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Is It Okay for Child to Travel Between Family Members?
Q: I am a 23-year-old single mother of a four-year-old. I work full time and go to school two nights a week. My son's father sees him about twice a week (one day being when I go to work and then to school). My son also spends time with his grandparents on his father's side every weekend. There is a lot of mutual love between my son and his father's relatives, but is it healthy for him to be moving around so much (between preschool, me, his father, and his grandparents)?
Going to grandma's house or seeing his father is like a fantasy world for him, where everything's fun. I'm concerned that this could have a negative effect on our relationship. My heart breaks when he wants to stay with his grandmother and not come home with me. Am I doing the right thing?
A: Your son has a very secure, stable routine and you are not "moving him around so much"; you are giving him access to loving, stimulating environments. It's natural that he would balk at leaving his grandparents' house -- what young child wants to leave "fantasyland"? Don't take it personally when he wants to stay with his grandparents and not leave with you. Under similar circumstances, most kids would respond in the same way.
You may want to enlist your in-laws in helping your son prepare for your arrival. They might help you out by talking positively about your coming to pick him up and reminding him about all the great things that he did with them. They may unconsciously like the fact that he makes a big fuss about staying with them. Appeal to their good nature, explaining how you feel about this without putting them on the defensive.
Your four-year-old is too young to appreciate the struggles that you are going through to make a better life for him. But he does know that you are a constant loving presence in his life and as he ages he will appreciate more and more what you are doing for him. Your growing son will be proud of his mom and you are setting a wonderful example for him. Don't be so hard on yourself. I applaud your efforts and your spirit.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.