March 2005 - Making
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 everyoneís
schedules. And then one day, your child simply refuses to follow it. Most often
this is a refusal to go on visitation with the nonresidential parent. It can
be baffling and upsetting for both parents when this happens. The nonresidential
parent feels hurt and betrayed and a bit angry too. He or she begins to wonder
if the other parent somehow put the child up to this. The residential parent
feels frustrated and worried. He or she wonders if thereís something going on
at the other house he or she is unaware of. And both parents are hit with a
sudden disruption of the schedule they had adjusted to.
So what do you do when your child wonít go? The first thing
to remember is that while itís always important to listen to your childís feelings
and opinions, spending time with the nonresidential parent is not optional.
Your child doesnít get to pick and choose when she is going to go or what circumstances
will gain his approval. There are days when kids donít want to go to school,
but you donít let your child stay home on those days. Similarly, you canít let
your child decide to just skip visitation.
Visitation is more than just a schedule. It is a connection
to both parents. And continuing to have a connection with both parents is absolutely
essential for your child. Children are not in charge of visitation. Parents
are. Childrenís opinions are important, but not decisive. Children are not old
enough or mature enough to hold the authority to decide when and if visitation
happens. If you give your child that authority you will confuse and overwhelm
him. Your child wants and needs to know that both parents are an unconditional
part of his or her life.
Now that being said, there can be real problems with visitation
that lead to a childís refusal to go. Talk to your child and find out why he
doesnít want to go. Often itís just a general annoyance with the other parent
or a vague sense of dissatisfaction. This isnít good news, but it isnít bad
news either. You have to remember that it will pass.
If your child has solid complaints about visitation, suggest
that she discuss them with the other parent. If your child isnít able to verbalize
this, then itís ok for you to convey the message, but you must remember that
childrenís perceptions of things may be skewed. A complaint of ďDad is always
working and never spends any time with meĒ might in reality turn out to be a
case of where Dad had one project he had to finish up last Sunday night and
so could not play video games. If there is a real complaint about visitation,
itís important to remember that this problem exists between the child and the
parent. You really should not get involved unless it is a dangerous situation.
Part of having a real parent-child relationship is working out problems together.
If your child refuses to go on a scheduled visitation and
there is no real reason for the refusal, you and the other parent must present
a united front. Insist together that there is no other option. If the residential
parent gives in, he or she becomes an accomplice, making the other parent angry
and proving to the child that he or she does not really respect the other parentís
role. If the nonresidential parent gives in, this is a sign to the child that
he or she doesnít really care and is seen by the residential parent as yet another
failure. The best plan is to work together to get your child to go. If your
child refused to get out of bed to go to school, you would find a way to make
him go. Youíve got to do the same in this situation.
If your child is a teen, she may need more control over
visitation than younger children are allowed, however this does not mean that
she can write the other parent out of her life. Teens need to feel some control
over their lives, and need time for school, jobs, friends, and activities, but
they also do desperately need real connections with both parents.
It is upsetting for everyone involved when a child refuses
to go on visitation, but if both parents insist together that there is no choice,
then no one will be the villain and your child will have to cope with the reality
of the situation.