When parents break up, their kids often can get lost in the conflict, at least temporarily. It's nobody's fault; it's just that the adults get caught up in other things, like a custody battle or the emotional logistics of starting over on their own. Sometimes, the impact of divorce on the children doesn't become apparent until the dust settles. It falls to the parents to make things right again in calmer times.
Keep Trying to Communicate and Keep Your Cool
It's essential to open communication with your child if he is refusing to see you, notes psychologist David Gleason on his website. If a child won't speak to you, try emailing him or even writing a letter. Also consider the reasons why your child might not want to see you. It's possible that he might resent having to leave his friends when he has to go to your house for the agreed-upon visitation time. He might feel uncomfortable staying with you because it's a new room, or he might not like your new significant other. Of course, you might not know this until you ask him how he feels, keeping in mind that he might not even know what his exact problem is. Maybe the idea of leaving the home that's familiar to him to stay at your place just feels wrong to him. If he has no answers, you might have to fish, but if he begins to open up, just listen. Be prepared to hear a few things that you don't want to hear -- and keep your own emotions in check. For example, maybe he overheard your ex saying that money's tight because you left them, and he figures that's why he can't have that cool new video game he wants. Set the record straight as clearly but as gently as possible. Reassure him that things will work out for everyone. Don't bad mouth your ex in any way. Two phrases that can go a long way in this situation are "I love you" and "I'm sorry you feel that way," even if the problem isn't your fault.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
If your child doesn't want to leave her friends, offer to drive her to whatever party or event she's missing because it's your time for visitation. Yes, this means you'll have fewer hours with her, but the time you do have may improve because she's not feeling glum and resentful. You might also want to take her on a shopping spree to buy a few things that will help make her new room feel like it's her own special place. If she has a problem with your new partner, ask your partner to spend the evening elsewhere so you and your child can have some one-on-one time.
Burying the Hatchet
Double-teaming your child may work, but you'll need the cooperation of your ex. If the two of you can put aside your personal differences, presenting a unified front can do wonders. When both parents are saying the same thing, it adds weight to their words. If your child is a teenager, it's bound to make him think. Your ex can reinforce that it's not your fault that the two of you broke up -- and that if certain things make your child feel uncomfortable at your place, you're willing to change them. If you haven't been able to get any answers out of your child yourself, ask your ex to try to find out how he would like things to improve.
If your ex is taking an active stance against you, actually trying to undermine your relationship with your child, you have a much bigger problem. This is called parental alienation, or sometimes, hostile aggressive parenting. She's angry and hateful -- and determined that your child will share her feelings. In this case, your child is not the problem; your ex may even be brainwashing him. In all likelihood, you'll need the help of professionals to overcome this. Speak with a child psychologist to determine your best course of action, and possibly an attorney as well. Courts don't take kindly to this sort of behavior, and you may need a legal expert to help you bring the problem to the attention of a judge.
- Education.com: Smart Parenting During and After Divorce – Visitation Tantrums
- David Gleason, Psy.D: Custody Battles – What to Do When a Child Refuses to Visit a Parent
- Family Reunification Center of Western Washington: 3 Stages of Reunification Therapy
- Parental Alienation Awareness Organization: Developing Strategies for a Winning Outcome in Your Case
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