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Mother's Negative Feelings Towards Ex-husband May Have Rubbed Off on Daughter

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Taken From: Growing Concerns - A childrearing question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson

Question: My ex-husband recently remarried and he and his new wife are scheduled to take our 8-year-old daughter on a 10-day vacation to Florida next month. I'm not happy about it, but it's my ex's right under the custody agreement and I do know that he and his wife will treat her very well. However, now my daughter cries and says she doesn't want to go. In all honesty, I'm afraid she may have picked up my negative feelings and I'm not sure how to undo that and make this whole thing easier. Where do I start?

Answer: It's a good start to recognize that your own negative feelings may have rubbed off on your daughter. Now it's time to try to understand more about what she's feeling about the trip at this point. Is she worried about being away from you? Is she afraid she won't be safe or uneasy about how her new stepmother will take care of her? Is she sad because she thinks you will be sad when she's away?

Ask her what she's concerned about and listen carefully to what she tells you. Acknowledge her feelings, but then, in a clear and up-beat manner, assure her of the steps that you, her father and stepmother will take to make sure she's safe and cared for during the trip. Help her turn her attention to the good times she'll have, enjoying the warm Florida weather, visiting exciting new places, and being with her dad, who loves her very much. Children of divorce sometimes feel guilty about having fun--or admitting to one parent that they have fun with the other. So you need to show your daughter, with your smile and your tone of voice, that you want her to have a good time and that you are confident the trip will be a good experience.

This will work best if you can focus on being a co-parent with your daughter's father, even though that may be uncomfortable. If you haven't already done so, it would be wise to talk with him and his new wife about the details of the trip and ask about specific ways you can be supportive so that they and your daughter can enjoy this time together.

For example, you might take your daughter shopping for a new swimsuit for the trip. Or maybe you could give her a disposable camera so she can take pictures on the trip to show you when she returns. You could show her on the map where she'll be traveling or check out a Website for the attractions she'll see. If you can work it out with her dad and stepmom, you also might want to arrange a designated time during the trip when your daughter can call to check in with you. (She may need reassurance that YOU are doing fine while she's away!)

Before, during and after the trip, you will have opportunities to affirm the importance of your daughter's relationship with her father and her stepmother. Your words and actions will show your daughter that her love is big enough to encompass all of the parents who care for her--and that her relationship with you is not diminished in any way by the good times she has with those other caring adults.

The Children, Youth and Family Consortium invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 3 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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