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I have had a shared parenting agreement for nearly 2 years now for my soon to be 5-year-old daughter. She switches houses every other day during the week and every other weekend. This has been going smoothly for almost 2 years.

Lately, she has had very dramatic tantrums because she wants to be with mommy more than daddy. She cries when mommy drops her off at my house or when I pick her up from preschool.

Our separation was not amicable, and my daughter has told me on more than one occasion that mommy doesn't like daddy, so I know the conversation about me in her house is negative. Recently, my daughter told me that she doesn't want to leave mommy because mommy gets sad when she's not there. It's had gotten so bad lately that I did have a talk with her mom about talking about me in a positive nature in her home; however, that seemed to make it worse.

Every day, we go through this period where she cries uncontrollably for 20 minutes. After that, she's fine for the rest of the night or weekend. I'm tired of being the bad guy. Do any other parents out there have any suggestions on how to deal with this type of behavior?

  • Hi and welcome. This is a sad and difficult issue. Whose idea was it to separate/divorce? Did you receive any divorce counseling or family counseling during or after the divorce? – anongoodnurse Dec 12 '17 at 1:23
  • Also, see the sidebar for similar questions, e.g. Co-parenting with a toxic ex. – anongoodnurse Dec 12 '17 at 1:24
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    @user1751825: While critical self-evaluation is always good, the number one, most important rule in a separation is: You never, ever denigrate the other parent in front of the child. Even if the other parent is harming the child, you manage contact appropriately, but you keep the child out of it. The situation described, if true, is a critical parenting mistake of the mother. – sleske Dec 13 '17 at 10:26
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    "After that, she's fine for the rest of the night or weekend." You could try another "hand-off" setup, i.e. instead of your wife bringing her to you (or you picking her up), have the mother hand her off to a relative (whom your daughter should be reasonably familiar with) or mutual friend and pick her up from there. It's not ideal logistically, but will probably help with the issue. – pmf Dec 13 '17 at 12:23
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    @user1751825 - That's not a pertinent question. As sleake pointed out, a cardinal rule of co-parenting is to speak positively or neutrally about the other parent, but not negatively. If one parent thinks the other is doing harm, the courts or the counselor's office is the place to work that out. – anongoodnurse Dec 13 '17 at 14:36
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First, congratulations on going through with shared parenting, difficult as it may be at times. I believe (and many agree) that it's good for a child to keep both parents even after a separation.

Unfortunately, the problem you describe is not uncommon. Even with shared custody, a separation is not nice for a child, and they will at various times feel torn between their two parents, for various reasons.

To address your points in detail:

Our separation was not amicable, and my daughter has told me on more than 1 occasion that mommy doesn't like daddy, so I know the conversation about me in her house is negative.

This, too, is not uncommon - but it is also irresponsible behavior on the part of the mother. The cardinal rule after a separation is, as you probably know:

Never, ever pull the child into conflicts between the parents.

Don’t:

  • ask your child to take sides: “who would you like to live with, darling?”
  • use your child 'as a weapon' to get back at your ex-partner
  • criticise your ex-partner

Divorce or separation of parents - the impact on children and adolescents - Royal College of Psychiatrists

The mother should know this (if not, clearly remind her). By voicing her concerns about you (however reasonable they may or may not be) to your daughter, she is endangering your daughter's wellbeing.

Recently, my daughter told me that she doesn't want to leave mommy b/c mommy gets sad when she's not there. It's had gotten so bad lately that I did have a talk with her mom about talking about me in a positive nature in her home; however, that seemed to make it worse.

This is arguably even worse: The mother is (knowingly or not) making your daughter feel guilty because she is "leaving her mother alone". This is not uncommon either: In conflicts, children often feel they must take responsibility for their parents, and may even try to "help" the parent they feel needs them most. This pushes responsibilities on your daughter which she is not prepared to handle, and is, again, harmful to her.

Every day, we go through this period where she cries uncontrollably for 20 minutes. After that, she's fine for the rest of the night or weekend. I'm tired of being the bad guy. Do any other parents out there have any suggestions on how to deal with this type of behavior?

It's natural for you to feel like the "bad guy" - however, I don't think that is quite accurate. Yes, at that moment, your daughter probably thinks you are bad for pulling her away from her mother. However, on the other hand, this is unfortunately the only way for her to have time together with you, which is valuable too - and she enjoys that time, as you write yourself.

So please realize that while the situation is difficult for all involved, the main responsibility is probably not with you, but with the mother who is not acting in your daughter's best interest.


As to how to handle this:

This is a difficult situation, with no easy solution. However, some things you can try:

  • Try to talk to the mother again. You write that you felt the first attempt made it worse, but it may be worth it to try again. Try not to accuse her, but calmly point out how the situation is harming your daughter, and ask her how you two can cooperate to make it easier for your daughter.
  • I strongly suggest you consider some type of counseling to help you deal with this - both for you individually, to help you deal with it, and together with the mother, so someone can moderate your discussion and keep things constructive.
  • Talk to your daughter in a quiet moment. Don't push it on her, but do ask open-ended questions about how the situation makes her feel, what bothers her, and offer your help and assistance. Often just being able to voice concerns will make it easier for children - plus there may be something concrete you can do to make it easier for her (phoning her mother in the evening, a plush toy to take along, whatever). Also, it may be easier for your daughter to (also) discuss this with a trusted third party (a good friend, a relative, or a counselor/therapist) - she may find it easier to open up to someone "neutral".
  • Consider a different handover routine. Switching multiple times a week may be too frequent, particularly with these conflicts. Maybe switching only once or twice a week, or something like the 5/2/2/5 Schedule will work better. Also, consider a handover without direct contact. A common solution is that one parent takes the child to daycare/school in the morning, and the other picks up in the afternoon. That avoids the dramatic "stand-off" situation, and is often very helpful.
  • Finally, if all else fails, do consider legal options. Document the problems, and what you see and hear about the mother's behavior. For example, if she repeatedly denigrates you in front of your daughter and with witnesses, that may give you leverage. If things go south, you may have to ask for a change in the custody arrangement, and that may mean you must convince a court or child protection services that there are problems. I sincerely hope it does not come to this, though.

Best of luck to all of you!

  • Most definitely switch no more frequently than once or twice a week. Switching every day sounds horrible in my mind. That way the kid will be constantly on the move with zero stability with regards to living conditions. Not good! And if that it self is not bad enough, consider that if the one parent talks badly about the other I assume that is more likely to happen close to child exchanges. So if the mother has the care for 5 or 7 days consecutive, at least the middle days will presumably be less filled with bad talk, compared to the alternative of every day she is with the mother. – hlovdal May 29 '18 at 21:02
  • @hlovdal: Yes, managing the changeovers (frequency, at home / at daycare, rituals etc.) is a very important point of shared parenting. However, I'd be wary of absolutes - for small children I have heard that daily changeovers can work. However, once a child is older than three or four, I agree that switching more than 2x per week is probably not good. – sleske May 30 '18 at 7:07
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That sounds tough and I have no similar experience from which to draw any conclusions, but I think some general things still apply. Try to look at things in the long term - when she is older she will be able to understand what manipulation is and by that time she should accumulate a treasury of memories of the good times she had with you on all those days and weekends which will help her realise you are a good parent and a good person.

This is a cliche, but it is true: You cannot control what goes on in the other household, you can only control your own behaviour. Do your best to be a good example for her in everything you do (also in the way you talk about her mom!) and make sure the time she spends with you is quality time. The fact that she stops crying after a relatively short while and then enjoys her time with you means that you are doing a good job, so just keep it up and be aware your kid appreciates it!

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