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The Sleepover Dilemma


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? Still, I am sure that any therapist worth their salt could make a convincing link between the fact that I grew up without a Dad and the fact that I’ve only ever dated older men.

Regardless, 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 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: Flea doesn’t want to stay with her 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 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. And I think in time, it will seem a bit less new and strange.

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?  



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.

About The Author


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.


  1. Foodie Mummy

    It’s a very difficult one. Marie didn’t want and still doesn’t want to go to her dad’s. Unfortunately, he won’t listen to her and had court orders made so that she has to go there whether she likes it or not. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like you are in that kind of position. Flea is still young but she knows what she wants and if she doesn’t want to go, I wouldn’t make a big deal about it. It’s still very new and probably a bit scary for her. If she gets on with her dad, eventually, she will come around to the idea and probably enjoy it. Don’t worry too much about it. It was only the 2nd attempt. X

  2. Marylin

    Unfortunately I’ve never had the problem of the boys not wanting to go with their dad, and they seem happy as larry once they’re up at his. Mind you, they only get to see him at holidays as he’s 3 hrs away, so maybe that’s why? They’re excited to see him rather than missing me, know what I mean?
    It sounds like you’re going the right way about it though hon. Keep on trucking and once she’s used to seeing her dad more often, she’ll probably be less inclined to want to go home? Maybe? ish?

  3. Zelish

    Hi Sally,
    While I don’t have an ex husband to compare the situation to, I do have a husband who works away from home so he visits us on the weekend. Thus he has his own place to stay while working. My eldest who is seven, wanted to visit daddy and stay the night at daddy’s house. She adores her dad and he adores her… etc. However when I had packed her overnight bag and she was ready to go, she did it unwillingly and almost cried.
    I asked her if she did not want to go with dady she replied no, but she said she wanted mummy to be there too.
    I have come to the conclusion that my daughter is; For one too attached to her mummy and for two “Daddy’s house” isn’t her home, she doesn’t have her own bed there or her toys and other comforting items etc.
    Perhaps Flea, would like it if she had some of her favourite things at Daddy’s house, and if it’s okay withyou, perhaps Flea would like mummy joining them both for a sleepover!
    I’am sure you’ll come to better solution than I and that Flea will get used to spending many more nights to come at Daddy’s house.
    Just think of the child free nights to keep you motivated, and don’t give up.

  4. The Coffee Lady

    Well, I was in Flea’s position and just didn’t like staying with my dad because things were so different. I think late nights and sweets are all very well, but I just wanted a cuddle (and probably, though I would never have admitted it, a bit more cosiness and structure) and that wasn’t really something that he was as good at.

  5. Cheekie

    Toughie, for sure.
    I am a product of divorce, as is my son.
    I remember times that I did not want to stay with my dad, just because it was weird and different.
    I’ve never had that problem with my son, but he has gotten to the age where he says things like ‘I want to go to my dad’s’ or ‘I want to go to my mum’s’ when he’s upset at either of us.
    We don’t give him the choice. Not because we are dictators, but because we feel that respect and the other parents feelings are very important. Given the choice, he’d probably choose to have pizza every night of the week , too. So we take his age related fickleness with a grain of salt and tell him that he is going, and that it’ll be fine.
    Maybe if her dad did up a ‘special’ room for her, brought over some of her stuff, made it feel a bit more like home, she’d be less reluctant.
    At that age most kids just hate to part with their ‘stuff’ and maybe, just maybe, a bit of her is feeling bad for leaving you all alone. Maybe next time tell her you are going out to dinner with friends, so she doesn’t worry about you (kids are amazing worry warts).
    Don’t know what else to say, but make a routine and stick to it. She’ll be fine!!!!
    Luck n stuff

  6. kat

    I don’t have direct experience to share I’m afraid. My inclination would be to have the possibility of staying at his after a day together open so she can choose to if she wants to or come home if that’s what she would prefer. Hopefully in time this will lead to her being comfortable with the sleepover thing regularly.

  7. Lucia

    It’s not a divorce situation, but I didn’t even want to stay with my much-loved Grandma until I was about 10. I was just not ready to be away from my mum overnight. And then suddenly I was.
    I think you’re doing the right thing underplaying it and just keep trying now and then with no pressure. Frustrating for you though, when you need some space!
    Good luck.

  8. Lorraine The Party Times

    Not directly able to relate to as don’t have experience of this situation but would have thought best to act exactly as you are – don’t make a big deal of it and she will come round to realising how much fun she could have as long as you both agree not to put pressure on her –

  9. Sally Whittle

    No, fortunately Flea’s Dad is happy to take it at her pace, but still, he is upset and hurt – I guess he feels rejected. I think you’re right though that it’s mostly about it being new and strange. Flea doesn’t do well with new!

  10. Sally Whittle

    Yes, she’s always seen him regularly but because of the circumstances they’ve always had days out and treats and trips, I think the idea of ‘downtime with Dad’ is very new!

  11. Sally Whittle

    Yes, that’s really good advice.
    We’ve tried to make her room at Daddy’s seem like hers – I took over a huge box of toys when he moved, and we took her out to choose a new duvet for her room, and some teddies. Perhaps having some more familiar things might help.

  12. Sally Whittle

    I know – I hated staying at my Dads and when my Mum was working, I stayed with my grandparents while my brothers went to our Dad. I just didn’t like it.
    But I’m keen for it to be better for Flea if I can manage it – I had lost touch with my Dad by the time I was six, and we were never close at all. I didn’t even speak to him after I turned 10 or so, apart from a quick hello at weddings and funerals.

  13. Sally Whittle

    I think I’d feel the same as you if it was about being upset or scoring points – I don’t want her trying to play us off against each other. But this was genuinely being upset and Flea isn’t a child who cries easily or makes a fuss, as a rule.
    We’ve tried to make it easy by having her own room at her Dad’s with her own toys and books, and some special new bedding and so on. Doesn’t seem to helping, so far… but perhaps we should just be firmer.

  14. Sally Whittle

    Yes, I think I’m of a similar mind. Not nice for her Dad, though.

  15. Sally Whittle

    Thanks, fingers crossed she just decides to go for it!

  16. Nikki

    It’s a difficult one (I’ve no direct experience to help either) and she is still a quite young. I would encourage a little firmness if poss (as you’re right, it is hurtful for her Dad) and try making it a fait accomplit one time “Daddy’s really excited about having you over tonight as Mummy’s going out for the evening”.
    Or similar? Just a thought. Must be very hard though….
    Good luck!

  17. Amy @ Miss Cherry Red

    My daughter was exactly the same when it came to her spending time with her father. She didn’t want to go out with him, she cried every time. I managed to get it out of her that she was worried that she wouldn’t be coming home again and that she wouldn’t have Mummy.
    I wonder if Flea feels the same?
    Overnight must feel like a lifetime to a little girl without her Mum.
    But the only real advice I can give you is time.
    Everything will come in time.
    I know it’s difficult and can be frustrating for Dad but he’s doing the right thing working at Flea’s pace.
    If you make a big deal of it it’ll become something scary that Flea is frightened off and resistant to and neither of you want that.
    Perhaps you could build up to overnight visits… maybe Flea’s dad could pick her up first thing in the morning, spend all day at his house, playing and helping Flea familiarise herself in his new surroundings. He could cook her lunch before dropping her off with you again.
    Flea needs to feel as comfortable at her Dads as she does at home with you and that’ll only happen if she spends time there with him.
    I think if you build up to it she will, in time want to stay. Children are naturally curious and she’ll soon wonder what all the fuss is about.
    Good luck with it all xxx

  18. Tattie Weasle

    I think you guys are both doing fine and going at Flea’s pace is teh best way forward. The Boy used to hate change of any sort and it took two months to get him into his new bedroom. We just did it gradual and allowed himto make his own mind up while gradually encouraging him to take it further by for example getting him to have his story read in the room and then back to his old room to sleep etc. Eventualy when we thought his not wanting to move was reallay only for affect we drew the line and after a few tears that was it. (I hated the tears btw) He’s still a bit apprehensive about chnage but he’s not nearly as bad as he was! Flea will be fine.

  19. Becky (babybudgeting)

    Sally how about you go and stay at daddys too but spend the evening working and bunk down on the sofa later but let daddy do supper, putting to bed etc. I think themn Flea will know you are supporting her every strep of the way just like normal. You seem very much a team so if you do this together for a bit m sure she’ll get braver. You dont want to break her trust by forcing her, she’s just used to mummy

  20. Very Annie Mary

    I know she is young, but have you talked it through with her? I know obviously you have talked through the fact that she will stay over night, but have you/he told her the details? i.e. – you are going at five and then you and Daddy will go to the swings then when you come home (back the Daddy’s house) you will have bangers and mash for dinner and then you get a bath and into jammies and have cuddles with Daddy on the sofa until bedtime at 7:30? I know it sounds like overkill, but she needs to know exactly what to expect…and he needs to stick to it!
    You could also do what we call ‘unsleepovers’ – she can do everything up to bedtime – when Mommy comes and gets her – I would let her get ready at Daddy’s house if she will – bath, teeth, toilet, pyjamas. Then she will be ready for the next step and to be honest – he gets the best bit of her when she is awake and interacting with him and you at least get a chance to go out for a coffee in the evening!

  21. Sally Whittle

    It really is quite tough. I have to say, my instinct, knowing Flea, is that she’s not a kid that makes a fuss. And I feel somehow you’re breaking trust by forcing her. We’ll see – it’s early days.

  22. Sally Whittle

    Great advice, it’s what we’ve decided to do – spending the day at his flat, with me collecting her at bedtime. With a bit of luck, it might become more natural for her – fingers crossed!

  23. Sally Whittle

    Thanks, Tattie, I’m sure you’re right. It’s so easy to worry, though, isn’t it?

  24. Sally Whittle

    Would you think badly of me if I said I’d rather eat my own toenails than sleep in my ex’s flat? I actually don’t think I could do it. I’m such a bad mother.

  25. Sally Whittle

    I like the unsleepover idea – I think we’ll give it a go, thanks!

  26. Vic

    Has she got a cousin/family fried her age that she could have a sleepover there with? Sometimes these things aren’t as daunting when there’s someone facing them with you.

  27. Betty

    Being a child of divorce myself, I think either of you staying the night at each others is a recipe for TROUBLE! Every child imagines Mummy and Daddy will get back together. And Flea’s a smart cookie. If she realizes that she can get you two to spend more time together… she’s gonna work that angle.
    Soldier on! She’ll adjust. When she spends the whole day with her Dad, make sure he has a change of clothes for her just in case she decides to stay the night!
    Best of luck!

  28. elizabethm

    I separated from my child’s father when my kids were 3 and a half and eighteen months. They still saw a lot of their father and loved him dearly and the whole thing was a total nightmare of angst and guilt for years. The older was about 6 when they started sleeping at his house and I think they were helped by having each other for company as Vic suggests. We also did a lot of ensuring that they had their favourite things with them and crucially that there were some things that they liked which tended to happen at their Dad’s sligtly more than they happened at my house, in their case takeaway Pizza in front of the telly (I was too mean). I think you do need to behave as though staying there is fine and to combine letting her go at her own pace with telling her that she will like it when she is older. He also needs to behave with calm and confidence, not easy if her being upset makes him feel bad. Oh god, it is all flooding back now. Thank God they grew up and have ended up totally lovely and seem to get on fine with both of us. In twenty years it will all be fine………..

  29. susie@newdaynewlesson

    I haven’t read the other comments so don’t know if anyone said something similar.
    Since Flea is quite astute, i am wondering if Flea doesn’t know you are not going to be “upset” at having some you time. Try reinforcing how special she is and how nice it will be to have her back home again after the sleepover.

  30. craftmatic

    I agree that your environment should be conducive to restful sleep.
    I think it is even more important to prepare your mind and body for sleep.
    Old-fashioned though it may seem, my grandmother taught me to first, lie in bed and relax your body, starting with your toes and working up to your scalp, focusing on nothing else while you do this.
    Then, begin to clear your mind of that little voice that keeps reminding you of all the things you need to do tomorrow.
    Picture the dream you want to have. Decide where you want to go in your dream, picture it and focus on that picture.
    You will get better and better at this with practice.
    Try it. You’ll like it!!!


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