My 4 Year Old Doesn't Want to Live with Me :(

Updated on May 04, 2016
A.B. asks from Jacksonville, FL
14 answers


My DD is 4. Im a single mom. My ex and I are really relaxed on visitation. Our DD pretty much decides with whom she wants to go and when. We only live 10 minutes from each other. I live alone and he lives with his mother (he is 35). Their house is the fun house. His mother pretty much takes care of him and our DD (she cooks meals, does her laundry, etc.). I am the disciplinarian, set limits, and handle all of the non-fun aspects of parenting (Doctor's appointments, daycare & activity registrations, checkups, etc.). As a single mom and without live-in help, I admittedly do not have time to sit and play with my DD for hours. I also try to teach her independence.

After a long day at work and after she gets home from school, I'm usually simultaneously running around making dinner, doing chores, preparing for the next day, etc. I give her lots of hugs and kisses and attention whenever I can in between the multitasking. Even though I want to teach her independence, I understand she is only 4 and she wants and needs my attention.

At my house she has a bedtime, I limit the junk food, and she has chores (to put her toys away and water her potted plants).

At dads house, it's a free-for-all. No bedtime (he literally fought me on it when I asked him to implement the same 9:00Pm bedtime at his house so we remain consistent). Both grandma and dad allow her to have chips for breakfast, stay up at all hours of the night, and play at all hours of the day. I get no back up on anything. DD basically lives a double life between households.

My issue:

Recently, DD has not been wanting to come home to me. She never wants to be with me, she says I bother her when I Facetime while she is at Dad's, and when she is home with me, she is constantly asking to go to Daddy & Granny's. It's to the point where when I pick her up from school she asks why I am the one to pick her up and not daddy or granny, and cries for them. She said it would make her happy to "come back only on weekends". My heart is broken. This has been happening for over a month now. Her weekends comment was even most surprising, because even though DD is extremely intelligent, I question if that is something normal for a 4 year old to say. I don't want to believe that Dad and Granny are putting these things in her head.

I want to think that this is just a phase, and can understand that as a child she will want to go where she can get away with anything and have fun. I wonder what I can possibly change to make her want to be at home with me more. But I struggle because there is only so much attention that I can give her when we are at home by ourselves. If I ask her dad to come over to keep her busy while I catch up on work or do do some chores around the house his first instinct is to take her back to his house with his mother. I feel like every waking moment that she is at home I have to be doing some activity with her to compensate for when I can't give her my undivided attention. There is no lying on the couch cuddling together watching TV, because she always has to be doing SOMETHING when she is at home with me. Yet when she's with Dad she'll sit quietly by herself and watch TV or play a game - even then she would still prefer to be there than with me.

Could this just be a phase? Is it wrong if I were to tell her "no, you can't go to Daddy & Granny because I want to spend time with you?" I never want to put her in a position where she feels that she has to choose, and I certainly don't want to guilt her into spending time with me.

Sorry for the novel

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So What Happened?

Thank you everyone for your great input and suggestions. She is at that inquisitive stage and she loves to help, so I will definitely have her help more cooking meals and make that a routine.

In response to one poster who said I do not do anything fun with her: actually, I do do fun things with her. We color, we paint, we play barbies, on weekends we drive to the "big park" and her favorite place is the beach - where we go together because it's sort of our special mommy/daughter place. The issue is that I do not have the time as a single mom to play with her for 2+ hours and give her constant attention on weeknights. That does not mean that I do not do anything fun with her, or that I would willingly give up custody and be a "weekend" mom. Either way, I do appreciate the time you took to provide input.

Featured Answers


answers from Boston on

Instead of FaceTime (time consuming) use that time to cook a lot of food, do laundry, mop---so that when she comes home she misses you and you can spend more time with her.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from San Francisco on

Oh my goodness PLEASE do not let a four year old decide when and where she wants to go! That's not her choice or her decision, it's yours. Make a regular, fixed schedule and stick to it. You certainly can't control what she does at her dad's but you CAN control what life is like with you. Of course she prefers no rules but do you really think that's GOOD for her? You are the adult, step up and be one and stop letting your emotions get in the way. Please, for her sake, you need to be a lot stronger and more mature than this.

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

I think you and dad need a set schedule of visitation. Kids need consistency. She needs to know exactly who will be picking her up from school on what days. Exactly what days she will be sleeping at mom's house or dad's house etc. She's 4. She shouldn't get to decide when she is at what house. That's an adult decision.

Try to make your time with her more fun when you can. Cook together, fold laundry together (make it a game). Pick one night a week where she gets to choose dinner. If it's ice cream, so be it. One night a week won't hurt anyone. As far as the 'only on the weekends' comment, maybe she heard that from a classmate. You and her father need to figure out a set schedule. ASAP.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

She's 4.
She doesn't get to make these decisions - and it's too much to put that responsibility on her.
You and her dad are the adults in her life and these decisions are made by you and him.
She doesn't get a say in it till she's much older - like 14 or 15.
Of course she's going to want to pick 'the fun house'.
Do what you can to involved her in helping you with tasks you need to get done.
You can make dinner together, etc.
Being a parent is tough - you can't let things like this get to you.
Make your own fun with her when you can.
Building a fort together is great fun.
You can use a cardboard box or pillows and blankets.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Never put a child 'in charge' of visitation.

You know what you need to do. Formalize a parenting/custodial agreement which allows *everyone*-- most especially your little girl-- predictability.
Really, this is like saying "my kid only wants to have dessert and I want her to eat good food but we let her choose because we don't want to be the hard-nosed adults".
Stop pretending it's 'all good'. Get a formal, written plan organized by the courts which proscribes how long your daughter spends with each parent/household, and where. Even better if they are consistent days of the week.

I am NOT a fan of abdication of responsibility. You shouldn't talk to her about your feelings regarding her visits because this is your stuff, not hers. I see a lot of people who seem to feel that 'feelings' should determine how life should go forth instead of using reason. It creates a sense of entitlement, "my feelings should be served at all times and I should never have to do anything I don't want to do". Watch out or you will end up spoiling this little girl via good intentions and raising a brat who expects far more from the world than she should. The adults need to grow up, understand that routine and predictability far outweigh 'her choice' when it comes to providing a personal foundation for her to grow on. You made a baby with someone you don't live with, that was the decision of yourself and your ex. Don't put these further decisions onto your child. I know a couple women who do this--- their kids are a mess because they are treated like roommates/little, 'independent' adults instead of actual children who need guidance. You said so yourself, that she needs more structure. Be the adult and get a written order of custody. That's the first step. It has nothing to do with what's going on at Daddy's house, everything to do with the fact that TWO parents need to stop giving her choices she should not for so many reasons, including your own emotionalism about this, because you are perceiving this as 'she doesn't like being with me' instead of 'whoops, this kid needs us to make this choice for her, because SHE'S ONLY FREAKING FOUR YEARS OLD. She needs the adults to be the boss. In the long run, you will be glad you upheld your rules and boundaries. Parents who try to be friends with their kids by making sure the kids 'like them' end up having children who don't understand boundaries and social norms.

ETA: If I seem angry about this, I am. I had a parent who kept telling me 'you can choose which parent you want to live with/if you want to visit your Dad' from when I was as young as 8. It is a horrible thing for adults to do to a child. There are no right answers and nothing to protect the child from feeling like they hurt one parent or another. No room for authentic, healthy choice. So unfair to children.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I'm going to be as gentle as possible while being straightforward. You do not let your 4 year old decide the visitation schedule. I totally understand the intent of it, but it's not working. Right now, my soon-to-be-ex and I live a mile apart. Our sons are 10 and 12. We do not have a set schedule, because they live with me full-time. They see their dad almost every day. He gets home from work first so unless he has something else he needs to do or they have practice or something else to go to, he picks them up from my house (where they go with the sitter after school) and feeds them dinner 3 nights out of the 4 Monday-Thursday nights and I cook dinner for them the other night. For Friday - Sunday night, we flex depending on what's going on or who has plans. They sleep at my house every week night, start every school day here, and sometimes sleep at his place on a Friday or Saturday night as schedules permit. This works for us in part because they spend every school night and school morning here, when schedule is most important, and because they are mature enough to realize that the free-for-all that happens at dad's house isn't great in the long run. But if they were 4, I'd probably be dealing with the same issues.

I think it's time for you and your ex to revisit this arrangement. If getting home from work and getting dinner on the table is a hassle, maybe have her have more dinners at his house but then she comes back to your house to go to bed. If his mom helps out and that gives him time to play with her after work while his mom cooks, then go ahead and let them have that time a few days a week. But then you pick up where his strength drops off, which is the routine of bedtime.

Either that, or settle into a few days on, few days off schedule that gives you a couple of days a week to grocery shop, clean and prep meals while she's at her dad's for a sleepover. Then when she is with you, your major chores will already be done and you can just heat up a dinner that you've prepped in advance and have time to spend one-on-one.

Right now, with an anything goes schedule, she's not getting the structure and predictability that she needs and too much decision-making is left up to her. Little kids need to know where they're going to be and when, and the adults need to be the ones who tell them. You can't control life at his house. What you can do is get a steady and predictable schedule in place that works for all of you.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

It's so hard to be the "structure" parent when the other one is the "party" parent. My husband has 2 children from his first marriage, and he struggled for years to NOT be the party parent and to discourage the kids from viewing the weekends that way.

But beyond that, your daughter is learning that, if she doesn't like something, she can bail out and head to the other house. That has to stop. It's not just because it's hard for you - but what will happen if she wants to run away from every hardship or bit of discipline? How will that work in kindergarten if she doesn't like what the teacher wants? Will she expect to go to the playground or another class? How about when she is in, say, Girl Scouts or on a team and doesn't like what the leader/coach says?

So this random visitation thing is NOT working for you. It's nice to be "generous" with the visitation, but going to the entirely unstructured other home (with a grandma who raised a son, apparently, without structure) is backfiring. So you need to establish a firm visitation schedule, ideally between the 2 of you and then just filed with the court. You can put up a calendar with blocks in different colors or the date circled or whatever. You must have other things that you do on a schedule - Monday is story hour at the library, Tues/Thurs are preschool, whatever. This is no different.

If you and your ex share alternate weekends and maybe he has a day or two during the week, then you both have time to plan on having time for housework/errands, and you have time for a social life. I don't think your ex should be watching your child at your house - this is your house with her, and not his job to parent her on your premises.

I think he and Grandma are in for a terrible time when your daughter starts school and she is up till all hours. Maybe a joint appointment with him and you and the pediatrician will help to establish the importance of a schedule, and maybe some discussion of nutrition (always have protein at breakfast, for example) and dental health. (I'm not sure but maybe one reason they can't get her to sleep at a decent hour is that she is is hyped up on junk.) But let that come from the professionals, and stop shielding Dad from the appointments.

Finally, don't let the words of a 4 year old "break your heart." She may or may not be fed some of these lines by the Party House Adults, but you cannot react to them and make her responsible for your feelings.

I'd sit down with a mediator or your lawyer, and work out a generous and reasonable visitation (and support agreement if that's not on paper either).

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

You're giving a 4 year old far too much power. She doesn't get to decide what she's going to do and who she's going to do it with.

By the way, you're not going to "guilt" her into spending time with you. She's 4. She isn't old enough to feel guilt. And if you continue with this, she will NEVER feel guilt because you'll be teaching her that she comes first and that no one but her matters.

Make dinners on the weekends when she's with her dad and pull them out and microwave them during the week. Keep her with YOU during the week when she needs a 9:00 bedtime. Stop trying to compensate for what's happening at the other house.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

I agree with the other posters that while it might seem like you are empowering her and giving her some comfort in knowing she can go to either house at any time, that arrangement isn't working well for you or her now. If you and your ex set up a specific custody and visitation schedule, you will solve one major source of the problem. Then, if she says she wants to go to dad and Grandma's, you can point at the calendar and say 'Today is Tuesday; in three days, on Friday, you will go to their house. Now, shall we get out the markers and draw some pictures together?' That way, you aren't being a 'meanie' or forcing her to stay with you (as a 4-year-old might see it); you are just following the schedule. I think you also can make some more time with her by cooking several days' worth of dinners when she is at their house and then you just need to heat up something on the work nights. Also, maybe she can help you with meal prep on work nights? She could put the salad ingredients in the bowl after you chop them and toss them together, put the plates and silverware on the table, put something in the microwave to warm, and so on. I bet she would get into helping you and you would be together.

Good luck with it!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I also am a lone mom taking care of my child during the week and balancing that with chores and a full-time work schedule. What I do is I save my chores for the days that my daughter is out with family, be it her aunt, the grandparents or on occasion, her father. It sounds like you have some days where she goes stay with dad and grandma, and then she has time with you. On the days that she stays with dad, do all the laundry and cleaning, grocery shopping -- get everything you can out of the way. Even on weeknights, you should be able to squeeze in an hour of fun time, like doing each other's nails or snuggling up on the couch to watch a movie with popcorn, going for a bike ride, or playing some games together. At that age, kids don't even really have homework.

Get some recipes that rely on the oven. During the time the food is baking you can dedicate time to her. Put some music and dance a bit, braid each other's hair, sing karaoke, whatever. Maybe you can even offer to bring a friend home from school so they can play for a bit and then have the child's parent pick her up. My daughter went through a phase where she wanted to have some time during the week to play with a friend, so once a week, the father of her friend would pick up both girls from aftercare and take them to his house to sing karaoke and play, then do some homework. He even invited us to eat dinner there. We would be home by 8:30 or so, shower, and then go to bed. This way, my daughter had a day of great fun and something to look forward to during the week, to break up the weekday monotony. I'd take both the girls to a movie on Friday night every now and then myself. Could you do something like this? It might make her appreciate you more and enjoy coming over if she gets to not just have some fun with mommy, but with a friend too, during the time she stays with mom.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

She does not have a say in the matter. If she complains you just have to ignore it for the most part and calmly remind her this is her week to spend time with you and that you would not give that up for the world. She is too young to make decisions like this and she just has to get used to things being different at both houses. She cannot choose. And you don't need to guilt her into anything. My daughter also always wants to be doing something (age 6). I have found that inviting a friend over after school once a week and sometimes on the weekend makes her really happy. She does not tell me she is bored and happily plays with her friend. You could try doing this every now and then. Your husband has the help of his mom. You have to do chores at the same time as caring for your daughter and that is just a part of life! Kids this age sometimes have a hard time with change, but with time she will get used to the way things are. When my daughter was 4 we moved and it has taken her 2 years to finally stop complaining constantly about how her old home and friends were better. It sounds like you are doing a great job as a mom...just don't let her complaining get to you personally.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Why would you allow a 4 year old to dictate her schedule? Seriously? I don't care how mature she is. Don't you think its a little strange that this started in the last month? Is her father or granny saying something to her?

You need to find time with your daughter. Trust me, the dust bunnies will be there tomorrow, you daughter will not. She will grow up.

Personally, its time for a schedule. You have lost control of this situation so you need to get it back. With a schedule, you will know what days you have to work with to get your chores done. That way when she is home, she will have more of your attention. Also, get her involved with whatever you are doing. Have her help pick up, cook. Whatever. Also crock pot is a girls best friend!!

YOU are her Mommy. Time to take make a stand. Good luck!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

So I think the other posters all seem to agree and although some responses are harsher than others, it seems pretty clear that you and your Ex need an established routine.

What you're doing used to work. Now it doesn't. So, that means you change what you're doing. I will say, it probably won't make all the problems go away. You are going to be in a for a long road just in the fact that you have two different households, not even considering that the other house is the "fun" house. As far as you "bothering" her when you FaceTime, although I get it and would be slightly hurt myself, it's just kid stuff. My husband travels for work a lot and the kids miss him. They talk about him, they hate for him to leave, they leap on him when he returns, but honestly, when he calls to talk to them, 9/10 times they are too busy for him. They say, hi/bye, gotta go! They're just kids, it's how they roll. Don't take it too personally and don't read into it for more than it is.

She's too young to understand guilt, that's why you need a routine. You need to have answers ready like well it's Monday and Mondays are mommy days but you'll see Daddy and Granny on Wednesday...then move on to other topics! And...the sad truth of motherhood is we get our feelings hurt sometimes. It's hard. We want to be loved just as much as we love those little people and although we are, they don't express it in the way we do...or the way we want them to all the time either! ;) If your ex won't agree to an established routine then you will need to prepare to get a lawyer and go to court.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

You do understand though, right? You tell her what to do.

Since you and ex have allowed her to be the boss you have pretty much lost her. Not for her life but for now. She should go live there and come to see you on the weekends. That way you can plan your time to do stuff with her and not have rules and bedtimes and you can both have some fun together because it sure doesn't sound like you do anything fun with her.

My sister went through this. At age 8 my niece hired an attorney file for her to live with her dad full time. When the judge asked her why she wanted to live with her dad she basically said "I don't want to be a Jehovah's Witness" so the judge granted her petition. It's pretty much unheard of at that age but she was very specific and just didn't want to live under strict rules that didn't mean anything to her. Her dad let her go to the Baptist church with all her school friends.

My sister had to rethink her whole world. She started realizing that she never did anything fun with her daughter and that she was the opposite of the fun parent. So on her weekends they'd do girls night, spend all hours watching movies and eating popcorn, go places they could do things like...Frontier City. What mom decides to go to an amusement park with her child just for fun? That's what weekend dad's do.

My point is that your post makes it sound like you do your job, being mom, and don't spend fun time with her that she needs from you too.

I do suggest that grandma is a wonderful asset and hopefully will temper this guys lackadaisical lifestyle.

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