when your child wants to live with the other parent

5 Things to Say When Your Child Would Rather Be With Mom

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Over the summer, we took our first road trip. We packed up my Ford Edge and drove from central Florida to north Georgia to stay in the mountains for a week. I was looking forward to doing a classic family vacation. After nine hours and what felt like 17 bathroom breaks, we arrived at our cabin. My son’s first words were “I miss Mommy”—and my heart sank.

I know my sons love me, but I’m preparing myself for the day they say they’d rather live with their mom because her house is more fun. When your child wants to live with the other parent, the way you react has the potential to harm or help. So what’s the right way to respond? Say these 5 things for the good of your child.

1. “This isn’t about me.”

You don’t have to say this one out loud to your child, but you definitely need to hear it yourself. Unless something is happening in your home that is making your child anxious or fearful, the reason your child wants to go to Mom’s has nothing to do with you. If you tell yourself not to take it personally, you won’t project feelings of insecurity, sadness, or jealousy into the situation. Instead, you’ll be able to take an objective look at the reason your child might be favoring Mom at the moment.

2. “I know this is hard.”

As much as I wanted to tell my son, “You’re on vacation! Focus on that and have fun!” I know he said what he did because he wanted his mom to be there to experience it, too. The best thing to do when your child wants to live with the other parent or says he or she wants to be there instead of with you is to empathize. Connecting with his or her feelings is a great starting point for a healthy conversation.

3. “OK. Let’s talk about it.”

You don’t have to say these exact words, but the goal is to avoid overreacting. We have to remember that we’re the adults and that part of our goal as dads is to provide a safe place for our kids to express their emotions, even when they’re feeling something we don’t like.

4. “I’m sorry you feel that way, but…”

If your son or daughter wants to be with Mom or live full-time with her because there are fewer rules, no curfew, or better toys there, hold your ground. My sons have video games at their mom’s house, but not at mine. I expect this to be a point of contention as they get older, so I’ll have to remind myself of the reason I set the rules I did. Some rules can be changed, so that’s an option too, but not simply because my kids said something that hurt my feelings.

If a small change can be made that satisfies everyone involved, it shows your child that you listen and care.

5. “I’ll talk to your mom.”

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting you give a child the right to decide where he or she lives, but do talk to your ex-wife about what’s going on. Maybe your child is saying the same thing to Mom about living with you. Sometimes the reason a child wants to be with the other parent has to do with a scheduling issue: He or she wants to watch a certain show with mom or there’s a friend around the corner who can only play on certain nights. If a small change can be made that satisfies everyone involved, it will show your child that you listen and care.

Sound off: How do you handle it when your child wants to be with the other parent?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is your favorite part of spending time together? What’s your favorite part of spending time with your mom?”