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Welcome, medical contents search April 26, 2013
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Divorced Dad

I am a divorced woman with a six-year-old daughter who refuses to see her father on weekend visits.

There's a lot you can do, but first find out why she objects to spending time with him.

I am a single mom with a six-year-old daughter, divorced after 7 years of marriage. I am raising my daughter alone. A few months ago she started crying just before her weekend visits with her father. For days after the visit, she refuses to listen to anything I tell her. She pesters me to buy her lavish presents like her father does, which I can ill afford. I am exhausted from fighting with her every morning about the clothes she is going to wear. I'd like to leave her with relatives in order to give myself a break, but I am afraid to. Meanwhile, it will be soon time for to go to her dad's again, and the crying will start, followed by her disrespect upon her return. What can I do?

Childrearing is hard enough when there are two parents to share the responsibilities of caring for and disciplining a little one. Not only does mom have her usual childrearing concerns, but added to her plate are all the things that were shared or handled by the husband before the divorce (i.e., finances, car and house maintenance, insurance, housework, child's homework, health, schools, transportation, etc.). For a single mom, it's a burden I readily sympathize with.

However, there's a red flag here you need to attend to first-why doesn't your daughter want to spend time with her father, and what prompted her refusal? Besides disobeying you, what attitude does she come home with? Does it seem as though it was a fun time for her, and a good visit after all? Then perhaps she is merely feeling guilty about splitting her allegiance between the two of you. No child can help but feel the dislocation of living with one parent and having visiting time with another. Does she feel responsible for your breakup, consciously or unconsciously, as is often the case?

Not to read too much into her ambivalence about visiting her dad, but sometimes there are serious concerns suggested by such resistance, like abuse. Sometimes, the answer is as innocent as the fact that her dad really doesn't know how to spend time alone with a six-year-old, never having had to do so when you were married. Maybe he just doesn't know how to structure an enjoyable visit for a kid, or other interests distract him.

Dads who are at a loss as to how to be with their kids on these somewhat artificial visits will often substitute gifts and sweets for solid contact, spoiling her or buying her love. Then the full time moms get to bear the brunt of being boringly available after such rarified treatment with dad. That could explain your daughter's hostile behavior toward you after such glamorous visits.

Studies show that even when married couples don't get along, staying together is better in the long run for the children's emotional stability, except when the marriage is abusive, or the kids are abused. Apparently, the "normalcy" of a two- parent household allows the kids to feel accepted by their peers.

Children in broken homes often find themselves fulfilling roles formerly performed by the absent spouse-not a comfortable burden for a kid who should be focused on his studies and having a good time. In particular, the need for an authority figure satisfied by having a dad in the picture is an important element in establishing a sense of security for children. So it's important that your daughter have a good connection with her dad. As she gets older and understands more, you can work with her to explore her feelings about the break up, and overcome her ambivalence toward you, a natural consequence of the split allegiance she doubtless feels.

It's really important for divorced parents to find common ground in the welfare of their child, and get over their anger and blame, in order not to poison their offspring's relationship with the other parent. Individual and family therapy can be absolutely essential in healing the wounds that created divorce, for the health and well-being of the child. Divorced parents, at the very least, need to be able to communicate with one another about their kid's needs without going "ballistic." The more open and forgiving of their former spouses than can be, the more likely their children will not hate one parent in favor of the other. Kids can emerge undamaged and whole from divorced homes, but only if the parents are mature enough and willing to surrender their selfish hurts.

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