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I am in an unusual situation. I have two children, a daughter aged nine and a son aged four. I am in a long distance marriage with my wife and children in a city about six hours away, where I go most weekends. My wife is emotionally abusive and about ten months ago I rented a small flat in their city (I couldn't afford anything larger) and said that henceforth I'd be there when I came, and would take the kids. My wife did not want a formal separation and neither did I, so we agreed that it would be "three houses for one family" (i.e. the house in my city and the two houses in theirs) and we'd try to heal. We have been in this kind of half-separation since then, with me coming to her house every time I go for a little while and the kids, and occasionally her, coming to my place on Fridays after school and on Saturdays.

For the first three or four months the kids loved it. However, unfortunately after initial positive signs my wife reverted to her old pattern of behaviour, especially over the last two months, when she has been back in full blown silent treatment and contempt mode. Part of this has been that she has gradually begun to insist more and more with the kids that her house is their house and this house is merely mine, told the kids she misses them and is sad when they come to my place, etc.

My son has mostly been happy to come in any case. My daughter however has gradually begun to resist coming more and more, saying she wanted to be with her friends and in her house, and my son surprised me last week by suddenly saying he didn't want to either. They both said the house is "small", it is "boring", and my daughter compared it to a hotel. I tried to turn things around by planning with them various things they could do to make it more fun. But the next morning my daughter refused to do them, saying that "whatever we do this house will never be fun."

This has really upset me. I plan to try to set up new games etc., things that will help me get them to feel involved in the house and some sense of ownership. I expect my wife will, as usually, convey her disapproval in a passive way to them. What are some things I can do in this situation?

(NB: This isn't a question about my marriage, which I will have to decide about separately, but about what to do right now when I go next weekend...)

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    How many rooms are there? Can you give them one to take ownership of? To paint and decorate how they want? For maximum effect, it might be a good idea to do this with the largest room or the common area where you plan to spend your time with them. – Ian MacDonald Aug 22 '18 at 13:30
  • There's only a hall, a bedroom and a kitchen. I did initially give them each their own big cubbyhole/shelf in the cupboard which they really liked - sitting inside them etc. What can I do re more decoration possibilities? Especially given how negative my daughter is being just now? – SGo Aug 22 '18 at 18:11
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In my experience, the best way to get a child to be excited about going to visit a location is for them to have friends there.

Are there other children in the building, or nearby, who are of similar ages to your children? If so, that is probably your best bet, although you may have to deal with your children being more excited to see their friends than you.

Failing that, another option is to ensure that every time they come to your place, you take them out to do something extra fun. While they may still think your place is "boring" (and let's face it: if it is as small as you describe, it probably is boring for children), they'll learn to overlook that if they know that visiting also means especially fun activities. Learn what options are nearby, like movie theaters, skating rinks (ice skating or roller skating), zoos, children-friendly museums, etc.. Even a good park, particularly with a playground where they might meet other kids (see the first point, above), is a good option (perhaps more so for your youngest).

One final option is to load the flat with toys, crafts, and other entertainment options that may help make the place feel special. A four-year-old is probably easier to entertain in this way; your daughter may be harder to please, so focus on the things that she enjoys most. Does she like video games? Board games? Sports? Certain characters, shows, or movies? Catering to those interests will likely help her start to feel more comfortable.

  • There is a good park nearby where we used to play. Unfortunately they now prefer to return to the park near my wife's place because, as you said, their friends are there. I have trouble setting up playdates near my house because I don't live there most of the time either - and hence don't know anyone there. – ShankarG Aug 23 '18 at 15:22
  • About the two other points you raised, I think I'll step up my efforts in that direction. But two questions - going out a lot doesnt strengthen their bond to this house, does it? And buying toys, books etc can work, but might I be setting up a cycle where they keep expecting something new? – ShankarG Aug 23 '18 at 15:24

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