Divorce Advice: Don’t be Surprised or Hurt When Your Kids Choose Dad

By Jackie Pilossoph, Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling, Love Essentially columnist and author

I have some divorce advice that I think any divorced parent will truly appreciate. It has to do with parenting schedules, in other words, the times the kids are with you and the times they are with your ex.

If I had to pick the hardest part of adjusting to divorce, I’d have to say it was the fact that my then 3 and 5 year olds were sleeping out. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how devastating that was, and how hard that was to get used to. Six years later, I’m still not “used to” it.

I mean, seriously. Isn’t the best feeling in the world when your kids wake up in the morning, come downstairs and give you hugs and kisses?? Waking up without that is and has always been very difficult for me. It feels unnatural and wrong. It feels strange and empty. That said, it is the reality of divorce.

If the kids are really young, divorced couples have a schedule, and the kids just adhere to it. They don’t know any other way. But, if the kids are older, or as the kids get older, they begin to have an opinion (and possibly preferences) about where they want to sleep, which is what happened to me the other night.

It was my ex’s weekend with the kids, so I had not seen them in a couple days, and when they came back to my house on Sunday, they weren’t happy. My daughter was actually crying, and my son was quiet. After asking them several times what was wrong, they told me that they wished they could have stayed at dad’s for an extra night, because he was leaving for a business trip the next day, and they wouldn’t see him for a week.

I called my ex and they ended up going back over there and spending the night. I ended up crying myself to sleep. Do they love him more? Is he more fun? Would they rather be there than at my house? These were all questions running through my mind. I was angry at them, angry at my ex, and angry at the world. I was bitter and wished I wasn’t divorced.

But then, the next morning, rational Jackie woke up and I realized something. The kids were feeling insecure that they weren’t going to see their dad for a week, so they wanted to go there, probably to reassure themselves that he was “in the picture.” That seemed to make sense. It wasn’t unreasonable. That doesn’t mean they don’t love me. That doesn’t mean they love him more. That doesn’t mean they’d rather be there all the time. It means that they love both their parents intensely and equally.

Here are some characteristics of children of divorce:

  • They can have guilt at times when they aren’t with the other parent, as they are worrying and wondering if the alone parent is okay.
  • They become devastated when one parent says something negative about the other, of even if the parent doesn’t come right out and say it, if they know the one parent is angry with or dislikes the other parent, it kills them.
  • They are confused. Whose house do we want to be at? We can’t decide because we want to be at both parent’s houses, and that isn’t an option.
  • They can feel unorganized because their stuff is everywhere. One day they want to wear a certain shirt and they realize it’s at the other parent’s house. That can frustrate them or make them angry.
  • They can feel insecure if they are at one parent’s house and they haven’t heard from the other parent via phone or text.

The situation that occurred the other night was a lesson that taught me something: the importance of selflessness, in other words, making it all about the kids and not about me at all.

It isn’t easy, but if your kids choose the other parent, here are some tips:

  • DO NOT take it personally. They LOVE YOU TOO, just as much as their other parent.
  • DO NOT make your children feel bad about their decision to be with the other parent. Fake it if you have to.
  • You are allowed to feel sorry for yourself for about 30 minutes. Then use the alone time to be productive or find some enjoyment by doing something fun or interesting.
  • Continually reassure your kids that they have two parents who deeply love them and that they are welcome at both of their homes unconditionally and whenever they choose.
  • Lastly, don’t take it out on your ex. It’s not his or her fault. It’s just divorce.


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Jackie Pilossoph

Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

Divorce is a journey. Live it with grace, courage and gratitude. Peace and joy are on the way! Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

4 Responses to “Divorce Advice: Don’t be Surprised or Hurt When Your Kids Choose Dad”

  1. John


    I am a single dad of four girls ages 8,10,13,16. They are great girls and I am so proud of them for their resiliency, compassion and understanding. It has been 4 years since their Mom left on the first day of their summer vacation and life “started over” for them. Thankfully, she (Mom) is as least back to being a presence in her life.

    I want to compliment and thank you for your reality based advice and your ability to understand and focus first on the feelings and health of the involved children.

    I just started reading your posts and articles and as almost a divorce veteran on the timeline I can tell you most authors really don’t get it, but you certainly do. I read your Sep. 6th post on “Don’t Be Surprised or Hurt When Your Kids Choose Dad” and if I have ever read anything that was dead on, practical, and supportive to a single divorced parent, that was it.

    Thank you so much. Seriously – if I realize one thing now it is that the relatively small amount of drama that I participated in at the onset of the single life still impacts my oldest two girls and I wish I would have read this article and was able to absorb that truth earlier. From day one it is on us to remove our personal hurt and perceptions of fairness, etc.. and focus on the wellness of the children.

    I look forward to further articles and guidance. Your perspective and writing style are awesome. And I think the smiling face wallpaper is a great touch – I know I am nearly recovered and in a good place cause a few years ago my first thought would have been there must be one inserted in there that was frowning. Thanks again!

    • Jackie Pilossoph

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I do think I get it, but I don’t always practice it. That is something that i strive for every single day of my life. We all know what’s right and wrong, doing it is what takes courage. You sound like a really good dad. Thanks again for writing me. Hearing from readers gives me amazing inspiration to keep writing, and the validation that I’m making a difference.

  2. ken

    Hi, I’ve been a strict dad and their mum left the kids initially. However, a year later, their mum wants them back. She’s doing a great job but I’m been deprive of contacting her and the kids don’t really reply to my calls, messages and even Facebook posts. The kids have the least interest of meeting up with me even just for dinner. I miss them very much and frankly speaking, I’ve been doingwhat a normal dad did like bringing them for holidays, talk to them etc. But somehow, I’ve been outcast by them. Their 13 and 9. It’s as though I lost 2 daughters.


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