Your child’s air ticket has been bought, her bags are packed and she’s all set to spend the holidays with your ex.
But then out of the blue she refuses point blank to go – or you’re suddenly overwhelmed with anxiety and doubts about whether the visit is such a good idea.
Family life after a divorce or break-up is hard enough, but arranging for your child to visit your ex can make the situation even more challenging.
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We asked experts for advice about how to help make these visits enjoyable for your child and how you can set your own mind at rest.
What if my ex has a new partner?
- Tell your child there’s someone new in your ex’s life so they’re prepared, says Durban clinical psychologist Dr Sherona Rawat.
- If possible, let your child meet the person before the visit, suggests Roodepoort educational psychologist Dr Arina Lanser.
- Don’t run your ex or their new partner and their children down. Give your child the opportunity to make up their own mind, Dr Lanser says.
- Try to arrange with your ex that they have some quality alone-time with your child, without the new family members, says Durban clinical psychologist Hameeda Bassa- Suleman.
- Ensure your child doesn’t exploit the situation and use it as an excuse to be disobedient. Get your ex to agree they and not their new partner will discipline your child if need be, Bassa-Suleman says. - Don’t let your own emotions spoil your child’s visit, Dr Lanser says. Be glad if your child gets on with your ex’s new partner and their kids, and don’t try to make your child feel guilty about their feelings. - Don’t use your child as a spy, Dr Lanser adds. Don’t ask about your ex’s relationship with their new partner and don’t try to fish for information about their home set-up.
What about step- and half-brothers or -sisters?
- Explain to your child that stepbrothers and -sisters or children born of your ex’s new relationship can never take their place and that their parent still loves them, Bassa- Suleman says.
- Don’t try to force your child to be friends with their stepsiblings, Johannesburg counsellor Yolan Moodley says. It should happen spontaneously.
- You can however encourage interests your child shares with their half- or stepsiblings, Dr Lanser says.
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What if my child refuses to go?
- Ask your child why they don’t want to visit your ex, Dr Rawat says, and discuss it with them.
- Ask if your ex’s new partner or their children make your child feel uncomfortable in any way, Moodley says.
- Respect your child’s decision and don’t try to force them to go, Dr Rawat says.
- Try to find a compromise such as cutting the visit short or letting your ex spend time at your home with your child, Moodley suggests.
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How to make the visit easier for your child.
- Arrange it well in advance so it’s not suddenly sprung on the child, Moodley says.
- Keep your child informed about the planning and tell them timeously if your ex’s new partner is also going to be present.
- Tell your ex about any special routine your child has, especially when it comes to medication, bedtime and eating habits, Moodley says.
- Let your child pack their personal possessions such as their favourite toys, clothes and other familiar items, Dr Lanser suggests.
- Don’t extend the visit – stick to the agreed time. And don’t be late fetching your child.
- Inform your ex about your child’s eating habits so they can stock up on familiar food.
- Check there’ll be space for your child to unpack their clothes – they shouldn’t feel like a stranger in the other parent’s home, Bassa-Suleman says.
- Ensure your child has enough airtime on their cellphone so they can call you, whether just for a chat or to tell you they’re unhappy, Moodley says.