Q: My 7 year old daughter tells me she does not want to leave every time she comes to my house. She asks, "Daddy, why do I have to leave?" At first I told her I didn't want her to leave, but it was ordered by the judge. That didn't help. The next time she came over she became hysterical before she left until finally I asked her if she wanted to live with me. She said yes, so I started court proceedings to change custody. I just read her mother's response to the court papers and she indicated that the child says the same thing to her. What is going on? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: First red flag I see? You and your daughter's mother communicate through court papers. Your daughter is hysterical and instead of reaching out to her mother to compare notes in the best interest of your daughter, you file court papers. It reminds me of a child custody mediation of a few months ago. Things were getting very emotional so I asked the parents and their attorneys to step out so I could clear my head and possibly come up with a more creative plan. When I went to get the parties, the attorneys were in deep conversation while dad was looking out the window and mom was on her phone. I said, in a rather loud voice. "You know what's wrong here? The wrong people are talking!"
And, I say the same thing to you. There's a reason for your daughter's emotional breakdown -- her parents are at odds and she knows it. You made this child together, you make her go back and forth between your homes, you have joint custody -- so you should be jointly working on correcting the problem.
Now to address your child's attitude ... she probably does want to stay with you -- and she probably also wants to stay with her mom. She's not telling either of you that she prefers to be with you, she's simply stating a fact. She doesn't want to leave. She probably hates that you don't live together anymore and she's telling you she hates it. But, adults hear a child's pleadings and think, "Oh, she prefers me!" And that's not it at all. If you and mom were really putting your child first, (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule No. 1) you would sit down together and figure out a parenting plan that decreases her anxiety, not adds to it or makes it worst.
Finally, I suggest that you and mom take a co-parenting class that teaches you how to respond to your child's questions when she expresses how she feels. Telling her that a judge won't let her stay with you is essentially telling her that someone else has more power than daddy and you can't protect her. No wonder she became hysterical. The truth is, a judge only intercedes when parents can't come to their own agreement. If you want to change that, work with mom in the best interest of your child. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)
(c)2019 Jann Blackstone
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