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Making Kids Go on Visitation

It happens in every family at one time or another.  You have a parenting plan in place that seems to be working pretty well with everyone’s 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 there’s 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 won’t go?  The first thing to remember is that while it’s always important to listen to your child’s feelings and opinions, spending time with the nonresidential parent is not optional.  Your child doesn’t get to pick and choose when she is going to go or what circumstances will gain his approval.  There are days when kids don’t want to go to school, but you don’t let your child stay home on those days.  Similarly, you can’t 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.  Children’s 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 child’s refusal to go.  Talk to your child and find out why he doesn’t want to go.  Often it’s just a general annoyance with the other parent or a vague sense of dissatisfaction.  This isn’t good news, but it isn’t 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 isn’t able to verbalize this, then it’s ok for you to convey the message, but you must remember that children’s perceptions of things may be skewed.  A complaint of “Dad is always working and never spends any time with me” 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, it’s important to remember that this problem exists between the child and the parent.  The other 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 parent’s role.  If the nonresidential parent gives in, this is a sign to the child that he or she doesn’t 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.  You’ve 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.

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You Fed Him WHAT? Special Diets and Co-Parenting Solutions

If you’re one of the many parents raising a child with a food allergy or special diet needs, the thought of sending your child off with your ex for visitation or parenting time may make your stomach clench with worry. Will the other parent make sure he stays away from dangerous food items? Will the other parent be as vigilant as you are to follow your child’s special diet? These concerns are real, particularly when food choices can be so confusing with so many potentially serious consequences. Follow these steps to ensure your child’s needs are met while with the other parent.

 

Educate

The very first step is to educate the other parent. Ask him to come to a doctor or nutritionist appointment with you and your child, or offer to set one up at his convenience. The most important thing you can do is have a professional stress the importance of your child’s diet and lay out all the dos and don’ts associated with food. You might be able to tell your ex everything he needs to know, but it’s all going to carry more weight coming from a professional in a position of authority. It’s very important that the medical professional tell your ex what the consequences are of NOT following the prescribed diet, so he cannot just brush off the advice.

 

Reinforce

Provide your ex with a clearly written sheet of dos and don’ts. For example, if you child is a celiac, you could print out a list from the internet detailing surprising foods that often have hidden gluten. If your child is allergic to tree nuts, a list of unexpected places those can be found would be helpful. The same goes for lactose intolerance or other allergies. A list of no-no foods is very helpful, but also make a list of foods, brands, and products that are safe for your child to eat, particularly if you have your child on a diet such as one to control or reverse autism. Remind your ex that he must be ever vigilant when eating at restaurants or at other people’s homes with your child. Teach him how to ask – and what to ask– about food that is being offered to your child. Sow him how to read labels when shopping. Give suggestions about what alternatives to offer your child when she wants something she can’t have. In the beginning, it may even be necessary for you to pack a bag with some food items to be certain your ex has some products available, just in case.

 

Follow Up

In many cases, all of this will be enough to keep your child safe. In some cases though, the other parent can make things difficult. It’s a good idea to ask about what your child has eaten while away. Red flags are statements like “My mom fed him something,” or “We just ate at X restaurant.” That’s not enough information for either of you! If you have real doubts about your ex’s ability to stay on track with your child’s diet, start a food log and send it along on visitation, asking your ex to fill it out. To make things a bit less confrontational, fill out the log for when your child is with you as well. This way it will seem like a joint effort and your log entries will provide an excellent model for your ex to follow.

 

Empower Your Child

If your child is old enough, you can educate him or her about what he and can’t eat. You are probably already doing this, but many children would not think to question choices a parent is making for them, so make sure your child understands that the diet comes first, no matter what anyone, even a parent, says.

 

Non-Cooperation

If you have an ex who either does not believe the special diet is important or who seems to be unable to follow it out of laziness or even just to spite you, you need to take action. Document what is happening (make dated notes about interference with the diet, as well as the consequences your child experiences). Then go back to court. Depending on your situation, you can ask for a few different things. Some parents just need a judge to tell them they have to follow the diet (but you may need a doctor to testify about the importance of it). It may be enough to have your custody order modified to include a directive that both parents follow the recommendations of the child’s doctor about diet. If that isn’t going to do it, you can ask to have visitation modified so that your child is not with your ex at meals or so that your ex has supervised visitation, where another responsible adult is present and can make sure the diet is being followed.

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Teens and Divorce

Photo by Sujin Jetkasettakorn

If you and the other parent divorced while your child was younger, the teen years can present some challenges in terms of your visitation schedule.  A schedule that worked for an elementary school age child is not going to fit a teen.  And, if you and the other parent have split during your child’s teenage years, it can be difficult to devise a plan that will work for everyone involved simply because the teenage years are so difficult to parent during.

Big But Not Big Enough

The first thing to remember is that teens may look and act a lot like adults, but they aren’t yet completely mature.  They still need to have two parents and they still need to have those parents involved in their lives.  Teens are working hard at learning to be independent, and this means that they do need special consideration, but it does not mean that you and the other parent should throw up your hands and say “there’s nothing we can do.”  It can be difficult to continue to parent someone who doesn’t want to be parented, but that’s your job right now.

Flexibility Is Key

Friends, school, sports, activities, dating, and jobs are essential to teens.  If you have a visitation schedule that severely restricts your child’s ability to enjoy those essential activities, all you’ll end up with is resentment.  Instead, you need to try to create a balance in your teen’s life.  He or she should have plenty of time to do the things that matters to him, but he’s also got to make some room for spending time with his parents.

When you all lived in one house you probably did not tell your daughter she had to skip the field hockey game because you wanted to spend time with her.  You didn’t tell your son he couldn’t hang out with friends on Friday night because your spouse wanted to spend time with him.

As the divorced parent of a teen, you’ve got to flex the parenting schedule to incorporate the things that make your kid who he is.  If your spouse has visitation this weekend, but your teen has a dance to go to, the parent whose scheduled time it is should take the teen to and from the dance, and spend the rest of the available time with him.  You need to find a balance between your teen’s need to be a kid and the need for him or her to have time with both parents.

Create a Minimum

Since teens schedules are busy and your and the other parent’s schedules are also probably pretty packed, it’s important to agree to some kind of minimum time per month with the non-custodial parent. For example, decide that you’ll try to arrange things so that the non-custodial parent sees your child for at least four overnights per month and 4 other evenings or afternoons – this is the flexible way to fit in the “every other weekend and one night a week” plan into a busy life.  Fit parenting times in where they go the easiest.  Be creative with your time sharing.  Take turns taking your daughter to basketball practice.  Have one parent commit to teaching him how to drive.  Have the other parent be involved with weekend band or cheerleader activities.  Some parents have a hard time being so flexible because it feels like a loss of control.  In fact it is just the opposite – you set a minimum and then work with your child to make it work for everyone.  It takes a bit more cooperation, but in the end, you will both have a better relationship with your child and he or she will feel more fulfilled and connected.

Stay Connected

Teens are big on technology, so the non-custodial parent can maintain a close relationship with text messaging, cell phone calls, andSkype.  Non-custodial parents can have a difficult time staying connected during the teen years – teens certainly aren’t know for being open with their parents!  And, if a family divorced when the daughter was 7, she’s a very different person at 15 and it can be hard to stay in the loop.  Find out about her interests and activities and make yourself a part of them – either by showing up to cheer, by offering help, or just by asking friendly, non-intrusive questions.

Surviving the teen years requires a mutual understanding – you take your teen’s life seriously and he or she will take both parents seriously as well.

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Keeping Summer Vacation Fun in a Divorced Family

photo courtesy of federico stevanin

Kids wait all year for summer vacation.  But when parents are divorced or separated, summer vacation becomes more complicated.  Kids look forward to long days with their friends doing nothing.  When they have a parenting schedule to live with, summer loses some of its fun.  Your child needs to spend time with both parents – that’s a given.  So how do you keep the parenting schedule from messing up your child’s summer dreams?

Plan around it. If you and your child dream of lazy days at the beach or crazy afternoons at an amusement park, plan your family’s schedule around the parenting schedule.  Try to work, clean the house, or do volunteer work while your child is with the other parent.  Save the big events for days when your child is with you.  If you have children and step children with conflicting schedules, talk with both sets of parents and look for a way to make adjustments so that you can all have family time together once in a while.

Welcome friends. One of the biggest concerns kids have about schedule is not being able to see their friends.  Make it clear friends are welcome at your home anytime.  If you’re the non-custodial parent, go the extra step and offer to drive the friends (who probably live near your child’s other home) to your home.

Make other plans. Whether you’re the custodial or non-custodial parent, it’s impossible to be with your child the entire time he or she is at your house.  Look for alternatives that will keep your child happy and occupied while you’re busy.  Look for a class or day camp that ties into his or her interests – zoo camp, art camp, soccer camp – the choices are huge.  Planning this activity will give your child something to do and will ease any guilt you might feel (you shouldn’t!) about not being completely available.

Think of yourself. Be sure to plan some adult fun for the days your child is away.  You’re supposed to enjoy the summer too and those days on your own are the perfect times to explore new places, meet people, and expand your own horizons.

Remember what it’s like to be a kid. There were plenty of times when your idea of a good time was sleeping till noon, spending 4 hours in front of the tv, or plugging yourself into a video game.  The same probably holds true for your child.  Let him or her have time to just veg.  You don’t need to plan excursions and events every time your child is at your home.  Let there be time for just being a kid.

Relax. Stop pressuring yourself to create the perfect summer for your child.  If you look back you probably will find that your favorite summer memories are of small, everyday things.  You’re not a cruise director; you’re a parent.  There’s a lot to be said for quiet dinners on the porch, picnics in the backyard, ice cream cones on a hot night, and fun in the sprinkler together.

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Biting Your Tongue

Photo credit: photostock

Once you’re divorced or separated, it seems as if you should be free of your ex and able to live your life without his or her influence. However, if you are parents together, this is not a realistic expectation. You will be parents together for the rest of your lives and although you don’t have to live together or see each other often, you do have to find a way to function together as parents.

Spirit of Acceptance

Your child has two parents and although you are not in love with each other anymore, and in fact, may not even like each other, it’s best for your child if you work together as parents. No matter what kind of parenting arrangement you may have – shared custody, sole custody, or residential custody with visitation – you must still find a way to work together as a team.

As you’ve already learned, you cannot change who the other parent is, nor how he or she does things. This was true in your marriage and it remains true as you parent together. Part of parenting together is accepting who the other person is and learning to live with it. It may not be easy to put up with the things about the other parent that drive you crazy – lateness, neatness, snide comments, lack of attention to details, pickiness – whatever it is. But learning to do this is part of your job as a divorced parent.

Watch Your Words

As you and the other parent work through your journey as parenting partners, it’s likely that you will have clashes. Even if you had the most amicable divorce in the world, as you parent it is almost certain that resentments, jealousy, outrage, and other negative feelings will plague you at some point. It’s difficult to parent together when you rarely are together. You’re each growing into different people than you were when you were married.  As the years pass you may become more and more unfamiliar to each other.

One of the most important skills you will need to work effectively with the other parent is communication. Because you are not parenting in the same home, it is essential that you learn to communicate with each other about your child. Learning how and when to talk to each other is an important skill, but perhaps the most important skill is learning how to say nothing at all.

Silence is Golden

If you constantly criticize or complain to the other parent, your relationship will evolve into a negative one. Always pointing out what he or she is doing wrong just feeds the fire of resentment and anger. It is not your job to point out everything the other parent is doing wrong. That’s not your responsibility anymore. One of the best things you can do to create a supportive co-parenting environment is to try not to say anything negative. Instead focus on sharing information about your child, making plans that will benefit your child, and saying something nice once in a while.

If you are in a very difficult parenting relationship where every communication you have with each other seems to end in an argument, you need to cut back on your face to face communication. Try email, instant messenger, texting, or even sending notes back and forth.

Parent Together, But Apart

You and the other parent are part of a parenting team, but you’re each on the field at different times. Trying to set up some common boundaries and rules is helpful to everyone, but you can’t and shouldn’t try to control what is happening when the other parent is in charge. You have to let go and let the other parent do things his or her way – without commenting on it, criticizing or offering a better way to do it.

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