Over the summer, we took our first road trip. We packed up my Ford Edge and drove from central Florida to north Georgia to stay in the mountains for a week. I was so excited to do a classic family vacation. We played Road Trip Bingo and everything! After nine hours and what felt like 17 potty breaks, we arrived at our cabin. My son’s first words were “I miss Daddy,” and my heart sank.
I know my sons love me, but I’m preparing myself for the day they say they’d rather live with their dad because his house is more fun or simply because they’re boys. When your child wants to live with the other parent, the way you react has the potential to harm or help. So what’s the right way to respond? Say these 5 things for the good of your child.
1. “This isn’t about me.”
You don’t have to say this one out loud to your child, but you definitely need to hear it yourself. Unless something is happening in your home that is making your child anxious or fearful, the reason your child wants to go to Dad’s has nothing to do with you. If you tell yourself not to take it personally, you won’t project feelings of insecurity, sadness, or jealousy into the situation. Instead, you’ll be able to take an objective look at the reason your child might be favoring Dad at the moment.
2. “I know this is hard.”
As much as I wanted to tell my son, “You’re on vacation! Focus on that and have fun!” I know he said what he said because he wanted his dad to be there to experience it, too. The best thing to do when your child wants to live with the other parent or wants to be there instead of with you is to empathize. Connecting with his or her feelings is a great starting point for a healthy conversation.
The best thing to do when your child wants to live with the other parent or wants to be there instead of with you is to empathize.
3. “OK. Let’s talk about it.”
You don’t have to say these exact words, but the goal is to not overreact with anger or tears. We have to remember that we’re the adults and part of our goal as moms is to provide a safe place for our kids to express their emotions, even when they’re feeling something we don’t like.
4. “I’m sorry you feel that way, but…”
If your son or daughter wants to be with dad or live full-time with him because there are fewer rules, no curfew, or better toys there, hold your ground. My sons have video games at their father’s house, but not at mine. I expect this to be a point of contention as they get older, so I’ll have to remind myself of the reason I set the rules I did. Some rules can be changed, so that’s an option too, but not simply because my kids said something that hurt my feelings.
5. “I’ll talk to your dad.”
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting you give a child the right to decide where he or she lives, but do talk to your ex-husband about what’s going on. Maybe your child is saying the same thing to dad about living with you! Sometimes the reason a child wants to be with the other parent has to do with a scheduling issue: He or she wants to watch Monday night football with dad or there’s a friend around the corner who can only play on certain nights. If a small change can be made that satisfies everyone involved, it will show your child that you listen and care.
How do you handle it when your child wants to be with the other parent?