If the child does not want to go to the contact weekend
In recent weeks, I’ve talked about three classic situations in which we mothers wish the contact weekend away, because we don’t want it and it hurts us deeply personally.
But what do we do when the child doesn’t want to go to daddy?
We ourselves can still rise above ourselves heroically by analyzing ourselves clearly and seeking external help or distracting ourselves if necessary, but if the child has a problem with the weekend, all mothers’ protective instincts go into the red alert position.
And that’s the way it should be.
However, a clear assessment becomes more difficult the smaller the child is at the time.
It’s true that children are very sensitive to their parents’ moods with their seismographic antennae, and they will show solidarity with us if they sense what a problem we as mothers have with the contact weekend.
If, on the other hand, you’re valiantly trying to get your life together and plan your weekends off, it’s not great when your kid tells you on Friday that he’d rather stay with you today. Goodbye, nice concert evening!
As we already know well enough: Contact is a must. Constant contact with the father is important.
That’s why we often make a fool of ourselves, hide our feelings and pretend to be cheerful and calm with the child. Or is it?
On the other hand, some pedagogues sometimes say that children very quickly find out how they can make us do their bidding.
Nevertheless, we should be careful not to pigeonhole our children across the board. Because if we actually fail to notice them with their worries and fears, then we do more damage than we might like.
Let’s take a closer look at two scenarios.
Scenario 1) Your elementary school child gets an unexplained tummy ache just before he is to be picked up. When asked, he tells you he’d rather lie on your couch and have a hot water bottle.
Check a): Are you having trouble with your ex or are you afraid of spending the weekend alone?
Check b): Do you have plans of your own (girls’ night out, date, continuing education, etc) that you are looking forward to?
If you answer a) with no and b) with yes, it can’t be your fault.
In this case, cancel the weekend of contact and / or offer the father to bring the child himself the next day when he is feeling better.
If the abdominal pain miraculously disappears right after the cancellation, this is an indication that you can investigate.
Let’s not kid ourselves, though: You can run into a lot of headwind, depending on what your ex is like. If there is a power imbalance between you, it can even be extremely unpleasant for you.
In that case, please take careful notes of what he says or keep his emails.
Of course, a father will also be very disappointed if he has been looking forward to his child for a long time, no question. But showing a healthy disappointment or violently verbally attacking you for it, as if you invented the stomachache, are two completely different pairs of boots.
Such a situation must always be seen in the overall context. If the father only sees his child every two or three months because he lives too far away, this is of course a completely different level of frustration that is demanded of him than the classic every-second-weekend-around-and-in-between-one-afternoon-a-week dad.
A small tip on the side, in case you can still talk or are currently trying to regulate the contact in court: Talk through such a situation prophylactically, how you will handle it, so that you know approximately what you can orientate yourself to.
Of course you will talk to your child after the miraculous recovery. Say that you felt there was something other than the tummy ache that made him not want to go to daddy.
Depending on what he tells you then, you can deduce the next steps:
Talk to the father about it;
Talk to a child psychologist;
Contact the youth welfare office or the child protection agency.
If you are in a clinch regarding regular contact, it can be interpreted extremely negatively in court if you unilaterally suspend contact completely for a while.
Therefore, make sure you know what you are doing beforehand.
Make notes so that you can document everything in case he gets really mean to you.
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Scenario 2) Your 4-year-old child hides behind you when you pick him up or runs into his room, away from daddy. When asked, he tells you some confused reason.
Do you want to hear my honest, politically incorrect opinion?
Cancel the weekend of contact and do not give the child to the father until the facts are clarified.
Also, see a child psychologist immediately if you notice that your child is really distressed.
One mother told me about this situation and still remained steadfast that the child should go with her. And deeply regrets it today. It wasn’t until many years later that she realized what an actual predicament she was in.
She had been completely surprised by the reaction at the time and had not expected it. The child had always been very fond of her father until then. The son told her at that memorable pickup that the ceiling was painted so dark – even though the father hadn’t painted – and that was why he didn’t want to go.
She had always been sure that her ex did not hit the son or otherwise become physically violent. And so her first thought was that the son was trying to test his limits because he preferred to play Lego now (!).
Today she knows that she was probably also afraid of the reaction of the ex. The relationship between the parents was extremely tense at that time, there were extremely ugly scenes, even in public, and she was therefore particularly eager to be accommodating and neutral in facilitating the weekends of contact.
She was convinced that he would have exploded, at least verbally, if she had sent him home again without the child.
By the way, the boy didn’t cry for God’s sake either, but “only” ran away or hid behind her.
Today she knows that her behavior at that time was not right.
As it turned out a year later, there was big trouble in the ex’s house at that time with the stepmother, who had been pregnant with the half-sibling. The child was probably a kind of lightning rod for problems between the couple.
This went on for about 3 – 4 weeks, after which the child began to look forward to daddy time again.
Oh come on – that suits you just fine if the child doesn’t want it!
You might think that a mother is secretly happy when the child refuses to go to the ex with whom she is having stress. Like, “My goodness! The kid better be with meee!”
I can only speak for myself, but I think a lot of moms feel that way: I have always been very happy that our child has rarely been sick, and that I have never had to suspend contact. The child always liked to go to daddy, and I was very grateful for that.
Not only that I developed more and more of my own interests and activities over time, therefore I liked to plan my child-free weekend and also enjoyed it. But my ex would have given me hell if I had suspended contact shortly before because of the child’s illness.
So, I was glad that this chalice usually passed me by.
But if you find that it’s really not doing your child any good, I encourage you to activate your lion mama bear power that’s inside you!
The predicament you find yourself in is bigger and harder to solve the smaller the child still is – and the more stress you have with the ex.
However, it gets easier and easier for you as the child grows and becomes better at articulating himself and his desires.
When the child reaches puberty and really starts to refuse, your ex will certainly be relieved that he is spared a stressful and bad-tempered weekend.
However, if small children are not yet able to express themselves properly, let alone clearly realize what is happening to them; if a child simply has a need for warmth and cuddling and not for action, but action is planned for the daddy weekend – then it must also be allowed to be perceived with this need.
Without you as a mother per se getting the blame.
In any case, you should follow your gut feeling with all the means available to you as a mother.
If, on the other hand, you are unsure yourself and do not have an ex-partner with whom you can discuss the best course of action, because he or she feels that he or she has been taken advantage of, then you should be allowed to turn to the authorities and Child Protective Services, without having to face headwinds from there as well!
The core message of this blog article from 2017 and the pragmatic application of the tips in it still apply today, but I would like to be much, much clearer on this aspect of parenting with a toxic child father here.
In the early days of Midlife Boom, I was more concerned with going through all the possibilities, which can lead to more insecurities coming up afterwards. Now that I’ve worked with and been able to guide thousands of moms, one core truth is crystallizing:
Trust your gut as a mom.
Yes, it is true that the system unfortunately far too often leaves mothers alone with a toxic ex-partner.
Yes, it’s true that mothers far too often give their children into contact, despite great resistance, for fear of being bullied and criticized by fathers.
Sweetheart, YOU have a relationship with your child.
And you had a relationship with your ex – with all the bad that happened with him then, and is still happening, in the back of your mind.
And your toxic ex also has a relationship with your child. However he shapes it.
What you need to realize today is that the relationship between your child and his father does not necessarily have to be as disastrous as it was between you and him.
It is quite possible for your child to experience a relationship that moves him forward despite his father’s narcissistic personality disorder. And they can find positive sides to it.
As long as you realize that you cannot protect the child from toxic people – whether father, other relatives, teachers and coaches, neighbors and friends – you can let go of your own fear that he will have exactly the same bad experiences as you.
Small insertion: If danger is imminent and your ex is a thug, then you know what to do anyway: suspend contact for as long as possible and use the authorities to protect the child.
But that’s not my point here.
A toxic father of a child can destroy his relationship with the child without hitting him and destroy the trust that his child initially had in him.
He can easily do this by manipulating or neglecting the child to such an extent that the child simply senses that something is wrong.
And that is exactly what you don’t have in your hand – even if the helper system would like to see that, because they can’t get to him.
At least YOU should now please urge the child to want to go to daddy!
And exactly at this point I would like to encourage you not to get involved in doing what everyone wants to see from you now.
Because this is also about YOUR relationship with the child.
And if your child has its safe haven, its orientation, its being perceived in you and trusts YOU, communicates clearly to you – or just with constant sickness – that it needs its rest and distance from the toxic noise around it, then you have received an order.
This is not about you and your fear of the ex!
Of course there are also examples in which mothers stood with their backs to the wall, the judge has already put his foot down against the child’s welfare and has condemned it to have to go into contact.
Then you will have to go through this and you will have to ground yourself even more in order to be able to radiate strength and confidence for your child.
But then it is no longer about your relationship – because the judge has decided.
But until that happens, please don’t go into anticipatory obedience and force the child’s hand just because some other mom got such a ruling!
Once again: listen to your gut feeling!
You know inside exactly what to do.
Document how the child behaves in his refusal and keep the emails to the ex without justification. And then make a decision that feels coherent and good.
If you are already in court stress, inform your legal counsel.
Don’t let others decide how you live your relationship with your child. Come into your clarity as a mother, ground yourself first, and figure out how to best guide your child through this time: With direction, confidence (that he or she will be able to handle it), joy, and lots and lots of love.
There are no blueprints on your journey, sweetheart. No one from the outside can tell you if everything you are doing now will be right in the long run – not even me!
But I can assure you: If you feel from your inner strength and clarity exactly what to do now, it will always be right for you.
The main thing is that you listen to the inner voice not out of fear, but in an attitude of calm clarity.
Do you want to feel confident about managing child hand-offs with your toxic ex?