When it comes to weekend visits, you've heard every excuse under the sun. "I have too much homework." "It's so boring! There's nothing to do at dad's house." "I bet mom won't even care if I don't go. She doesn't listen to anything I say, anyway." Underneath these laments is one constant frustration: you're tired of hearing it when your child complains about visitation. Worse, yet, you're afraid it'll never get better.
Before you give in to the worry, consider these tips the next time your child complains about spending time with your ex.
How to Cope When Your Child Complains About Visitation
- Listen when your child complains about visitation. Pay attention to anything that makes your ears perk up. And use your gut to differentiate age-appropriate, or 'lesser' complaints from matters that warrant immediate attention — like concerns about visitation safety. For example, if your teenager doesn't want to miss out on time with friends, that's a perfectly reasonable and age-appropriate reason to want to stay on your side of town. But if your young child complains of stomachaches after every visit, that's another story. The solution might be as simple as tweaking her diet during visits to decrease sugary snacks or late-night treats, but it's a complaint that warrants attention.
- Talk about the issue openly. The next step is to talk with your child about the issue. Depending on the situation, you might talk right when your child starts complaining about spending time with your ex, or you might set aside a special time to dive into the issue. Find out what's really at the heart of your child's complaints. Is there something she feels she's missing out on while she's with your ex? Or is there something bothersome about being at your ex's house that needs to be dealt with? Encourage your child to open up and talk about what she's feeling so you can better understand the problem.
- Get your ex involved. Next, you'll need to share the issue with your ex. If you have a healthy co-parenting relationship, then you're probably already having regular conversations about how your kids are doing. What can be tricky is when you need to let your ex know about a compliant you think he needs to address at home, but which he may not already know about. It helps to frame the issue as simply sharing the kind of information you hope he would share with you if the situation were reversed. Bonus tip: go one step further and assure your ex that he'll be telling you this kind of thing at some point, too. Simply acknowledging that you'll have your share of similar complaints in due time can go a long way toward rebuilding trust with your ex.
- Map out a solution. Work together with your ex to find a solution. If you have some ideas already, put them on the table. Rearranging your schedules and swapping days may not be easy, but it's worth considering if it helps your child's adjustment. Think through how you've handled similar issues at home, too. When you have valuable advice to share, frame it in a positive way. Your ex will probably be more open to hearing you share what's worked in the past, along with specific examples, than hearing you 'tell' him or her what to do. For example, if your child is cranky after visits because she doesn't go to bed early enough, try saying: "We were having bedtime issues at my house, too, for a while. Here's what finally worked..." Your willingness to share your struggles and your solutions can help you have a more meaningful conversation about possible solutions when your child complains about spending time with your ex.
- See what works and revisit your plan over time. Here's the step that's most often forgotten: giving your solutions a try and then re-evaluating. If it works, great. Go back and let your ex know that you're seeing a difference. Have follow-up conversations with your child, too, about what's helping and how she feels. And as you need to, work with your ex to tweak your plan. Maybe you thought switching nights would take care of the problem, and it's not. Go back to the drawing board and keep at it until you find a solution that works for your family. It's not a failure to start over again. It's part of the process.
How to Intervene When Your Child's Relationship with Your Ex is Falling Apart
When your child complains about visitation, you may worry that the real issue is getting along with your ex at all. And when that happens, a common knee-jerk reaction is to pull the plug on visits. Instead, do what you can to encourage your child to share his feelings openly with your ex. If necessary, set up a time when the three of you can talk and act as the facilitator. It can be hard for kids and teens to express themselves, especially when when they're voicing complaints that may be difficult for you and your ex to hear. Use phrases like "What I hear you saying is..." and "How does that make you feel?"
Try to end the conversation on a positive note and remember that it will take time to mend past hurts and get to a better place in the relationship.
Be the support your child needs during this time and encourage your ex to keep an open mind and be sensitive to your child's concerns. And remember, you'll need to revisit steps 1-5 above many times as you work through your child's complaints about visitation. Keep at it, and pay attention to small improvements along the way. You'll get there!