Let her do what she does best- express herself.
There's been a lot of discussion recently on whether there should be a “presumption” of shared physical custody between divorcing parents. In the simplest terms, unless one parent can prove serious concerns and evidence of emotional of physical abuse by the other parent, courts would assume all custody plans should include a 50/50 timeshare arrangement. Legal presumptions are fine and dandy, but if parenting under the best of circumstances places parents in murky waters, divorced parenting is like trying to wade through the thickest sludge, especially at the beginning.
The idea that moms and dads should spend equal time parenting is all around fantastic but so are most romantic comedies. That doesn’t mean life generally works that way. Many fathers have every intention of being as involved in their children’s lives but a family needs to eat. On a basic logistical level, men often find themselves having to work too hard for too long to be able to make that a daily reality. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. Marriage is a partnership, and clearly defined household roles, not necessarily according to gender, can be stabilizing and healthy for everyone.
If the partnership crumbles and the would-be parental teammates end up separating into two households, it's quite common for both parents to worry about how the children will handle their time in Dad’s new place. The kids have had mom there every single morning they’ve woken up and night they’ve gone to sleep for their entire lives while dad has been out at meetings or away on business in order to build a stronger network and keep the family in that beautiful home.
Mom’s concerns about the potential quality of Dad’s overnight care aside, what if the kids don’t want to go to Dad’s new pad? Should they be forced to? I’ve heard this question raised most often in regard to fathers of girls. It's not uncommon for both divorcing parents to see that while their son is pretty cool with hanging out with Dad no matter what his place is like or how often he's been around in the past, their daughter can put up quite the fit about the new arrangement.
According to Bill Eddy of The High Conflict Institute in San Diego, you'll be hard pressed to find a judge who will try to “enforce schedules with children over about age 15.” This doesn’t mean that both parents shouldn’t do their absolute best to work towards encouraging their kids’ from the very beginning of their separation process to not only go to their dad’s place during their scheduled times, but to enjoy going and look forward to it. No matter how good of a daddy you have been and how supportive mom is of your relationship with each other, girls can be difficult creatures to understand.
There are going to be plenty of times when you just don't get her, and this situation is likely to be one of them. You're trying to be a good dad, maybe a far better dad than you've ever been before. Why is she rejecting you?
She isn’t rejecting you, though. She is freaking out. FREAKING out. It’s not about you. She's a girl. When she goes to your place, how will she possibly have enough clothes to choose from before school? How will her hair get done? I’m not accusing your daughter of being superficial or bratty — your daughter is a female, plain and simple.
An effective way of opening the door to your daughters’ ability to see your place as her own is to provide her the opportunity to nest it. There is, after all, a reason Austin Powers calls us “Birds.” Remember when your ex-wife was pregnant and suddenly began over-stocking the pantry, rearranging (or possibly buying) furniture, cleaning and organizing like a mad woman? This phenomenon is known as the “nesting instinct” - a woman’s biologically overwhelming urge to prepare the home for baby.
What I‘ve observed over the course of my own divorce and the divorces of many clients is that the nesting instinct in women is not only tied to pregnancy. It can pop up at any time of stressful transition in our lives. And it starts when we they're young girls. Even when the instinct doesn’t make itself known on a conscious level, it's offering her the opportunity to nest her space is extremely soothing.
As a newly single dad welcoming your daughter to make your new home her own, here's 5 simple ways you can give your baby girl the gift of feathering her own nest:
1. Make sure she knows she has her own space
Even if the home is a studio apartment, give her a wall, squared off corner or any other identifiable area as her personal property to decorate and make use of as she sees fit.
2. Let her see the space and choose the colors and/or a theme
If she walks into a bubble gum pink extravaganza and feels more punk rock at the moment, you'll have just shot yourself in the foot. (Yeah, we’re difficult. I get it. But don’t shoot the messenger.) Determine whether your budget, and your landlord, can tolerate an entire paint job or even just some thematic picture frames and let her set the tone.
3. Let her know she'll have the time and supplies she needs for her morning routine
Depending on her age, you can ask her or her mom to give you a breakdown of how it tends to go and what helps or doesn’t with any potential hiccups, as well as which supplies you should have on hand.
4. Take her on a shopping spree
You don’t need to break the bank. Target or a similar store near you will have all of the supplies noted above, as well as a variety of bedspreads, pillows, posters and other little goodies she can use to make her space her own.
5. Allow her to set some boundaries
As she gets closer to the onset of her period, the premium she places on her privacy is going to fly through the roof. You have zero interest in discussing her period with her, and I can ensure you that she has even less interest in discussing it with you. Let her know that all you need is a shopping list and as long as she engages in conversation with you and participates in family meals, alone time in her room and on the phone with friends is absolutely OK.
I would strongly discourage you from telling your daughter you get that she's a bird, especially if she's a pre-teen or older, unless you're looking for some serious eye-rolling in response. However few girls, no matter how surly, will turn down a father/daughter shopping date. Throw in some kind of activity or treat she loves at the beginning or end, and you’ve got yourselves a beautiful bonding ritual.
Just like grown women, girls want to know that the man in their life understands them. You're the most important man her life will ever know. The best way to understand her is to ask her to show you and then acknowledge her explanation. Keep up that learning pattern and I guarantee the question of whether or not shared parenting needs to be “forced” will become entirely irrelevant.
Have more concerns and questions about parenting after divorce? Get in touch with Arianna at email@example.com to learn more about how she can help.