“When the kids come back from visiting their other parent, it’s as if they forgot how to behave.”
I hear this over and over from my single parent friends, and I’ve experienced it myself to some extent. This seems especially true for situations where the children spend most of their time with one parent and visit the other on an every-other-weekend (or less) basis. The parent making this comment often follows it up with something along the lines of “and their other parent says they are perfect angels all weekend!"
It’s frequently said that the parent who just occasionally visits the kids is simply the “fun parent,” never having to discipline the children. Of course the kids enjoy that time and may act out when they return home, having had little or no structure during the visit. Custodial parents often worry that their children prefer the other parent, but the truth is that kids need the structure of normal daily life to feel secure.
I’m no psychologist, but I am a single mother, and I know quite a few other single parent families as well. I think it’s exactly this security that underlies the change in behavior.
Perhaps, if you are the parent doing the majority of the caring for the children (i.e. not just the “fun stuff”), they simply feel safer and more secure with you. The kids know you are going to be there for them, no matter what, so it’s a protected environment in which they can test their limits. Maybe they don’t want to test things with the parent who’s not always there – for fear it will push them further away.
Something to consider the next time you’re at your wits end with the kids' behavior – it’s possible they’re just seeing how far they can push you because they feel comfortable with you. They know you care for them unconditionally, and they know you’re not going anywhere.
It can be frustrating at times, but don’t give up – keep on doing what you’re doing, because if you are a parent who is there for your kids, you are doing it right.
Stacy Lamb of Apex is the divorced mom of two. She is an active member and former organizer of Single Parents of the Triangle. Find her here monthly.