Finding the balance between “honoring their voice” and avoiding chaos

So our story begins with me going over to Linda’s house to get K-, our 4yo, who I had agreed to have over at my place for the night. Originally all three kids were going to be with Linda, but she’s been telling me how overwhelmed she’s been lately so I thought taking the little one could be helpful. I’m also cognizant that I’m going to be totally unplugged for three nights at a conference and unable to help out at all this coming week.
When I got to Linda’s house, K- was home with A-, our 11yo, and Linda was off running errands. When I walked in, I could see that K- was engaged, and it wasn’t too much of a surprise when she told me that she didn’t want to come with me. She was happy to see me, as she always is, but after a little while I said we needed to start getting ready to go so we could have a nice dinner and play a game at my place, she burst into tears. Next thing I knew, she’d called Linda and was hysterically saying she wanted to stay there, not go with me.

And therein was the dilemma that I imagine faces all separated parents with children: do we insist that K- comes with me because that’s “the plan” or do we listen to her desires and change our plans so that she can stay where she wants?
I am torn on which is the better approach, because I can see good and bad for both: the good of absolutely insisting that The Schedule is the most important thing is that it reduces chaos in the family. At any given day any of the kids can see where they’re supposed to be that night and everything is neat and orderly. As long as everything is smooth sailing.
On the other hand, it’s rather disempowering to tell them that they don’t have a voice, though I think we address that by having them involved in making the schedule and letting them sometimes have a “wild card” night where they go where they want rather than where we’ve scheduled.
Tonight was even more complicated by the fact that my taking K- was a favor for Linda in the first place, because originally we’d scheduled that all three children would be with her tonight and I was just trying to be a supportive co-parent and help out.
Jeez, did I mention that being separated / divorced really sucks? And that kids having to be involved in this sort of situation doubly sucks?
Anyway, we’ve left it that K- is going to stay with Linda tonight and that she’ll spend tomorrow with me, so we’ll see how that all shakes out.
Meanwhile, I feel like, somehow, this has all gotten away from us and letting the kids decide where they want to be is somehow akin to letting the inmates run the asylum. But then again, maybe that’s just my skewed perspective after a pretty depressing day…

5 comments on “Finding the balance between “honoring their voice” and avoiding chaos

  1. Gosh, Dave, that’s a really hard call to make. I’m very much a proponent of giving children a voice, and I struggle with this constantly, and with my Southern-raised husband, whose outlook on the subject (and that of his family) is that children should ‘not’ have a voice. (run on sentence – sorry…) It’s such a delicate and tricky balance, allowing children a voice – being separated would make it so much more tricky! I guess I just have good wishes and empathy for you, because, I sure don’t have any advice! I hope she willingly goes with you tomorrow!!

  2. hmm.. I see no worries with changing a plan.. it’s how the plan gets changed.. if K- thinks it was changed because she whined and screamed about it.. well.. then that’s no bueno.. calling in hysterics makes it sound like panic.. and panic succeeding only encourages more panic next time..
    As long as K knows it is the adult’s decision.. that the adult is willing to listen to the child’s side.. but even a well presented reason for the child’s opinion doesn’t change the fact that the adult gets the final say.
    It becomes a power struggle when the kid _or_ the parent doesn’t know who is in charge.
    Just like in busines.. Under promise.. and over deliver.. They don’t need to know all the plans.. it’s nice to keep ’em in the loop.. but if you feel you have to bounce everything off of them.. well.. that’s more stress ya’ don’t need.
    If they are upset and angry.. sympathize with them saying, “I know.. what a drag.” .. but stick with your decision.. which is why telling them the decisions before hand locks you into sticking with it.. keep things fluid and they’ll think that you had control the whole time… which makes them feel comfortable..
    You sound like you do a great job.. Just don’t be afraid of keeping them out of the loop at times.. just like you don’t let them watch certain movies.. they don’t need to know all that goes on behind the curtain.
    Good luck! .. and don’t forget the hugs!

  3. As mentioned in the first comment, I’m at a loss as well. That’s a difficult situation.
    Still, these jumbled thoughts come to mind:
    1) I imagine part of K-‘s response is that she’s also confused and hurt by the changes going on in her life as a result of the divorce. It seems important to me that she would have the opportunity to voice her frustration. Maybe she wanted to stay because it felt like the most secure place to her at that time.
    2) I think we’re not just looking at what’s best for K-. We’re also looking at what’s best for you and Linda. As Dr. Sears often says in The Baby Book (the unofficial “Attachment Parenting Handbook”), our kids need healthy parents. Sometimes we’re willing to jeopardize our own health or our own feelings because we’re constantly thinking about what’s best for our kids. It sounds to me like this was a bad day and a hurtful situation for you. Maybe it mattered more to you than K- whether she stayed with Linda or came home with you.

  4. Hi Dave,
    Here’s my two cents….
    As much as we would like it to be the contrary separation is hard on everyone including children. But we all have our fates to live out, so no point in feeling guilty.
    At this point I would take less of what your daughter does at “face value”. I can imagine she has “old feelings” and the crying has less to do with YOU and your place more to do with processing her hurts. I obviously don’t have time to go into it here but crying is very beneficial and therapeutic. And often times after children have a good cry they are much more cooperative and able to think more clearly. I can imagine she was using this situation as an excuse to get some feelings out. The “Broken Cookie Phenomenon” as I like to call it.
    The best thing you can do, in my opinion, is listen to her feelings in a loving way and then see what happens afterwards. I can pretty much guarantee that if you listen to her whole crying session, afterwards she will happily come with you. Plus you will closer and more connected.
    I can imagine she is feelings insecure, and needs extra love and support. Its sounds like you are doing an excellent job as is. My suggestion on top of what you are doing is giving her that listening time.
    There is no point in trying to fix things on the surface when you can get to the root.
    The most helpful info I have found on hurts in children and crying comes from Dr.Solter @ and Patty Wipfler @
    All Good Wishes,

  5. My point of view on this situation comes from being a child of divorce. My significantly younger sister, who was 4yo at the time, would cry for hours after our father picked us up or dropped us off. It’s a very difficult thing for a little one at that age to process emotionally. S/he might be able to rationalize it, but emotionally they just don’t adjust as quickly. I would say that for the first phase of this separation respect the child’s feelings and, if it’s not too much of an inconvenience, let them decide. Later on when they are more emotionally adjusted to the situation, you can have the last word. I really don’t think that this is a power struggle type of situation at all. I think it’s a time and adjustment situation (if that makes sense). Best of luck.

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