To say that divorce is difficult for children is an understatement. In addition to not understanding why their parents no longer want to live together, children of divorce try to make sense of a host of complex thoughts. One such thought is, Did my parents get divorced because of me? Though children are never to blame for a couple’s divorce, it is difficult to convince a child of this when the non-custodial parent routinely fails to show up for visitation. If your child’s other parent has made it a habit to no-call, no-show, your first instinct may be to badmouth him or her and get angry. Parents recommends against doing so and provides more helpful coping tips to try instead.
The most important thing you can do when your ex does not come through for your child is to let your child know he or she is loved. It is natural for children to internalize a parent’s actions (or non-actions), and to assume that Mom or Dad’s failure to commit is a reflection of his or her lovability. Continually reassure your child that that is not the case and that, no matter what, he or she is loved.
Though Parents does not recommend badmouthing the other parent, it does advise against making excuses for him or her. Making excuses serves to validate the other parent’s actions while invalidating your child’s feelings of hurt, anger or sadness. Let your child vent without apologizing on your ex’s behalf.
If your ex makes it a habit of canceling at the last minute, have a backup plan in place. Whether your plan involves taking your child for some ice-cream, scheduling a playdate or visiting Grandma and Grandpa, try to do something that takes your child’s mind off the fact that his or her other parent failed to show up, again.
If the other parent consistently cancels for a valid reason — such as work obligations, or a prior, recurring commitment — try to be flexible. For instance, if visitation is on Tuesday, but your ex has been seeing the same therapist every Tuesday for years, switch visitation to Wednesday. Instead of routinely setting your child up for disappointment, simply ask your ex which day would be best for him or her.
On the days the other parent does show up for visitation, do not choose then to air your grievances. Make the transition as peaceful as possible for your child’s sake, as children pick up on and internalize tension. Though you may find it difficult to do so, say goodbye with a reassuring smile that says you are happy your child gets to spend time with the other parent.
You should not use this article as legal advice. It is for educational purposes only.