Dear Dr. Jann: My children are teenagers and often cancel when they are scheduled to come to my home. I don’t say much because I want them to WANT to come, but the truth is, it really hurts my feelings. Sometimes I have something I think they will enjoy planned and they call the night before. Father’s Day is in a few days and I’m expecting a phone call.  I want them to be here. What’s good ex-etiquette?

Dr. Jann: Sounds like you have fallen into the trap many non-custodial parents fall into—they don’t want to force their teenagers to visit, so they act understanding when their kids cancel.

Many have told me, “I remember how it was when I was a kid. I didn’t want to go see my dad/mom, either.” (That doesn’t make it right. And, the fact that your parents didn’t support your time with your other parent doesn’t mean that parents today should recreate that same mistake.) Kids have a right to have a relationship with both parents and it’s both parents’ responsibility to reinforce that relationship.

Taking it one step further, teenagers have told me that when a parent lets them off the hook, it translates into, “My parent doesn’t care if I go, anyway.” It does not translate to “cool parent.” It translates to “disinterested parent.”

When you hear those words, “I don’t want to go,” you must first access if the child is in danger.  If he is, then it’s understandable that he wouldn’t want to see the other parent and that should be explored.  If it’s just that he would rather be with his friends, that’s when it’s the custodial parent’s responsibility to put their own anger and resentment aside (Ex-Etiquette for Parents rule #5, “Don’t be spiteful,” and rule #6, “Don’t hold grudges.”) and reinforce the child’s time with the other parent.

This is when I hear, “Are you saying I should make my child go?”  This is my standard reply:

1. What do you say when your child tells you he doesn’t want to school?

Parents usually tell me, “I make him go.”

2. What do you say when your child says she doesn’t want to do her homework?

Parents usually say, “I make her do it.”

3. What do you say to your child when she says she doesn’t want to clean her room?

Parents usually say, “I make her do it.”

But, for some reason, when I child says he doesn’t want to go to the other parent’s home, all of a sudden, that’s okay?

The answer that supports the child’s time with dad is, “This is your time with your father. He looks forward to seeing you.” You put a positive spin on it because it’s in the best interest of your child to have a relationship with both mom and dad.

What should dad say if the kids tell him they don’t want to come?

“I look forward to seeing you. It’s Father’s Day, the day I get to celebrate that I am your dad. I can’t think of anything better than spending the day with you.”  No, “Okay, if that’s what you want to do,” and stay away from guilt trips like, “But I miss you so much…”  They backfire.  That’s good ex-etiquette.

Dr. Jann writes stories on great ex etiquette. Here is another story here for coParents.