Similar house rules cut can down on visitation nightmares

  • Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dear Liz,

Every time my kids come back from their dad’s, they are very different. We live in different states, which makes it even more difficult. Usually polite and fairly cooperative - they seem, to have an attitude, fight me on rules, and are resistant to our regular routines. I’ve tried to talk to their dad about it, but am ignored. I never want to say anything bad about their dad, or quiz them about what went on, but wonder what is going on. We have a daughter, 12; son 10; daughter 8. I’m dreading what will happen when they are “real” teenagers.

Dreading visits

Dear “Dreading,”

This is a very common concern. My first recommendation, wish, prayer and demand is that parents work together enough to have similar rules, schedules and expectations at each household. Similar values are equally important.

No matter what, that is the single thing that can keep kids more stable, well-behaved, feeling loved all around and have the best future prognosis for a successful future. The lack of and on-going obvious or subtle differences and contention is the worst thing and does the lasting damage to children. It is not your imagination that they are different. Without parents being on the same page when it comes to their children, there is a more pronounced transition period.

Think of what the children go through. They are angry and hurt enough that their parents can’t live together. They may not discuss or admit it, but those feelings are there. Divorce for children is an on-going, never-ending set of “goodbyes” where they are always leaving someone they love.

I dislike the concept of “visitation” because parents should not be “visiting” they should be parenting. I know you agree.

The non-custodial parent often becomes what I call “Disneyland Dads” (or moms) who often get to be with children when they are off work, and the kids are off of school. They have more time to play, stay up late and go pretty “crazy.”

It is why I want moms and dads to have equal amounts of “free time” with their children. When parents are local, it is possible to share school and homework time, drive to sports and activities and have the more normal routine and balance of work and play together.

In your case, dad may be able to be more easy-going and more lax on “rules” and may even be saying negative things about mom. This is the other worst practice.

Children need to be free to love both parents and relatives on both side. Never give children details about the divorce or discuss flaws of other parent.

I would suggest some short term transitional counseling with a good counselor whenever they return from their dad. It gives you an opportunity to share what you are observing and for the counselor then to work with each child about the underlying cause for behavioral and attitudinal change.

A counselor can also help you discuss your concerns with your children in the most appropriate way, and gives you the support you need as a single parent. Always make sure your children know you understand they may be missing their dad, and they are loved deeply by both of you.

(Contact Liz via asksharpliz@gmail.com. Liz Brisacher Sharp is a Master degree level Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice with 35 years experience in mental health.)

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