When a Child Doesn’t Want to Sleep at Dad’s

what do you do if kids won't stay over at Dads?

What do you do when a child doesn’t want to sleep at their Dad’s after a divorce?

I’m a big believer that little girls need good Dads.

I’ve no special knowledge to back this up – unless you count the fact that I’ve seen Father of the Bride three times. Does that count?

Although we’re divorced, I really encourage Flea’s Dad to be around, and spend time with her whenever he can. I was pleased when he moved to live a bit nearer to us, as it’s finally made it possible for Flea to spend the night at his place. Up until now, he’s lived hundreds of miles away, and Flea’s been too young to travel to stay with him. I’m super in favour of co-parenting.

I will admit, selfishly, there’s a little part of me (okay, a massive part of me) hopping up and down with glee at the thought of having a WHOLE night once a week without the responsibility of a child upstairs.

There’s just one tiny problem: my daughter doesn’t want to stay with her Dad.

Why do kids refuse to sleep over with their dad?

There’s no particular reason that I can think of for this. Flea adores her Dad, he adores her in return (obviously) and they get along really well. He’s much less strict than me, so time with Daddy tends to involve more late nights, more sweets and lot more TV than Flea gets access to anywhere else.

But when I went to drop Flea off for her second overnight visit with her Dad this week, she got very upset and asked me to take her home. In the end my ex-husband came back to our house with us, and stayed in Flea’s room while Flea bunked in with me. Which is fine, but it’s really not what I had in mind for my evening.

My first guess is that there’s an issue of unfamiliarity. Little kids like it when things are the same. Staying at her Dad’s flat is a new thing, a break with routine. She isn’t thrilled.

My second theory is that my child is exerting control. In my limited experience, children like to find things they can control. And then make demands.

Also – and more worryingly – it might be about her Dad. Flea and her Dad get along reasonably well but their time together can be a bit fraught. Flea is lively and wants to feel secure, and her Dad can be a bit emotional and needy. It makes sense. He doesn’t see her often. He wants it to be special. Too special. Sometimes I think Flea feels that pressure and responds to it by wanting her own space.

What to do if kids don’t want to stay with their Dad

My inclination is not to push Flea or to make this a ‘thing’. I’ve downplayed it and said it’s fine, and of course whatever she wants to do is fine with both of us, but I’m sure she’d have loads of fun with her Dad. In time, it hope it will seem a bit less new and strange.

I think on the one hand it’s important to show kids that they are ‘heard’ and respected. They’re entitled to opinions and feelings and where possible, we will accommodate them and find ways to make her happy. Although Flea is young, she is entitled to autonomy and agency, as the kids say.

At the same time, Flea has two parents and her Dad has a right to spend time with her, and it’s important Flea spends time with him. We are working on something of a compromise and Flea is spending more time at her Dad’s in the day. I collect her at bedtime, so Flea can (hopefully) relax and enjoy time with her Dad without worrying that she won’t be able to go home at bedtime.

The plan is to gradually extend time spent in the house. We have also taken her to choose books and bedding for her room at her Dad’s place. I’m hoping that at some point she will be tired and comfortable and will just ask to stay over.

Still it’s the first time I’ve faced this situation and I’d really appreciate advice from those of you who have been through the divorced parenting thing. What do you do if your kids are reluctant to stay with your ex?


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