My child refuses to get in the car to go to the resisted parent’s home. What should I do?
Escalated Coparents say to themselves, “It’s my coparent’s problem. I didn’t cause it. It’s not my responsibility to fix it. She brought it on herself, and I get it why my child feels this way.” This is being passive-aggressive, that is, expressing one’s anger by not doing anything. The Escalated Coparent may say in an aggravated tone, “What do you expect me to do, force my child into the car? They are too big for that, and besides I won’t do it. It’s negatively impacting my own relationship with my child.” Or, they may say in a nonchalant tone, “Maybe the best thing to do is to let my coparent (or child) have some time without contact. We shouldn’t force the issue.” And the Escalated Parent does not give the child a consequence for not going, which is sure to increase the child’s resistance. They tell the child that not respecting the authority of the court order is okay. This sends a message to the child that their relationship with the resisted parent is less important than any of the other responsibilities the favored parent would insist the child perform, such as going to school, doing homework, going to the doctor, or going to boring dinners with extended family.
The Neutral Coparent calms the child, talks with the child about their concerns, and calls the coparent to give them a heads-up that the situation is dicey. If the child is unable to calm themselves, or gets stubborn and refuses to calm themselves, a fallback plan is to tell the child that they don’t have to go to the resisted parent’s home, but they are not allowed to stay with the favored parent. Instead, they will spend the time of the court-ordered parenting schedule at another adult’s home (not their best friend’s), without their electronics and without access to social media or their friends. Additionally, they will receive similar consequences when they return to the favored parent’s home for disrespecting both parents and the court’s orders.
The Neutral Coparent has a heart-to-heart talk with the child and shares their convictions about how important it is for the child to have regular contact and relationships with both parents and both sides of the family. They may say the family is going through a transition that is uncomfortable, uncertain, and anxiety-provoking, but necessary. The Neutral Coparent expresses their own personal regret to the child for contributing to a situation the child finds so difficult. The child’s anguish is a family problem. The family has to rally and find a peaceable way to live, even though that may seem impossible or hopeless at the time.
When the family crisis has escalated to these proportions, Neutral Coparents seek the assistance of a behavioral health professional or another neutral third party. With the assistance of a third party, the coparents negotiate a plan for making parenting time exchanges quickly and as stress free as possible. They may agree upon consequences for the child if the child refuses or contacts the favored parent in distress during the other parent’s access time, begging to come “home.” The coparents then meet together with the child to explain their plan and to demonstrate they are going to work together as coparents to make the parenting plan work for the child. They explain to the child the agreements they have reached about what everyone will do to get the parenting time plan back on track, and what the consequences are if the child refuses to cooperate with the parenting plan.
Pro tip for the resisted parent: While the exchange is occurring, don’t interfere with the favored parent working with the child who is resisting the transition; just sit and watch. Take the opportunity to thank your coparent for their efforts.