A really really hard part about getting divorced with young kids, is helping them adapt to going from Mom’s house to Dad’s house and back. It’s brutal, and I can still vividly remember how much it hurt, watching my kids at 3 and 5 try to figure out why this was happening. There were many times one or both didn’t want to go to Dad’s house or didn’t want to come back to Mom’s, or they became overly attached to one of us at different periods of their lives. So, what do you do when a child is overly attached to one parent?
First, let me validate what you might be feeling. If you are the parent who the child is overly attached to, the guilt can tear your heart apart. (Not that you should feel guilty, I’m just telling you how I felt. Feeling guilty is non-productive and negative and toxic and not justified!) That said, watching your child cry when they have to go to Dad’s (or Mom’s) and they are begging you to stay with you, is awful. It feels like your heart is being torn out of your chest. You actually want to beg your soon to be ex to let your child stay with you. And, if you do beg, and he agrees, then you feel awful the entire time your child is with you because you know he/she should be with Dad.
Moving on…what if you are the parent who the child isn’t overly attached to? That might feel even worse! I can remember times when one or both of my kids cried after coming home from Dad’s house because they missed him. It was awful. I felt hurt, I felt jealous. I felt like they didn’t love me as much. I felt angry about it. And, I felt insecure. You start to get these feelings of: Is he more fun? Is he a better parent? Where have I gone wrong? It’s the worst.
So, why do children of divorce sometimes become overly attached to one parent? Here are five possible reasons:
1. They are worried about or feel sorry for the parent. Maybe a dad is living in an apartment and the child sees that he is not in the home anymore and wants to try to protect the parent.
2. They might feel insecure, like if they don’t stay with Dad he might move on and leave them (since he’s not living in the house.)
3. They might see their parent in a new relationship and feel threatened and therefore insecure.
4. It might not necessarily be the parent who the child is overly attached to, but rather that they are having a hard time adapting to going back and forth and having two houses.
5. It might be a control thing, where the child wants to show that he/she can make their own decisions.
6. A kid can feel unorganized because their stuff is everywhere and the stress of remember what to bring–school supplies, athletic gear, etc. can feel overwhelming.
7. It could have something to do with gender. For example, little boys love their daddies. They look up to them and want to be like them. Junior high age girls need their moms. Actually, they hate their moms (LOL not really) but they need them more then ever!
So, I have a few tips for what to do when a child is overly attached to one parent.
1. The biggest tip is: IT’S NOT PERSONAL!!
Please realize that your child loves each parent the same, and if they are overly attached to one parent at times, it’s because of some other reason–not you! It’s perfectly OK to feel sorry for yourself for a little while. You are entitled to grieve how hard this is. Just know when to stop and move forward.
2. Try to be patient.
Realize that this is just a phase and part of the divorce process.It won’t always be this way.
3. Welcome your child back with open arms, even if you know they would rather be with Dad right now.
4. If your child is begging to stay with you…
be positive and say things like, “You are going to have so much fun! Daddy loves you so much and is really looking forward to seeing you, and you will be home before you know it.”
5. Make sure to tell your kids, “Mommy is really busy and has so much to do while you are at Dad’s, so don’t worry. I’ll be fine!”
6. Show your kids lots of affection–
hugs and kisses to assure them that when they go to the other parent’s house, you still love them just as much and you will be here to welcome them home with open arms.
7. Therapy is wonderful for a child who is overly attached to one parent.
8. Try to get along with your ex…
and be really nice to each other in front of the kids. This will help so much with transitioning back and forth from house to house. Think about it, if you’re mean to your ex, your kids might get upset at you, or they might take sides and feel afraid or resentful of him/her.
9. Talk to your kids.
Communication is key. It is healthy for them to express their issues. Listen to them and validate their feelings. Say, “It sounds like it’s hard for you to have two houses. I understand your pain. I’m sorry you are hurting.”
10. Forgive yourself for the divorce.
Remember that your kids being overly attached to one parent isn’t your fault! (even if you are the one who wanted the divorce.)
We all have a tough time seeing our children in pain. It’s the worst. Just remember that it is temporary. If both parents are loving, the kids are going to do just fine.
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