ASK LINDA, PSYCHOTHERAPIST, SINGLE MOM:
After I split with my son’s mother two years ago, we “theoretically” agreed to co-parenting. However, my son, who is now nine years old, hasn’t wanted to spend the night at my house. This has been going on for approximately two years. I have just changed my job to one that requires less business travel, and I want complete co-custody of my son. But how do I deal with his wanting to stay with his mom?
This is a wonderful opportunity for you to learn more about your son. When you and your partner first separated and your child did not want to spend the night at your house, why did he not want to do so? Why didn’t you insist? Perhaps it was easier at the time to not deal with tantrums or your child being upset, so you let it slip? Over the past two years staying at Mom’s house has become ingrained, a habit. His resistance is probably not about you. I imagine it has something to do with your son feeling protective towards his mother.
Try asking him some questions. “Son, why don’t you want to spend the night with Daddy?” He might answer, “Mom needs me, she is afraid to be alone and I don’t want Mommy to be afraid.” A common parental response might be, “Oh honey, don’t worry, Mommy’s gonna be all right.” You might think this is a good answer. However, it misses the point: Your son needs his emotions to be acknowledged, not dismissed.
So let’s try it again: “Son, so if Mommy and I understand, you want to make sure that Mommy is not scared to be alone when you’re not with her, is that right? Mommy what can we do to make sure you’re not scared when ‘son’ is with Daddy?” A telephone call? A Skype or FaceTime session?” This answer reflects his fear and helps him master it with action.
Please try to explore and understand your child’s thoughts and emotions. Help him name them, understand them and accept them.
Ideally, you and your coparent would sit down and agree to a new coparenting schedule. You would then all sit together and lay out the new schedule. Think about offering your child choices, perhaps which night or how the split of the week might work. However, the choice of whether or not he will stay with the other parent is not one of them! There is a balance between giving your child choices and allowing them to make decisions that are not theirs to make.
If your child is absolutely opposed to trying the new schedule, I would suggest a short course of professional work to help you and your child navigate this rough patch.