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Custodial mother concerned that 5 year old child claims Dad told her she'll eventually live with him

Your Question:
I'm the custodial parent to a wonderful 5 year old. Her father lives out of state. After a recent visit with him, our daughter informed me that "her *real* home is in (his) state, and that the high schools and colleges are better there. When she goes to high school, her daddy will come pick her up and take her there." The phrasing of her speech was too unlike phrases she typically uses for her to have made up this stuff. While our agreement specifies he shouldn't speak negatively about me, there's nothing really derogatory here.

Though my daughter doesn't seem alarmed, I still don't feel this kind of conversation is healthy for her. I should mention, at this point, that her father and I merely exchange itineraries for her. Sending correspondence to him won't change his approach to the situation, but doing nothing won't help my daughter. Any advice? Thanks!!

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My Answer:

It's not often that I get an email that seems very objective and child-centered. Kudos to you for having that frame of mind, which is really going to benefit your daughter and help your own sanity.

I suggest three things:

  • Get the book "Divorce Poison", which I describe on my Book Reviews page. If what the child has reported is true, it indicates that the father is willing to engage in what amounts to alienation tactics and loyalty binds. The book gives you an excellent guide on how to be proactive to help insulate your child from it, and how to respond to her when she reports such things.

  • If you haven't already, get some kids' books that are age-appropriate for her. A couple that come to mind are "Two Homes" and "It's Not Your Fault, Koko Bear". You want to hammer to her that you want her to love both parents and feel safe with both parents. If you're saying this, she'll feel safe telling you any negative issues going on with Dad, since she knows you support her relationship with him (i.e., genuinely looking to you for help, rather than given you more reason to dislike him).

  • Write him a very matter-of-fact letter or email. Do NOT conclude that he told her this. Instead, report what she has told you. Express your concern that the child seems to believe Dad told her this, which is confusing to her, and you're not certain exactly what was told to her. Invite him to help clarify any aspect of it and thank him in advance.

That last item is a nonconfrontational way to express your concern about something a child is saying.

I don't think you should jump to conclusions that it was impossible for her to make it up. Perhaps she saw something on a TV show that gave her the language and idea. Perhaps she overheard her father say to someone, "The colleges and high schools are great here" and she put the rest of the pieces in place.

Young kids are pretty adept at trying different ways to force their divorced parents to get together and talk.

It's quite possible that everything happened exactly how you're concluding. But it's also possible that it didn't, and that's why it's worth a polite inquiry to Dad to see if he can clarify what's going on. If he ignores you, or if he affirms it, you have your answer. If he denies it, he's on notice that you already heard it once. If it continues, write me again. :)

But definitely get those books.

And, by the way, in case you haven't read much of my website, I think long-distance parenting plans are horrible for children. I encourage parents to figure out how to be near each other, and I think there's little that is a bigger priority.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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