are important to me but of no interest to them. ____Yes ____No
Go with the Flow
Sara, who was 12 years old, called her father to tell him that she didn't want to go to his house that weekend. She said her girlfriends were having a slumber party, and she didn't want to miss it. Her father insisted that she visit him instead of going to the party.
This wasn't the first time Sara had to miss a social event because that was her weekend to see her father. She felt misunderstood and resented her father for keeping her from her friends. Ultimately, she started feeling as if she didn't want to be with him at all.
If her father and mother had been more flexible with the visitation schedule, on the other hand, Sara could have had her social life and would have felt that her father really understood and cared about her emotional and social needs.
Six months after his parents divorced, nine-year-old Allen began refusing to go to his father's place for the weekend. When asked on several occasions, he wouldn't say why. Finally, he admitted that he was bored because his father would spend most of his time finishing reports for work, and Allen had no one to play with. When Allen opened up about his feelings, his father made sure to do his work after Allen went to sleep and devoted his time to Allen. After that, Allen looked forward to his weekends with his dad.
What's your scenario? If your children are resisting visitation, scrutinize the situation. Perhaps a simple change will turn things around for you, too.