My ex and I argue over my time with our daughter

Annalisa Barbieri





I have been divorced for eight years and my daughter, who is 10, lives with her mum. I usually see her every other weekend. But for four years now, my daughter’s timetable is driven by her mother and seeing me is a “fit in”. My ex and I both have new relationships. On occasions, my ex and I have argued about the time my daughter spends with me. My daughter will call and tell me she wants to do something else (go to a birthday party, say) on a weekend she had been supposed to be with me. When my ex and I argue, it understandably upsets my daughter. I think she feels conflicted over which parent to support. When my daughter is with me, we have great fun and I value the father-daughter time: like most 10-year-olds she talks a lot, tells me her stories. I recently saw her perform at school (my ex attended as well) and I waited for her to come out afterwards. When she did she acted as if I was a stranger, behaving in the opposite way to how she does at home with me. She seems to act like that only when her mother is around; the last time was when my daughter invited me to a school fair. Is this normal for children with divorced parents? How can I approach this behaviour with my daughter? It’s great when visiting arrangements can be agreed informally (ie without going to court) but this does leave them open to interpretation, and abuse. What changed four years ago to affect your time with your daughter? Children do become more self-conscious as they get older (this peaks in adolescence) and ignoring parents is fairly common, if upsetting. However, I see this is about more than that. When was the last time you and your ex calmly discussed how often you see your daughter, rather than waiting until it’s an argument? Of course as she gets older, her focus shifts from parents to friends, but it’s important that visits are discussed and some rules agreed. Next time your daughter can’t be with you, you could try to make sure your time together is rearranged. If you and your ex find it hard to talk, could a family mediation session( family mediation council. help? Family psychotherapist John Cavanagh sees this sort of situation a lot, and felt your daughter may be struggling with divided loyalties: “She may be wondering how to divide her time so she’s fair to you and her mum, and it may feel easier spending time with her mum as she lives with her.” Cavanagh also thought your daughter might be trying not to upset either of you, a tough call for a child. He also wondered if school functions were a situation where your daughter isn’t “sure how to alter her behaviour if she’s used to seeing only one parent at a time”. Does she see you together much? Would it be possible for the three of you to spend time together so your daughter gets used to seeing her parents in the same place? Cavanagh agreed that another conversation about visits is in order. He also suggested trying to repair your relationship with your ex if it has got tricky, because that will make “having those difficult conversations easier”. It’s great that you and your daughter get on well. This may be a good time to talk about what she finds difficult about the arrangement and work out a way to tackle it. Don’t make it about you; say something like: “That looked like a difficult situation for you; what did you need in that moment?” Don’t expect instant answers, she’s only 10, but putting her needs and feelings first will be a relief for her. If you would like advice on a family matter, email ask.annalisa@ See for terms and conditions