How to Respond When Your Child Wants Their Other Parent

For a child whose parents have recently divorced or separated, getting used to moving between living with one parent and the other separately isn't easy.

It's normal for kids to miss one parent when they are living with the other, and they may express these feelings in their words and actions. While it may not be easy to listen to your child ask for their other parent, the way that you respond in these moments could have a big impact on your child.

So how do you respond when your child wants to see or even live with their other parent?

A young girl looks sadly towards the ground as her mother attempts to comfort her.

Don't take it personally

Your child may be very frustrated at this moment, expressing themself in such a way that may cause you some heartbreak. Try not to take these interactions personally.

Even though your child knows exactly how to push your buttons, understand that the reason they are doing this is because they are probably feeling anxious, angry, and even sad. Try to remain calm, and do your best to not project unrelated meaning into these moments.

Have empathy for your child's emotions

Look at the situation from your child's perspective. It has not been easy for them to cope with all this change at once, and some resistance to it is not abnormal.

Having empathy and trying to understand where your child is coming from in these moments can help you to know better how to talk to your child about it in a peaceful, understanding way.  

Keep your composure

It may be hard to hear your child say they want their other parent, but don't let this break your cool. Stay collected, resisting any urge to get angry or upset in front of your child. Even if they aren't expressing it now, your child looks to you for support and structure in life. Try to have a calm discussion with your child about their feelings when they are ready. 

A boy and his father hug and smile while sitting on a couch.

Stand your ground—peacefully

Sometimes, it may not necessarily be that your child wants your other parent, but instead, they want the lifestyle they live when with that parent. It's okay for you to have different house rules and guidelines that you ask your child to follow when they are with you.

It's important that you believe in your rules and stand by them in order to create structure and expectations for your child when in your house—but do so as calmly and peacefully as you can. At the same time, it might not hurt to evaluate your own rules from time to time to make sure that you still believe that they are in your child's best interests as they grow and change.

Talk to your co-parent about it

If possible, open a dialogue with your co-parent over these matters in such a way that is respectful and can help you figure out how to support your child as they transition between homes.

Talk about what you have each experienced with your child in order to look for better ways to support them when they are missing one of you. Perhaps you and your co-parent even decide to set up more frequent moments of contact with the other parent who is away by way of phone calls or video chats. 

Your child isn't the one to make decisions about who they want to live with, but listen to their comments and requests for adjustments to the schedule. For example, maybe your child is asking to stay a few hours later with one parent in order to watch a sports match on TV, or maybe even you want to switch weekends with your co-parent in order to take your child on a special trip.

In these moments, you may decide to talk with your co-parent to negotiate minor adjustments to your parenting schedule here and there to make your child more comfortable and have more time with each of you. If you do make modifications to your schedule, be sure to document those well in case there becomes any confusion down the road about what the schedule actually was.

Knowing how to respond when your child wants their other parent won't always come easily, but following these few basic guidelines can help. As always, if these situations become too complex to handle alone, don't hesitate to discuss these matters with your co-parent or your family law professionals. This will be especially important if you are ever considering making a significant change to your parenting schedule, for example.