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I got divorced in 2019 and have a daughter who will be 10 in 4 months. Yesterday I went to their house to pick her up for holidays and she all of a sudden said "dad, I don't want to stay with you more than one day. I've grown older now and I have my own system at my own home". On top of that, she said "I even don't want to stay at my friend more than one night" to which I responded with "that's your friend, I'm your father". Obviously, this made me very sad and I let her know that. I said "no, I see you every two weeks and you don't want to stay with me more than one day?". I don't want her to grow away from me. Please advise as to what I should do.

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    "I have my own system at my own home". I'd ask her what she means by having a system.
    – RonJohn
    Jun 30, 2023 at 15:47
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    Because maybe you can replicate the system at your house.
    – RonJohn
    Jul 1, 2023 at 11:49
  • Mod here. Comments are neither for answers nor for extended side discussions.
    – Stephie
    Jul 4, 2023 at 5:10

6 Answers 6

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I upvoted @Arno's answer because the advice is sound. I'd like to take a different approach. It will sound harsh, but please know I don't mean it to be harsh. I just mean it to hopefully be a better way to look at it.

I don't want her to grow away from me.

Two things about this statement: 1. although it's perfectly understandable and a normal reaction, first, it's only about you (I understand it's not everything you might feel) where it should be about her as well. 2. She will grow away from you, which is also normal, and while it does hurt, you need to make your feelings your responsibility, not hers.

...it should be about her as well.

A different way to look at it is "I want my daughter to feel good about being at my place, too."

What would that take? It means a conversation (or five or ten) about what makes her happier to be at her mother's house (without your hurt feelings being on display) and any adjustments you can (both) make to make it easier to be at yours. While it may be more complicated than breakfast cereal or toothbrush placement, it should be doable. How much time does she spend in her room at her mother's house? What is her room set-up like there? What are her favorite activities at her mother's house? They may or may not have anything to do with her mother. They might be time on social media, they might be playing games (irl or on a device), etc. If you know your daughter's interests, you can plan accordingly.*

She will grow away from you...

Kids become adults, and depend less on their parents as they age. It's called independence. They like autonomy and are seeking it out. The vast majority love their parents as much as ever, and they aren't doing it to hurt them; they're doing it because it's an innate desire they have, and it's practice for adulthood. At some point, many kids do become disrespectful (hopefully temporarily) towards their parents, but that's yet to come. Handling this behavior well will prepare you to better handle that behavior if and when it comes.

...you need to make your feelings your responsibility, not hers.

She feels what she feels, and whatever you feel (not think) about that, both of your feelings are valid. But how you act on your feelings, your response/behavior, is your responsibility, as is her behavior her responsibility. So you don't tell her her feelings cause you pain. It's fair to tell someone that their behavior upsets you, but not their feelings. For example, if she spends all day in her room on her phone, it's fair to say, "I think it's okay to spend time on your phone, but I would like to see you more when you're here, since I don't see you everyday. Can we spend more time together?" (Then explore options.) That's much different than, "I'm hurt that you prefer to spend time on your phone instead of with me, since I only see you four days a month." That's making her responsible for your feelings, implying that her preferences are bad and her behavior needs to change in order to make you feel better. It's blaming her for your feelings. Reserve that for only the most serious violations, those where her intent is to hurt you.**

I hope that if you try hard to see things from her perspective, the empathy-deficient words she says will cause you less pain.

*It would be perfectly normal to want to restrict screen time on her visits with you. But if you do so, make the time irl interesting to her. Find out what she likes and do things oriented towards that. Be creative. My kids liked nusic, so we went to a lot of live performances, both locally and sometimes on a trip to a big city. Etc.

**If she tells you you're an idiot and a complete failure as a father, it's fair to tell her that her words wound you to the core. Then, what you do about that is your responsibility.

One of my kids picked up on my despair at my failure in a medical case I had spoken with my then-husband about. At a later time when I was discussing their behavior with them, they compared it to my medical failure (e.g. "It's not like I killed my best friend." ([not the case but the same intent]) Since that was such a departure from their normal behavior, my response was surprise and a simple recognition: "You're trying to hurt me." My child burst into tears, and I comforted them. What they felt - defensive - was normal, however what they said was not kind. But I knew my child to be a kind soul, so I was not hurt. That was a good day. (They weren't all good days.)

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    "If she tells you you're an idiot and a complete failure as a father, it's fair to tell her that her words wound you to the core. " => This is still her behavior, not her feelings, hurting her father's. Apart from that, I agree with the premise: people can't control their feelings, blaming those is unproductive and can only lead to negative emotions (guilt, anger, ...). Conversely, people do control (to a degree) their behavior, and it's productive and constructive to let them know how their behavior affect you, and reprimand them when they intentionally wound you. Jul 1, 2023 at 11:42
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    @MatthieuM. "people can't control their feelings" People absolutely can control their feelings. You can take deep breaths to calm yourself down when you're angry (or rapid breaths to deliberately make yourself angrier), you can use cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to derail negative emotions, etc.
    – nick012000
    Jul 1, 2023 at 13:03
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    @nick012000 - Those are responses to a feeling. You cannot control the initial feeling(s) you have on encountering a situation. Those are called primary emotions, and while, with therapy or other helpful tactics, you might be able to change the lens through which you perceive things, you cannot control your primary emotions. If you think you can, you're deceiving yourself. Jul 1, 2023 at 13:28
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    I wish I could accept both answers, but SE only allows 1. I'll definitely ask her about her system and try to replicate it in my flat. Thank you both. Jul 4, 2023 at 7:30
  • Hmm. If other users give advice based upon at least their own experience, that's anecdotal and downvoted [even if the science backs it up]. There's a veritable monograph here and not one reference. Jul 10, 2023 at 16:18
58

Well, not like that.

Your daughter voiced a perfectly reasonable sentiment (being away from home is disruptive, and some people really don't like disruptions like that). She even tried hard to make clear that this is not a rejection of you, but just her preference regarding stable conditions. [Which I find pretty great in a 9 year old!] You reacted by trying to guilt-trip her. Not cool.

So what should you do?

First of all, recognize her desire to avoid longer absences from home as legitimate. This doesn't mean giving up on your holiday plans with her, that just means recognizing the downsides for her. Importantly, it is ok that she feels like that. Understand this, and then convey to her that you do.

So, she has her system at home. Ask her about it! Taking an interest in what is important to her is a basic act of maintaining a connection for her. Even better, there may be something the two of you can do to make staying with you less disruptive for her (eg buying her usual breakfast cereal, giving her more me-time, switching around where her tooth brush is). Even if you don't really find something good to do about this, trying with her is a way of showing that you genuinely care about her having a good time with you (where "her" is your actual daughter, not the abstract idea of a daughter).

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    Would you recommend bringing up the previous conversation and apologizing for the guilt-trip argument (with some more palatable phrasing)? Like "Last time we talked about this, in hindsight I wish I'd answered differently. With some time to think about it...". Or would you just start fresh on another attempt at the conversation without directly bringing up the past? Maybe indirectly, like just the part about having had time to think about it and wanting to discuss again. (Perhaps it depends on how good a memory the kid has, and if she tends to hold onto previous poor interactions?) Jun 30, 2023 at 21:22
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    @PeterCordes Difficult to say. In principle I'd say that demonstrating how to recognize having been wrong and then apologizing for it is an important thing for parents to do for their children. On the other hand, this is a complicated issue, and for OP to not only understanding the subtelties himself but to be able to express it for a 9 year old may take enough time that apologizing then would be too late anyway. I'd probably go for "apologize if she brings it up, but not bring it up proactively".
    – Arno
    Jul 1, 2023 at 11:57
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    Also consider that she may be not neurotypical. For some people interrupting a usual routine may be more stressful than you think.
    – Sascha
    Jul 2, 2023 at 12:38
  • I'd say "trying to guilt-trip her" greatly depends on the context of the situation. It is constructive to understand the differences in relationship between friends vs. family. I don't really think there was enough detail in the Q to determine that context.
    – user18994
    Jul 3, 2023 at 15:06
  • A 9 year old has the foresight of a child. Their prefrontal cortex is completely undeveloped, and the prefrontal governs planning. She is expressing what she feels and attributing it to how she feels about spending the night with a friend. A friend is not a father and should not exist in the same category at her age. She says what she says without understanding the far reaching consequences of such actions. This father is not guilt-tripping his child and shouldn't be attacked for that. This father is asking the community for assistance, not for badmouthing. Jul 10, 2023 at 19:40
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Former Child Abuse/Neglect Investigator (AKA Children's Social Worker Aka Children's Service Worker 9.5 years exp.) Says:

People don't like my other answer, so I will add a second specific answer. The other answer teaches you to fish, here is the answer that gives you the fish.

  1. Follow the Court Order.
  2. If you don't feel the court order is best, modify it.
  3. Discuss the issue multiple times with your daughter and try to figure out ways to alleviate her feelings, be they temporary or not.
  4. Your feelings are valid.
  5. Your fatherhood and involvement is important, otherwise there wouldn't be a court order giving you time with your daughter.
  6. Your daughter is not old enough to make the decision not to visit you, and even if she was, the court has control.
  7. You are probably paying child support and will be until she is out of college. Make the most of the tiny bit of time you have been granted.
  8. Seek outside help for yourself and your daughter if you are unable to find an answer on your own (aka counseling or bringing in another outside entity such as a friend/grandparent/pastor/etc.)
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Former Child Abuse Investigator says:
A few things to ask yourself:

  1. What were the conditions of the Divorce?
  2. Was she like this before the divorce?
  3. What is your relationship with the mother?
  4. What do you do with your daughter while she is present?

The first question comes down to fault/blame in your daughter's eyes and your own personal feelings about it. It is about how the divorce was handled by each person.

The second question comes down to your daughter's natural behavior and outlook on life. For example, is she an extrovert or an introvert? Did you spend time with her before the divorce, does she like spending time with you? Is she chronically depressed?

The third question involves the post-divorce conditions that may be affecting your daughter's stress and capacity to handle the divorce.

The fourth question involves making it fun for your daughter to be around you. If, you are that parent who sits on a couch doing nothing fun with your daughter, is it really surprising that she doesn't want to be with you?

I am not Hope In the Night, and no one should be able to answer such a deep question in a single couple paragraphs without knowledge. However, with these tools, you may be able to start to do it.

If your relationship is not good with your daughter, perhaps it is time to build it by doing fun things with her and being careful not to criticize her too much. If your daughter is a natural introvert or likes things just so, perhaps it is time to look at a change in custody that will allow her to have a day or so with you to calm down and then stay for awhile, or maybe it is time for her to stay more often but in shorter spurts.

The thing is, you can't just let her do what she wants without having a reason to let her do so, because her decisions can impact the rest of her life, and what she decides can impact her decisions later. There are places for that, but this isn't one of them. For example, if her plan is to never see you, that may become a problem now, later, and when she has kids and needs support for that family. But that kind of decision doesn't stop there, because by making such a decision, her own children will possibly make the same decisions, resulting in children's children's children, aka your progeny that have historic divorce and lack of male presence that results in more divorce and poverty (look at those correlations). However, if you never had a great relationship with her, perhaps you need to give her space and work on that relationship first.

Ultimately, a calm conversation is in order with your daughter and then possibly your ex-wife, and perhaps options can be discussed. I know that many children want to spend time at home with their things and with their friends. So, not having that thing at your house whether it be an addictive Oculus or her favorite dolls, can result in her just not having fun.

For Example: I know of one such woman who decided she did not want to visit her father simply because she didn't want to be gone long from her mother or be gone long, aka it was a hardship. The relationship between that woman and her siblings became poorer for it. The woman wound up divorced twice, widowed twice, and married 5 times in all. The woman later wound up remarkably fond of her father, and constantly needed to ask for money, but not really in a great relationship with him partially due to his aloofness. The woman's eldest child's ex-boyfriend wound up raising the woman's grandchildren. The second eldest child wound up fine, but the third lost their children to their wife and wound up in prison, then dead. The fourth lost an adopted child to the state but finally found his feet. The fifth seems to be doing fine. See the long term generational effect? Meanwhile in the short term (back in the past), the woman's sister made the same decision not to visit her father when she was 16 or so and able to make that decision, partially wrecking sibling relationships. Both women live near the line of poverty. Although that younger sister wound up divorced only once, and her children seem to be doing ok so far, only time will tell. So, the consequences of such decisions are far reaching and impact more than just you and your daughter. The father of the women sat on the couch resting most of the time when he got home from a busy week of travel. Although their father's divorce was due to infidelity, the impact of the mother's infidelity and divorces impacted her children's children's children. I am showing a real example of how divorce impacts families generationally, and you have to do things to actively mitigate divorce because the consequences can be horrible; the Government knows this well and has laws that give you time with your daughter because they have special counsels, family divisions, and research put into these things.

If no resolution can be found I suggest a few sessions of counseling with your daughter.

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How can I handle a daughter who says she doesn't want to stay with me more than one day?

You 'handle' her by respecting her wishes and letting her spend time wherever and however she sees fit. As you would with anyone else whose personhood you respect.

Certainly not by guilt-tripping her.

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I don't want her to grow away from me.

Senseless phrase.

If you don't want her to grow away, let her grow from you without awaying.

Your side? - you can't take her side? or atleast don't go on another side of the road?

No one forces you to go another side except your selfish motives. She still needs your care, she told to you about her problems, listen to her and try to solve her problem. Why do you say: no! it is not my problem! I don't want to hear you, listen to me!

And i think that all your problems with women is in case of your deaf position to woman's problems. The highest level of woman trust to a man - not a sexual addiction, but to share (herself) problems. Love from man to woman is not to give sex or pleasure, but to solve her problem.

And your daughter confesses to you that she has a problem.

She is begging you to help.

So, what your actions will create the new sense of Her-Home?

And yes, she grows up to teen girl.

And yes, she started to produce problems like every woman does.

And yes, you should to be able to solve at least half of her problems if you want to be a good father to her.

That is only the way of love.

And you don't have to drag her to your home again, can you take her a journey? Take her in park, walk, circus, theatre, museum, concert? Why you force her to spend time at Your Home all days? Why have you to be a boring father, but not a cool daddy?

Your Cinderella told you that she is afraid that her chariot turn back into a pumpkin after 12 and she doesn't want to stay after midnight anywhere except her Home-System - she is a newbe, she is a teen now, she hesitates to do things, that she did before, old rules are not enough for her...

She is New, and she needs new sense of home with old-cool daddy, not pumpkish one with boring old-father.

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    Jul 17, 2023 at 8:11

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