Co-Parenting Tips for Responding to Your Child’s Resistance(14)

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 won’t go to their other parent’s anymore for parenting time regardless of what the court says. How do I respond?

Let’s suppose the following scenario: the favored parent wants the child to have a relationship with the resisted parent. Also, assume the child gets anxious when it is time for parenting time with the resisted parent. Finally, assume the favored parent and the child have had several conversations about the basis for the child’s resistance, so talking about it more is not the issue now.

The Escalated Coparent allows their anxiety about the child’s well-being, and their belief that the child should be able to choose where they spend their time, to trump the importance of the child learning to cope with difficult relationships. The Escalated Parent may think it is more important to protect their relationship with the child than to risk the child’s pushback if the parent insists on compliance with the court’s orders. If the Escalated Parent allows the child to deviate from the court-ordered plan, they teach the child that asserting personal desires is more important than obeying court orders. The Escalated Coparent says to the child, “I want you to have a relationship with your mom if you want to,” or “when you’re ready,” or “when you’re comfortable.” Or the Escalated Coparent says, “Ok, I will talk to my attorney about it.” Responses like these may arise from the natural instinct to protect a child, but they are misguided and do not promote healthy child development. As an alternative, the favored parent could offer to get an attorney for the child with the understanding that until the court’s orders are changed, the child must comply with them.

The Neutral Coparent understands that, as the favored parent, their relationship with the child is very close and positive. They know what they say to the child has persuasive power. The Neutral Coparent has a heart-to-heart talk with the child. The Neutral Coparent tells the child how important it is to address and work through their problems with the resisted coparent, as opposed to avoiding them, which only ensures that they remain unresolved. The Neutral Coparent says, “In this family, we obey rules, laws, and court orders. If I think the court order needs to be changed, I will start that process, but in the meantime, we have to follow the plan ordered by the court.” They may point out that the courts want the child to “have a voice”; that is, the court will consider the child’s opinions and wishes about the parenting schedule, but having a voice is not the same as the same as making the choice. The Neutral Coparent recognizes that it is normal for a child to express resistance to various requirements placed on them, such as earning good grades in school, turning off the computer and coming to the dinner table, or picking up their room. But when the child’s naturally occurring resistance severs the relationship with a loving parent, the child’s resistance has gone from healthy expression of emerging independence to unhealthy coping.[1]

It takes a lot of life experience to take on the responsibility of defining the family’s legacy. The risk is quite high that if the child defies the court’s order and cuts off contact with the resisted parent, the problem will get a lot worse before it gets better (if it ever gets better). The Neutral Coparent listens to and empathizes with the child’s concerns, and encourages the child to discuss these with the resisted parent (or with the professional who is supporting the parent-child relationship). Perhaps the Neutral Coparent even offers to meet with the child and the resisted coparent, or suggests a professional intervene with the family issue. The Neutral Coparent may need to emphasize that the level of conflict in the family is unacceptable and dangerous to everyone’s health and well-being. The Neutral Coparent remains firm that the child is going to spend time with the other parent and is clear the child will have consequences if they refuse to go, such as loss of access to electronic devices. Finally, the Neutral Coparent advises the resisted coparent of what is going on and appeals to them to work together on the issue.

[1] Leon Kuczynski, Robyn Pitman, and Kate Twigger, “Flirting with Resistance: Children’s Expressions of Autonomy During Middle Childhood,” International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, Vol. 13, (2018), 2018.1564519


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