5 ways to navigate your child's preference of the other parent

Summer is here, and that means family vacations and quality time spent together. However, if you and your partner are divorced or separated, it can be a challenging time for both you and your children when they spend summer vacations with your ex. Transitions are always difficult, especially when routines are established during the school year. Preparing your child to spend time away from you with their other parent and family can feel overwhelming and stressful. It's natural for your child to be excited about seeing their other parent and wanting to spend time with them, but it can leave you feeling left out and unappreciated. It's important to allow your child the freedom to enjoy and have fun with their other parent (your ex) without feeling devalued or less significant. Here are five suggestions to help you encourage your child to enjoy their time without guilt or sadness about you not being there.

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1. Make drop-offs easy and brief: Prioritize your child's needs over your own. If your child needs to eat early, take them to your co-parent's place after they've eaten and had some rest. Keep the drop-offs short, as prolonged goodbyes can be harder for both children and parents. Avoid punishing your child due to your feelings toward your ex. Pack everything you believe your child will need and communicate with your ex before the summer, so your child doesn't suffer from poor communication or unresolved concerns.

2. Don't try to control your co-parent's parenting: It may be challenging to see your child excited and happy to be with your ex but remember that their relationship with their other parent is crucial for their mental health. While it's nice to share tips that work well for bedtime or restaurants, don't expect your ex to manage their home exactly the way you do. Different stages bring out different strengths and weaknesses in parents. You may be an excellent parent to young children, while your co-parent may excel during the teenage years. It will benefit your child if you and your ex-work together as much as possible instead of against each other.

3. Try to be positive when reunited with your child: If you anticipate that your children will cry when you leave your ex's house, try to remain upbeat as much as possible. If they do cry when you come to pick them up, empathize with them and have a planned activity that they'll enjoy. Children struggle with goodbyes, just like adults do, so focus on what will help them say goodbye rather than your own feelings. Having a scheduled time when they will see their co-parent again helps them understand that taking turns is a natural part of having co-parents in different households.

4. Avoid speaking negatively about your co-parent's parenting: Don't let your hurt or sadness drive you to criticize your child's other parent. Talking negatively about your ex-backfires and affects your child's feelings toward you. Even simple comments like, "Of course you like your mom/dad's house better because they let you watch movies all day" can cause your child to hide the truth from you and withdraw from sharing information in the future. Instead, be curious, ask questions, and engage in conversations about the highs and lows of their trip. Seek therapy if you need a safe space to discuss your real feelings, but always show respect for your child's other parent.

5. Force yourself to focus on the positive aspects of your ex for the sake of your child. The more you and your co-parent can maintain a respectful and harmonious relationship, the happier and more secure your child will feel. Sometimes, a child may prefer one parent as a way of shielding themselves from any negative feelings towards the other parent. It is important to give your child the freedom to not choose sides, allowing them to love both of you and fully enjoy their childhood.


Not being the preferred parent is usually a temporary condition. As children grow, they discover new things about both their mother and father and find commonalities between them. If you struggle with childhood memories of favoritism within your own family, seeking therapy can be beneficial. This will help ensure that your child does not have to take sides or feel pulled in different directions. When a child feels secure with both parents, they can openly show affection to both and feel safe and loved without worrying about one parent abandoning them due to feeling left out. By granting your children the freedom to love both of you without worry, you can provide them with the best possible childhood.