How do I handle it if my kids don’t want to spend time with me?
It is very painful when you are looking forward to spending time with your kids, and they seem disinterested. Often fathers in this situation blame the problem on mothers’ influence. It is common, though, for kids themselves to object to visitation. You won’t hear such vocal complaints from younger children; they may be unaware of the whole process, simply going where they are taken. Toddlers and elementary age children usually look forward to their visits with the noncustodial parent. However, as kids get older and busier, going to see the other parent is less of a treat and more of a chore, and an “interruption” to the life they’ve developed. This does not mean that the kids don’t care about you. It does mean that they are becoming more interested in being with their friends than in being with you. This development often hits noncustodial fathers especially hard. They may feel that they have already missed many opportunities to be with their children, and now it seems that the children don’t want to see them at all.
You should also realize that the whole process of going back and forth between households can be a real pain for kids. In some ways, it is a reminder over and over again of the divorce. Just like it may be hard on you to drop the kids off at their mother’s house, it is hard on the kids to switch back and forth between homes. They often wish they could just stay at one place. Try not to take these kinds of feelings too personally. Often, their unhappiness is about the situation and not about the parents.
Sometimes, dads in this situation take their ex-wives back to court in an effort to force visitation. In general, though, this is not a satisfactory solution to the problem, particularly because in many cases the child’s motivation is more the issue than their mother’s influence. Such legal actions cause further animosity, making your ex-wife even less cooperative. The children invariably become aware of the court action, and they often then blame you for hurting Mom or for interrupting their activities. Needless to say, this does not make them more eager to see you.
If your kids are resistant to seeing you, forcing them to visit does not necessarily make things better. You might get them there, but they can make things unpleasant as a way of expressing their anger. In some situations the child may tantrum or actively resist going with you.
Carol Anne’s parents had a very contentious divorce. As a result, it was written in the divorce decree that rather than the father picking her up at the mother’s home, the child would be exchanged by the parents at a neutral site such as a fast food restaurant. Carol Anne, though, resisted visiting her father. When they arrived at the restaurant, she refused to get out of the car. The father could have physically forced her to come with him but that would have both alienated the child further and perhaps also have given the mother another cause of action against the father. With coaching and continuous support from his men’s therapy group, Tom committed himself to the long, tortuous and seemingly unrewarding task of regularly inviting Carol Anne. Twelve years later she asked her parents if she could live with her father and his new wife for the last two years of high school. You can’t really force someone, even your child, to want to be with you.
The best way to handle this situation is to talk directly with the children about your concerns. Let them know that you want to continue being a part of their lives although you realize that they are busy and have other things to do. You may be able to work things out with them by:
Allowing your child to bring friends for overnight visitation.
Making sure that you do things that are in line with your children’s interests.
Being the one to take your child to his/her various events/activities (e.g. games, concerts, movies).
Rearranging the visitation schedule to accommodate your child’s special events.
I don’t think the visitation schedule is fair. What can I do?
It is common after divorce for both parties to feel the visitation schedule is inherently unfair. You may note, for example, that she gets to put the kids to bed at night more than you, while she may feel that you get the kids on weekends when there is less schoolwork to be done. Probably, both of you have lost out on some of the things you enjoyed doing with them. Sadly, this is one of the costs associated with divorce. You simply miss out on some of the positives (as well as some of the negatives) of raising children. The best you can do is to make the most out of the time you have with your children. While you could go back to court to try to get more three-day weekends or the like, the financial and emotional cost of the legal process is usually greater than the potential rewards if you win your case.
What do I say if the kids blame me for the divorce?
Sometimes kids will blame one of the parents for the divorce. It can be the result of the other parent’s influence, but often it is just a conclusion from the child’s own evaluation of the situation. For example, if you had an affair, your child is more likely to feel that you betrayed the family. Extenuating circumstances such as the fact that you and your ex-wife have not had sexual relations in years will not be understood by the child.
Children cannot be expected to be objective about such matters. They have limited understanding, experience, and judgment. For them, things are more black and white with little shades of gray. Their TV programs reflect this, always showing “good guys” and “bad guys” with no mistaking which is which. Children seek to explain the upheaval that divorce has caused in their world, and they may conclude that you are the culprit for reasons that might make little sense to you. They may blame you for the divorce because:
With young children it is best not to argue the point about who was at fault in the divorce. Simply reassure them that you love them and you know how hard the divorce has been on them. Over time, they will judge you based on how you treat them, not on the fact of the divorce.
With older children it is more tempting to explain “your side of the story,” especially if you believe they are being fed misinformation about what led to the divorce. Usually, though, this is not helpful, and it risks putting the child in the middle of the conflict between the parents. Here again, we would recommend that you simply acknowledge to the children that you understand their disappointment about the divorce, but that you want to remain a steadfast fixture in their lives. There may be a day when you will have the opportunity to explain your perceptions about the divorce, but this will probably come much later, usually after the children are well-grown. In the meantime, what counts more is to demonstrate your abiding love for them through your actions. Make the focus of your emotions your love for the kids and not on your anger at your ex-wife.
This book is for men who are in the process of going through or recovering from a divorce. Whether she moved out today, you just left the courtroom after the final hearing, or you have been divorced awhile and are already dating, this book will help you make the decisions and do the things that will make life after divorce better.
The Guys-Only guide to Getting Over Divorce and on with LIFE, SEX, and RELATIONSHIPS Authors Sam J Buser PhD & Glenn F. Sternes PhD.