Q&A: My 3-year-old has separation anxiety when she stays at her dad's house. Help!
My daughter is three-and-a-half and has always had a problem when it's time to go to dad's house every other weekend. He left when she was nine months old. Since she was little it has always been, "No Daddy," or "I don't want any daddy."
Now that she is older she begs to stay with me. The last time she had to go she was hysterical, crying, and would not let go of me, begging to please stay with Mommy, and saying, "I don't want to go to the other house, I have had enough bye byes."
It was awful and I cannot express how upset she was. It rips my heart out to see her go through this. My husband says she is perfectly fine and loves being with him, but I have all kinds of problems at home after her visits with her dad.
My daughter recently stayed with him for a week, and is now having major separation anxiety (worse than usual). He has let her watch Harry Potter, which is all she talks about. Harry is her new best friend, but she is scared of going to the bathroom by herself and has had some nightmares. I have been working on what is pretend and what is real and showing her the differance. I have always reassured her that Mommy will be back on Sunday, and told her that when she has to stay for a week's visit, that this is a special time with her daddy. I've said that it may feel longer but Mommy will be back.
She has told me that she is scared in her bedroom at his house. She sleeps downstairs and they sleep upstairs with the doors closed, which bothers me; how can they hear her if she needs something? My daughter does better when her half-sister (eight years old) is with her, but the times when she is there alone she is scared to be in the room by herself.
We also have issues with using the bottle and potty training. My husband has decided that she no longer needs Pull-ups. She has a three-hour car ride to his house and I feel that this may be too long for her to wait for a rest stop. His solution is not to let her drink anything for a couple of hours so she won't have to go pee while they are driving.
Likewise, my daughter still finds security in having her bottle, consuming a lot more water out of it than when she uses a glass, or simply enjoying holding it. But her father doesn't allow her to use it when she is with him every other weekend. I know she is old enough to be without it, but since it makes her feel secure, I don't see why he doesn't let her use it, particularly as she has so much difficulty when it's time to go to his house.
Is there a major problem waiting for her to give up her bottle? I want to make her as secure as I can. She makes comments such as, "We can't let the water out of the bathtub, because it wants to stay here with us." So I just leave the water. How can I help her? I feel that her dad tends to treat her as if she was a grown person, and forgets that she is only three, not 13.
As I read through your concerns, my first question is always, “Is this child going to a safe environment?”
From what I can tell from the information you provide, it seems that she isn’t in danger of neglect or abuse. Sleeping on another level isn’t frank neglect, though depriving her of water IF she is thirsty for several hours shouldn’t happen. But you also have to think over all your concerns and answer that question for yourself.
Assuming you are comfortable that your daughter isn’t being mistreated, the remaining issues are more about parenting than the specifics of bottle use or training. Divorce and separation are hard enough. Parenting a child together after a separation is even harder, yet it is a crucial variable in terms of raising an emotionally healthy child.
No two parents agree on every detail, but you and your child’s father need to be able to talk openly about those disagreements and to keep your overall goal the same: a happy, healthy child. If something is really bugging you about your daughter’s time with her father, he needs to hear about it. If possible, some overlap time with you at his house may help both of you to understand your daughter’s issues better.
There are a few good resources on co-parenting. Two books that may help and have been cited in an American Academy of Pediatrics journal are: Mom’s House, Dad’s House: A Complete Guide for Parents Who Are Single, Divorced or Remarried by I. Ricci, and Divorce Book for Parents: Helping Your Child Cope with Divorce and it’s Aftermath by Vicki Lansky.