It happens in every family at one time or another. You have a parenting schedule in place that seems to be working pretty well with everyone’s schedules. Then one day, your child simply refuses to follow it.
It can be baffling and upsetting for both parents when this happens.
This type of conflict subjects both parents to heightened scrutiny and forces everyone involved to examine both parent’s parenting style and decisions.
So, what do you do when your child refuses to go on parenting time?
Obviously children are individuals and parents must approach the reluctant child as such. It must be understood that most every child at some time in their childhood expresses feeling of reluctance, frustration and exasperation over the daily schedule that they must keep. We all, adults and children alike, have good days and bad days. It is important not to make too big a deal of it if a child on occasion expresses such feelings.
Younger children – temporary complaints
If your young child doesn’t feel like visiting or doesn’t want to leave mom or dad behind, you really need to encourage – and even require – that he/she go with the other parent as scheduled. Explain to your child that part of having your parents living apart is spending time with both parents, and that both of you love him/her equally and want to spend time with them. This struggle may feel a bit like those mornings that your child does not want to go to school. Do not let lingering negative feeling for your ex-spouse persuade you that this parenting moment is any less important to your child’s future success than those difficult mornings when your child does not want to go to school. Fight any urge you may have to feel the other parent deserves this type of treatment from your child or feelings of frustration caused because the other parent is not their to help you at the moment. When discussing the situation with the other parent, try to avoid implying that your former partner is doing something wrong. Focus on your child’s emotional state and not on your assessment of what you believe to be the problem in the other parent’s home.
Remember, as a practical matter, you can be in trouble if your child does not comply with the court’s parenting plan. The bottom line is that you are the parent, and you are responsible for your child’s actions while in your care. Thus, it is you who will be held responsible and you who may have to answer to the court.
Younger children – prolonged complaints
Prolonged complaints and reluctance most often requires an expert’s attention. Quite often prolonged complaints by a younger child are referred to a therapist who works with your parent coordinator to remedy the underlining issues and assure that your child’s best interests are kept at the forefront of everyone’s mind while the family works together to assess and address the child’s needs.
Teenagers, on the other hand, present a whole different set of considerations. Teens need to feel some control over their lives, and need time for school, jobs, friends, and activities. But teens also desperately need to maintain real connections with both parents. No one wants you to instigate a physical altercation with your fifteen-year-old over his reluctance to visit with the other parent. We all know that merely threatening your teen with punishment or restricting his/her freedom does not always lead to their compliance. The hard truth is that most teenagers would rather be with their friends than with either of their parents.
It is true that some of these teenagers are being manipulated by a misguided adult. Other teens have important issues and disputes with a parent that must be addressed to get to the heart of the problem while some others are merely “acting out” as all teenagers are prone to do. It is impossible to tell which type of problem you are dealing with until someone is willing to get close enough to your teen to hold a meaningful and respectful conversation and get to the heart of your teen’s issues. That person may be a trusted adult, a child’s therapist, a reunification therapist, an attorney appointed to represent the teen or the parent coordinator. The key is to get to the bottom of the teenager’s issue and to move forward in a non-judgmental way formulating a plan to get things back on track.
At Leibenguth Law, we believe that a court of law is the last place parents should face off with their troubled children. Threatening legal action against the other parent often only antagonizes a reluctant child.
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