Joint Custody: When a parent doesn't show up for visitation

Q: My four year old son gets so upset when his dad doesn't show up for his scheduled parenting time/visitation. What should I do?

A: This one is pretty straightforward. It's a rare four-year-old who maintains an internal clock and calendar in his mind. It's up to you to remind him what happens when. So simply don't mention that his dad is supposed to come.

If he shows up, let it be a lovely surprise. Plan your day in a flexible way so that your son can spend time with his dad without missing out on anything major. If he doesn't come, you and your son can do something fun together.

Often when young children become terribly upset about something like this, they are taking their cues from a parent. Kids don't naturally carry a lot of preconceived expectations -- they live mostly from moment to moment and take it as it comes.

But we adults expect a lot from each other. It's perfectly understandable that you may feel angry, bitter, or disappointed with your ex for not fulfilling his parental responsibilities. And when we are dealing with such intense emotions in ourselves, it can be very difficult to discern the difference between our children's true feelings and their response to our feelings.

The best way to keep your emotions from becoming contagious is to regularly take responsibility for venting them to an adult who can listen non-judgmentally, be that a good friend or a professional therapist.

If your child is upset, take a look at yourself first to see if there might be some upset in you that needs to be released. When you are clear, it will be easier for you to listen to your child's pain without feeling the need to fix it, make it go away, or blame your ex for causing it.

Divorce stirs up emotions like almost nothing else. Please don't underestimate your need for personal support. One of the best things you can do for your child is to take good care of your own emotional health.

I hope this helps.

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