In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have worked with
children of all ages for over twenty years. Usually parents drag
their kids into my office complaining of a litany of bad behaviors,
ranging from not cleaning up their rooms, to getting bad grades,
hitting their siblings, or worse, stealing, fighting or doing drugs.
I work with parents to change their children’s behavior. It is
very helpful for the parents to know their children’s experiences.
Barring various kinds of abuses or death in the family, the
separation of the parents is probably the single, biggest trauma your
child has experienced to date. To compensate and to comply with
Family Law, kids usually are ordered to visit each of the parents on
some prearranged, often artificial schedule. The exception is when
one parent is granted primary custody because the other parent has
moved, is unavailable or unsuitable. Once through the court
experience, the child regularly is shuffled back and forth between
each parent’s home. These experiences present your child with some
unique and very trying challenges.
For one, all of this seems very strange to children, even to teens.
One parent moves out (or is now gone), so in order to be with either
parent, the child has to “visit” (and now endure the absence of the
other). The child has to leave one parent, place, and travel to the
other parent’s place. The whole idea of visiting a parent with whom
the child probably lived with for a long time is downright bizarre.
Here’s some questions and/or statements I often hear from kids.
“Why are Mommy/Daddy not in the same place as always?” “What do you
mean, visit? Visiting is what you do with aunts and uncles.”
“Why do we have to leave where we are to see someone we already know?”
Kids are bewildered.
In addition, children have very negative feelings associated
with visitation. “Visiting” is disrupting, so children do not like
leaving where they are, then dutifully going back and forth between
two houses. Often, the exiting parent has moved to a neighborhood
where there are no friends for the child. (If possible, it is better
for the exiting parent to relocate within or close to the same
neighborhood and more importantly, within the same school district.
This usually does not happen because divorcing parents want to get away
from each other, but if it did, problems with playing with familiar kids
and later choosing which school the child will attend in the future
would be greatly reduced.) To compensate, parents often transport
their kids back to their neighborhood-of-origin, which is
counterintuitive, even to a four year old. “Why are we going ‘back’
to Mommy’s” is a question I often hear as Daddy is driving the kids
back to their “own” (more familiar) neighborhood to play with friends
that live just down the street from where the children originated before
the “visit.”
Younger children do not like being separated from either parent.
They have higher needs and shorter attention spans. Therefore, their
visits with each parent should be shorter; accommodating their need to
re-unify more expeditiously and regularly with the parent they just left.
(Courts do not always recognize this so sometimes the legal system creates
even more problems, as if the children did not have enough dealing only
with the parents.) As children age, they can tolerate separation from
one parent longer, so the visits with each lengthens. Older children,
from about age thirteen, usually do not enjoy being uprooted from their
friends, no matter which parent they are visiting.
-Dr. Griggs

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