Visitation is hard enough on kids as it is, but parents can make the process so much worse when they engage in any of these common mistakes:
Visitation mistake #1: Using drop-offs and exchanges as an opportunity to complain to the other parent
Visitation exchanges are not the time to air dirty laundry or complain about something to the other parent. If you have something that needs to be said, you should call the other parent or find a way to discuss it discretely during another situation. Airing grievances during pick-ups or drop-offs can easily turn into arguments, and you do not need to add that conflict to your child’s transitions. Voicing grievances about the other parent in front of your child also undermines their parental authority. So don’t do it. Keep visitation exchanges conflict-free.
Visitation mistake #2: Nagging kids about a parent’s tardiness or threatening to cancel if they aren’t on time
Don’t make statements like, “If your mother is 5 minutes late again, you’re just not going with her.” To a child who loves her parent and looks forward to spending time with them, this is a tormenting statement. It’s the equivalent of psyching a child up to go to the zoo all week, driving forty minutes to get there, and then threatening to leave if you don’t immediately find a good parking spot. You’ve just sent their stress levels through the roof and riddled them with anxiety over something for which they have no control. Like having to wait after school for a late parent to arrive and fearing the worst, praying with every car that goes by that “this one is them,” you’ve just stressed your child out needlessly. It isn’t fair. In fact, it’s acting quite cruel.
We all have busy schedules, but this is one of the drawbacks of divorce. Grow up and deal with it. Things happen, traffic jams occur, and sometimes parents aren’t on time. Even when the other parent is chronically tardy, this isn’t the child’s fault, and they should not have to be stressed out and counting the seconds, feeling as though seeing their beloved parent may be jeopardized because you’re too impatient to wait around.
Visitation mistake #3: Never use visitation as a form of discipline or punishment
Don’t imply that visitation is a reward for good behavior, and never threaten to revoke a child’s visitation because they are misbehaving. On the same token, if you know that they sometimes resist visitation or are annoyed by it, don’t threaten visitation AS A FORM of punishment, either, by saying things like “If you don’t straighten up I’m calling your Mom to come get you.” As tempting as it can be to latch on to any leverage you have over your kids when they’re misbehaving or not listening to you (especially one that disparages you ex at the same time), parental time should never be attached to behavior or punishment. Over time, doing so can cause serious disturbances in a child’s psychology, because not only does it send unhealthy messages about parent child relationships, but it’s essentially a threat of abandonment if they don’t please you.
Visitation mistake #4: Making children feel guilty about visiting the other parent
Whether it’s done consciously or subconsciously, some parents will guilt-trip their children about spending time with the other parent. This can include behavior such as…
- Telling your child you’ll be lonely or sad without them. It’s okay to answer yes if a child asks whether you’ll miss them, but don’t put on a display about it that would make them feel guilty for leaving you.
- Saying things like “Why aren’t you ever this excited to come to my house?”
- Questioning your child’s loyalty to you.
- Making the kids feel as though it is a contest to win their affections.
Visitation mistake #5: Using your children as coordinators or go-betweens
Children should not be responsible for making, canceling, or changing visitation plans. Nor should kids be used as relays to communicate with the other parent. If you have a message for your ex, you need to speak to them directly.
Visitation mistake #6: Using your kids to spy on your former partner
Don’t use your kids to try to extract personal information about what your ex is doing, who they’re dating, or other irrelevant information about their lives.
Other Visitation dirty deeds:
- Never withhold visitation as a means of punishing your ex for things like missed child support payments. This punishes your children for their parent’s mistakes. Unless your former spouse is a significant and genuine threat, there is never any reason to keep your children from visiting him or her.
- Don’t falsely claim your children are sick or make up other excuses to cancel a visit.