Dear Therapist: ‘My children refuse to spend time with me’

By Annette Schonder

Published: Thu 18 Mar 2021, 4:27 PM

My wife and I separated recently. We have two children who refuse to spend time with me ever since we parted ways. How do I win them back? — Name Withheld

Dear Writer, it sounds very heartbreaking that your children do not want to spend time with you since you and your wife have separated.

Inevitably, children are drawn into marital conflict and will be affected by the parental separation in a number of ways. They might side with a parent, they could feel abandoned, they could often harbour the thought that they are at fault for the separation or they fear hurting one parent by spending time with the other.

We can never know what is going on with the children until we communicate with them about their deeper thoughts and feelings. It’s important that you and your wife put aside your differences and put the children’s needs first. This can be facilitated through a family meeting. The children will benefit from such a meeting, if you and your wife can function as co-parents. Importantly, this would also include speaking respectfully to and of each other and agreeing, with the children’s input, on a reasonable schedule to spend time with the kids. This should include time at your home, her home, as well as joint time spent by everyone for special family activities (like birthdays and holidays). If you cannot communicate with your wife about co-parenting, I suggest you see a couple’s counsellor who will help you navigate the process. You and your wife might also want to explore counselling to see if the marriage can come together again. I’ve seen many couples work through their differences to have a sustainable marriage.

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