Coparenting Tips for Improving Communication from the expert authors of Overcoming the Alienation Crisis: 33 Coparenting Solutions. For more information about OCB Publications go here.
My child says they don’t like being with their other parent. How do I respond in a way that shows I respect their feelings without further straining the parent-child relationship?
Good parents are protective. They want to know the source of the strain between their child and coparent; they want to remove the child from a threat. The problem is that the source of the child’s resistance is often hotly debated but rarely resolved.
Let’s assume that the favored parent is committed to following the court-ordered parenting time schedule. The favored parent wants the child to feel heard; the favored parent wants the child’s dislike and discomfort respected and relieved. They typically believe the child’s reports more than those of their coparent. At the same time, the favored parent does not want to encourage resistance in the child that may be fallout from the divorce and is not based on the child’s actual experience with the other parent.
The favored parent is in a pickle. They want to ask questions so they can more fully understand the child’s complaints, but they want to avoid questions that might amplify the child’s complaints or contribute to the favored parent’s own sense of alarm and powerlessness. Worse, questions may plant ideas in the child’s mind, such as these examples: “Do you feel more uncomfortable when Mom is with her friend?” “Are you uncomfortable because Daddy works when you are with him?” “Did you feel safe with Mommy this time?” Then there is the horrible thought that if the child is being mistreated and the favored parent doesn’t act, child protective services may take the child away from them.
The Neutral Coparent understands they can’t really know what is going on at the coparent’s home. The Neutral Coparent practices the following kinds of LEARNS behaviors:
- Listens carefully
- Empathizes that the child’s relationship with the resisted parent is hard right now
- Accepts they cannot know what really happens at the coparent’s house
- Reinforces the child’s resilience and ability to cope
- Never expresses doubt about the coparent
- Supports the child talking directly with the coparent, and if possible, works with their coparent in a collaborative manner to address the child’s expressed concerns