How can I help my child feel more comfortable with her absentee father?
Q: I have a 6 yr old that is having issues going with her dad, even after almost 2 yrs. He was never really around and he still is not consistently with her now, not calling or coming during the week for visits. He tries to guilt her into going or threatens to drag her kicking, screaming. She sometimes goes without a hitch or a little bit of crying. I either convince her to go or she doesn't. Please help, I don’t want to be the bad guy anymore.
A: Divorce can be very difficult on everyone, especially the children.
Research suggests that, assuming that the non-custodial parent and the child do not have a high conflict relationship and that the non-custodial parent is not significantly irresponsible or incompetent or has a significant mental illness, it is generally in the child’s benefit to have consistent and frequent contact with the parent. I know, I know: easier said than done. But here are some tips that may help.
Do what you can do to help Create an environment that is not hostile towards the other parent, and in fact is actually accepting of and cooperative with him (or at least is a “business-like” relationship). Although this is difficult, you undoubtedly would lay down your life for your child; what needs to be done here is instead that you lay down your anger and negative feelings, for your child. If a child knows that it is o.k. with you that he loves and wants to spend time with the other parent, it allows a child to let himself feel that way (and it can make it easier for the other parent to want to be involved). Encourage contact by phone calls, e-mail, and so on. Be flexible in ways that make it easier for the other parent to visit (for example, if he/she wants to switch weekends): remember, it is not about what is best for you, but what is best for the child. And sometimes, you will have to do things which you feel are not fair (for example, drive the child to the other parent) if this helps facilitate the visits.
Make transitions as smooth as possible Dropping off and picking up the child is not the time to discuss problems or argue: this can be very stressful for the child. Make transitions as positive and friendly as possible. If necessary, have someone else make the pick-ups and drop offs for you, or one parent can drop off the child at school and the other can pick him up at the end of the day.
Kids tend to benefit from routine and structure and consistency. Try to have the visits be at predictable times and lengths, so he/she knows what to expect. Try to maintain the same schedule at both homes (e.g., bed time, meals, and so on).
Address specific things that are difficult about visits Make sure visits are not scheduled at times that the child misses something he/she enjoys (for example, playing in his football game); see that fun things are planned during the visits; allow the child to bring things that make it easier to be away from home (for example, a favorite blanket or a card from the custodial parent); don’t make visits longer than are comfortable for the child; work with the child on what he can do (e.g., call home) or tell himself (e.g., “I will see mom tomorrow, and everything will be o.k.”) if he misses the custodial parent; and so on.
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Answered by Dr. Wayne Fleisig