There are many questions around the important issue of keeping to your promises about when you will see your children; how to deal with difficult emotions; and getting contact right so visits are comfortable for all concerned.
Children can feel rejected and abandoned if you let them down. They may feel like piggy-in-the middle if they have to carry messages between parents or if they are interrogated about what the other parent is doing or who they are seeing. It's really important for a parent living apart to keep promises - or only to make ones that they can keep.
“I want to go on seeing my stepchildren now we’re parting – what are my rights?”
“My child was happy seeing my ex, but now refuses to visit and won’t say why. Should I insist?”
Both parents need to be positive about each other and make it as easy as possible for contact to go on. You should try to think about what makes you late or cancel your visits and make more realistic arrangements for future visits. Feelings run high around contact visits and it’s not surprising.
“I’ve had to cancel and been late a few times. Now my ex says my child doesn’t want to see me.”
“My ex says the children cry and act up before and after visits. Maybe it would be best if I just left them alone?”
“My children love seeing my ex but say they are bored and miss seeing friends on those weekends.”
Children can be shattered by their parents' split and each visit only reminds them that you are no longer together. They may not be able to tell you how they feel and they may not understand their strong and mixed feelings themselves. And so they show you by crying and acting up - this is a natural reaction. They may stop acting up if you left the scene and their lives, but they may also hurt more.
Keeping in touch with your children
Remember, you are still a full-time parent even if they only see you part-time. What they need is not less but more contact. Call and write to them in between visits; encourage them to talk to you about how they feel and also let them know that there are others available to talk to. This could be friends, relatives, or they may prefer to talk to someone outside the family, like ChildLine on 0800 1111.
Children need to have a chance to have a normal life during contact visits and not just to have treats but also to watch TV, listen to music, see their friends and simply hang out. They need a place in the other home that is 'theirs' with their own toys, belongings and perhaps a say in the decoration. Talk it over with them and your ex to sort it out, and to see if some flexibility is possible so that they don’t miss too many opportunities to see friends or do other things they’d like to do.
If your child doesn't want to spend time with the other parent
If your child suddenly becomes reluctant to visit the other parent, it’s important to try and find out why. Something may have happened to make your child feel scared to leave, such as:
- a death or illness
- a new partner for you
- a new child in your family
Could something like this have happened in the other family? Perhaps there was an argument or incident that upset your child during their last visit - or maybe even a chance that abuse might be happening. Raise the subject gently at a quiet time. If your child can share their fears, you can help to deal with them. Your GP should also be able to help.
If you’re a step-parent and worried about losing contact with your stepchildren after a split, it’s better to try and come to an agreement with the children’s parent than going to court. If this is unavoidable, you could speak to Families Need Fathers about applying for a parental responsibility order.