Dear Dr. Jann: My children, ages 13 and 11, often give me a hard time about going to their dad’s house. While I encourage them to go and spend time with him, they are often resistant. When they tell their dad that they don’t want to spend an overnight at his house, he tells them they have no choice and they go out of guilt. I want them to have a good relationship with their father, but I also want my children to have a voice. Is there anything I can do?
Dr. Jann says: A voice is not a choice, and it’s important that you, dad, and the kids know the difference. A child needs time with both parents and it’s the responsibility of both parents to support each other’s time with their child.
I know this may surprise you, but your first mistake is that your children are telling dad they don’t want to go—and because dad wants to see them, his responses makes the kids feel guilty. You should be discussing this with dad—not the kids, and after you and dad have a solution, present it to the children as a united front. Yes, even if you are no longer together. Any other approach makes your kids the messenger and puts them right in the middle of their parents.
Start by together looking for the reason the children don’t’ want to visit Dad:
Could it be they just doesn’t want to be inconvenienced? They like their room and their bed and there’s nothing to do at Dad’s? If that’s the case, dad needs to get creative and plan outings. Make suggestions if you think Dad is at a loss.
What about Dad lives far away and there are no friends to play with? Let the kids bring a friend with them to Dad’s once in a while. That way, no matter where Dad lives, he can know his children’s friends, their likes and dislikes, private jokes, etc. and he won’t “feel” like an outsider—nor will his home.
How about Dad’s parenting time interferes with the children’s extra-curricular activities? If that’s the case, both parents go, cheer the children on, the kids finish up their time with dad following the activity.
Finally, what if the kids dig in their heels and refuse to go? This is my common response, “What would you do if your kids refused to do their homework? Or go to school? Or clean their room?” Think about it. You know the answer. Short of protecting your kids from any sort of abuse, the answer should be the same. They go.