What Do You Do When a Child is Overly Attached to One Parent?

when a child is overly attached to one parent

By Jackie Pilossoph, Founder, Divorced Girl Smiling, the place to find trusted, vetted divorce professionals, a podcast, website and mobile app.

A really really hard part about getting divorced with young kids, is helping them adapt to going from Mom’s house to Dad’s house and back. It’s brutal, and I can still vividly remember how much it hurt, watching my kids at 3 and 5 try to figure out why this was happening. There were many times one or both didn’t want to go to Dad’s house or didn’t want to come back to Mom’s, or they became overly attached to one of us at different periods of their lives. So, what do you do when a child is overly attached to one parent?

First, let me validate what you might be feeling. If you are the parent who the child is overly attached to, the guilt can tear your heart apart. (Not that you should feel guilty, I’m just telling you how I felt. Feeling guilty is non-productive and negative and toxic and not justified!) That said, watching your child cry when they have to go to Dad’s (or Mom’s) and they are begging you to stay with you, is awful. It feels like your heart is being torn out of your chest. You actually want to beg your soon to be ex to let your child stay with you. And, if you do beg, and he agrees, then you feel awful the entire time your child is with you because you know he/she should be with Dad.


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Moving on…what if you are the parent who the child isn’t overly attached to? That might feel even worse! I can remember times when one or both of my kids cried after coming home from Dad’s house because they missed him. It was awful. I felt hurt, I felt jealous. I felt like they didn’t love me as much. I felt angry about it. And, I felt insecure. You start to get these feelings of: Is he more fun? Is he a better parent? Where have I gone wrong? It’s the worst.


So, why do children of divorce sometimes become overly attached to one parent? Here are five possible reasons:

1. They are worried about or feel sorry for the parent. Maybe a dad is living in an apartment and the child sees that he is not in the home anymore and wants to try to protect the parent.
2. They might feel insecure, like if they don’t stay with Dad he might move on and leave them (since he’s not living in the house.)
3. They might see their parent in a new relationship and feel threatened and therefore insecure.
4. It might not necessarily be the parent who the child is overly attached to, but rather that they are having a hard time adapting to going back and forth and having two houses.
5. It might be a control thing, where the child wants to show that he/she can make their own decisions.
6. A kid can feel unorganized because their stuff is everywhere and the stress of remember what to bring–school supplies, athletic gear, etc. can feel overwhelming.



7. It could have something to do with gender. For example, little boys love their daddies. They look up to them and want to be like them. Junior high age girls need their moms. Actually, they hate their moms (LOL not really) but they need them more then ever!

So, I have a few tips for what to do when a child is overly attached to one parent.

1. The biggest tip is: IT’S NOT PERSONAL!!

Please realize that your child loves each parent the same, and if they are overly attached to one parent at times, it’s because of some other reason–not you! It’s perfectly OK to feel sorry for yourself for a little while. You are entitled to grieve how hard this is. Just know when to stop and move forward.

2. Try to be patient.

Realize that this is just a phase and part of the divorce process.It won’t always be this way.

3. Welcome your child back with open arms, even if you know they would rather be with Dad right now.



4. If your child is begging to stay with you…

be positive and say things like, “You are going to have so much fun! Daddy loves you so much and is really looking forward to seeing you, and you will be home before you know it.”

5. Make sure to tell your kids, “Mommy is really busy and has so much to do while you are at Dad’s, so don’t worry. I’ll be fine!”

6. Show your kids lots of affection–

hugs and kisses to assure them that when they go to the other parent’s house, you still love them just as much and you will be here to welcome them home with open arms.

7. Therapy is wonderful for a child who is overly attached to one parent.

8. Try to get along with your ex…

and be really nice to each other in front of the kids. This will help so much with transitioning back and forth from house to house. Think about it, if you’re mean to your ex, your kids might get upset at you, or they might take sides and feel afraid or resentful of him/her.


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9. Talk to your kids.

Communication is key. It is healthy for them to express their issues. Listen to them and validate their feelings. Say, “It sounds like it’s hard for you to have two houses. I understand your pain. I’m sorry you are hurting.”

10. Forgive yourself for the divorce.

Remember that your kids being overly attached to one parent isn’t your fault! (even if you are the one who wanted the divorce.)

We all have a tough time seeing our children in pain. It’s the worst. Just remember that it is temporary. If both parents are loving, the kids are going to do just fine.

Like this article? Check out, “6 Benefits of Mediation for Kids”


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    Jackie Pilossoph

    Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

    Jackie Pilossoph is the Founder of Divorced Girl Smiling, the media company that connects people facing with divorce to trusted, vetted divorce professionals. Pilossoph is a former NBC affiliate television journalist and Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press features reporter. Her syndicated column, Love Essentially was published in the Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press and Tribune owned publications for 7 1/2 years. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University. Learn more at: DivorcedGirlSmiling.com

    4 Responses to “What Do You Do When a Child is Overly Attached to One Parent?”

    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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