everyone's primary needs is the heart of satisfying
visitations. These needs include acceptance, affirmation,
validation, respect, stimulation, security, and affection. A common
surface need is "Have a nice time."
who learned to be shamed and emotionally numb (wounded) as kids have a hard time...
being clear on their personal
needs and boundaries,
with others' needs, and...
whether their own needs
got met well enough.
psychologically-wounded people are asked "How was your
visitation?" they may not know. They answer what they think is expected
("Oh, fine.") or they complain about surface needs that weren't met
(frustrations or problems).
does the definition above compare to your idea of "an effective visitation"? If your
family adults haven't discussed and agreed on a common definition, doing so now is one way to start building
visitation harmony. Notice your
Another way is to become aware of...
Key Child-visitation Variables
Let's define "regular visitation" as
a multi-home process shaped by a mix of dynamic variables like these:
1) the degree of
of key family adults and advisors (low
2) the multi-home
family's structure (stable or not). Family structure includes
who's included in - and excluded from - the
of each adult and child (who's
responsible for what), and...
the related sets of household
(shoulds, oughts, musts, and have to's) that shape how each role is acted
out ("You have to see that Jackie wears her dental retainer
every night"), and...
who usually makes family rules and decisions
in and between both homes, and...
the non-visitation responsibilities,
schedules, and obligations of each child and adult in each home;
the current primary pre-visitation
in each person involved, and
_ how the people's needs are
by family decision-makers;
attitudes held by parents and
other key family members and supporters; (healthy and compatible to toxic
5) family adults'
ability to think, communicate, and problem-solve
in general and in child-raising disputes (consistently
More child-visitation variables...
6) the degree of
divorce-recovery in each
child and adult affected by visitations (incomplete to complete). This
includes the status of significant parental and child
(unresolved to resolved);
7) minor kids' ages,
genders, and degree of
with, and allegiance to, each bioparent and each other (weak to strong)
8) the degree of
influence on each bioparent or caregiver by their parents, relatives, and outsiders (low
the geographic distance between parental homes and the time and expense to
transport each child to and from one to the other;
10) the status
(evolving > stable and cooperative > conflictual) and effectiveness (low to
high) of parental agreements on child custody + visitations + financial
support + responsibilities)
Each of these ten elements can
promote or hinder the quality of routine and special child
visitations. Use this summary to help identify any problems your
family is having. Use this to help solve them.
Another concept divorcing-family and stepfamily members and
professionals need to be aware of is...
The Visitation Cycle
Every child visitation is a sequence of processes or rituals. Depending on
the factors above, each process can cause
in and/or between the sending and receiving homes:
the planning process in and between homes;
process - e.g. packing, cleaning, meal-planning, instructing) in each home;
the "goodbye" process at the child's first
transporting the child to the receiving
the "welcoming" ritual at that
the simultaneous adjustment processes in
the planned and spontaneous activities that
occur between the "hellos" and preparing to return, including any
conflicts and inter-home communications;
the preparations in both
homes for the child to return;
the "goodbye" process at the visited home;
traveling back to the original home;
the "hello" process upon arrival, including
debriefing ("How was it? How are you?");
the re-adjusting in both
homes, and adults and kids evaluating privately and
together whether it was "a good visitation" or not; and finally...
any inter-home and other
communication needed to "finish" the visitation ("Jack,
Marcy left her tennis shoes and wallet at your house. Can you...").
This can also include a web of conversations and reactions with peers
and relatives about visitation events and reactions.
of these elements can cause situational or chronic stress for members in one
or both homes. These elements are typically more complex and potentially
more stressful in average stepfamily homes.
Newly-separated families have to invent and
stabilize their version of this whole sequence over many months amidst
many other personal and family dynamics. Their cycle must shift and restabilize each
time (a) someone moves in or out of each house, and (b) any member of either
house has a "significant" lifestyle change (like starting or graduating
from school, re/marriage,
cohabiting, custody change, illness or
disability, childbirth, job loss, etc...)
if all concerned people achieve "OK stability" in both homes,
basic visitation cycle can have special variations - like "six-week
summer vacation," and "year-end school-break visitations." Thus
regular visitations may be "OK," but special visitations aren't, or
vice versa, according to someone. Cycles
involving family birthdays, anniversaries, and other special events usually
generate unique primary needs in members of both homes.
Recap: "child visitation" is a multi-phase process that
temporarily changes the
and dynamics of both
homes. Now let's use that to explore...
What's the (Surface) Problem?
As a family-systems therapist, I've
listened to hundreds of divorcing and stepfamily adults and kids
describe their child-visitation conflicts. They have been mixes of the complaints
below. See if some of these are familiar...
"My ex mate won't
cooperate / listen to reason / give in or compromise / empathize with our
child's needs / apologize / respect my needs / keep me informed / set
healthy boundaries and limits / provide reasonable consequences / provide
consistent, appropriate caregiving / follow the legal parenting agreement / obey the legal Order of Protection / stop
badmouthing me / stop harassing me / get appropriate medical or emotional
help / problem-solve / protect our child from ______ / stop using
chemicals / drive safely / keep his/her promises / be on time /
stop using the kids as spies / appreciate my sacrifices and com-promises /..."
Implication: "Our visitation problems are my
fault, and I'm helpless, or forced to confront him/her.
Or visitations are "a problem" because...
going to their (other parent's) home
spending time with
(their other parent), / their stepparent; / the other child(ren) in that
all the complicated planning,
arguing, lecturing, packing, and traveling;
in that house / adapting to a very different set of house rules than ours
leaving their pet and/or
not having their own room over there / not having
being left with a sitter over there
never doing fun
stuff - being bored
feeling ignored, used,
sad, and/or quizzed feeling stuck in the middle
of loyalty and values conflicts, and/or stressful relationship triangles
"The people in the other house do things
that make visitations painful, scary, unpleasant, or boring too often for
my child(ren). It's
their fault, and I'm helpless, or forced
to confront them."
Or visitations are stressful because...
"My (stepparent) mate
says I'm being walked on by my ex / not protecting my child from my
ex / giving too much time and energy to visitation issues / worrying more
about my child(ren) than hers (his) / making too big a deal out of visitations
/ overreacting / too sensitive / too aggressive / too passive / too
cooperative / still attracted to my ex / attached to my child at the hip /
letting guilt run my life / overprotective / ignoring (my mate) when
my child visits / ignoring my child when s/he visits / 'unnaturally
close' to my child / inconsiderate /..."
Implication - visitations are "no fun" because
partner criticizes me
for my values and/or behavior, rather
than filling my needs for empathy and encouragement.
And people say visitations
are a pain because...
Step/siblings - fight /
whine / complain / are too noisy / don't like each other / won't obey
house rules / are too picky about food / gang up on each other / ignore
each other / compete with each other / stay up too late / trash the house
/ are rude and disrespectful /..."
one or more kids 'cause our visitation
Relatives - my
[mother / father / mother in law / father in law / ex mother in law / ex
father in law / (or other relative)] criticizes [me / my child(ren)
/ my present partner / my ex mate / all of us] for [some
visitation choices and behaviors] without [understanding /
listening / being asked for their opinion / empathizing / knowing the
details / caring what I need or feel /...]
it's my relatives' fault
A final group of
surface visitation problems sounds like...
The lawyer(s) / judge /
legal system / mediator - made this ridiculous schedule / is
completely unreasonable / is totally biased / made us use this expensive
psychological expert who said... / forced us to see this counselor,
who said .. / cost us thousands of dollars we don't have, to get (no
solutions) / threatened me with... / won't stand up to my ex about...
Our visitation problems are caused by
system, not by us or me!
Did you see elements of your situation here? The average visitation conflict
is a mosaic of these, with adults and kids in each home having different
perceptions, priorities, and different sets of criticisms and
complaints. I propose that none of these is the real
What do you notice about these reasons individually and all together? What I
notice is the adults who cite these complaints...
are critical of, and
frustrated with one or more other people, and they...
deny, minimize, or justify their part
in what causes their "visitation problems."