When Kids Complain About Visitation

When your kids complain about visitation, your first reaction might be to accuse the other parent of misconduct and seek to modify the schedule. But before you act, take some time to consider the real reasons for their unhappiness. And then read on for tips on how to handle their complaints and make the situation easier for everyone involved.

Kids Who Seem Unhappy About Visitation

Crying girl on floor doesn't want to go

by Brette Sember

It's something I heard time and time again from custodial parents who were back in family court for modification of their custody orders. "My son hates going on visitation. He gets upset days in advance. Sometimes I have to force him to go. I think we need to stop visitation." This is a very common scenario and if your child has never once complained about going on scheduled visitation, then you are in a rare minority.

What Kids Really Hate

Most kids don't hate the other parent. They hate the upheaval in their lives and they express it by complaining about going on visitation. At times they make it sound like the other parent is what they don't like. "Dad ignores me. His house is boring." "Mom makes me go to bed early. I hate it there."

Again, what the child is reacting to is the situation. Kids who live in one home with both parents have gripes about their parents, but it doesn't mean those parents are bad parents who don't deserve to spend time with the kids!

Don't Insert Yourself into the Situation

In most divorces, there are some bad feelings, even years later. There's nothing wrong with admitting that it might make you feel just the tiniest bit happy if your child is mad at, annoyed at, bored with, or frustrated with the other parent. It's just what your ex might deserve in your mind if you let yourself admit it. That doesn't mean you can encourage, support, or even allow your child's reaction to go on.

Your child needs two parents. Neither of you are perfect and your child gets fed up with each of you, but you're both still going to be in his life. If you haven't accepted that, it's time to do so.

Don't Be the Bad Guy

One thing that is particularly hard when you are the custodial parent is having to shoehorn your kid out the door to go on visitation when honestly you would be perfectly happy if your child didn't have to go (you wouldn't have to have those arguments about vacation schedules or put up with your ex being late or trying to change things at the last minute). It's not fun to be the one forcing your kid to go when he tells you he doesn't want to.

The solution to this is actually quite simple. Tell your child it's not up to you. The judge has decided this is the schedule and all of you have to follow it. There are no other options. You no longer have to be the bad guy and your child feels like there is a higher power that controls the situation.

How to Improve the Mood

Even if you're able to reconcile yourself to visitation and remove yourself from the enforcer role, it still is no fun to listen to whining or complaining. Try these tips for making the transition easier:

  • When your child comes home, ask him to tell you one fun thing he did. 

  • Smile when you hand off your child. Your mood is infectious. If you act like this is a great and happy occasion, it will rub off. 

  • Institute a no whining rule. Tell your child there will be no complaining about going on visitation. 

  • Make it clear that your child cannot cancel or postpone the planned parenting time. Often whining is an attempt to see if you'll let the child off the hook. If changing the plans is not an option, there will be fewer complaints. 

  • If your child has complaints about what happens at the other parents' house, tell her that that is something to discuss with the other parent, not with you. 

Brette Sember
Author Brette Sember

One of readers had an excellent suggestion from her therapist on how to handle the visitation exchange. She said not to pick up the kids... but to always have the parent who has them drop them off. It allows for the receiving parent to act joyously about receiving, instead of being in the car. It also makes the kids feel like they are leaving (even if not by choice) rather than being ripped away. What a great way to approach the visitation exchange.

It's natural for children to complain about visitation and these objections usually don't indicate a serious problem. Below are some articles that discuss handling visitation if your child doesn't want to leave and other visitation problems: 

  1. Divorce
  2. Child Visitation
  3. When Kids Complain About Visitation