4 year old, Shared custody, Heartache
March 5, 2014 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Our daughter frequently wants to go back to her moms house when we have her. How can we help/cope? Background and details inside.

Background - Our lovely, sensitive, highly intelligent, drama queen 4 year old little girl currently goes back and forth between Mom and Dads house. I am Step-Mom, and have been since she was about 1 1/2. Daughter is the center of my universe - I know that I love her the same amount as I would my eventual bio-kid. She has a Step Dad as well, he has three young kids part time. The two households have good communication, Mom and I are very good friends, and even though Dad and Step Dad and NOT friends, nor will they ever be, they are civil and polite to each other. We have Daughter every other weekend, and Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning. They have her for a little bit more time than we do, but weekends we don't have her she stays with grandparents because both Mom and Step Dad work.

Our current living situation is not ideal - we have had to live in a room at a friends house since January of 2012, and won't be able to afford our own place until 2015. The house rules are pretty strict because the owner has severe OCD, we can't have anything of ours outside our room, and can't really keep food in the house. He also keeps the house insanely cold, for most of this brutal NE winter he's had the heat totally off - the only room that is warm is ours, so we tend to stay in there. We have plenty of toys/books/crafts/TV/computer in the room. Unfortunately our budget doesn't really allow for us to take Daughter out to do things when we have her, so we engage and entertain the best we can with what we have. There is nowhere else for us to live at present, there are no other family or friends that have room for us.

Lately, there have been a lot of statements from Daughter along the lines of "I want to go back to Moms house", and difficulty getting her to leave her Mom's without her getting upset when we pick her up. Realistically, we understand that she's 4, and it's not easy for her to understand the complexity of why she has to go back and forth. All 4 parental figures have had talks along the lines of "Mommy and Daddy used to fight a lot when they lived together, so it's better for everyone if they live apart", and "We both love you very very much, and so we have to share you so we can all spend time with you". Emotionally, we can't help but feel hurt when she says these things over and over. When we ask her why she wants to go back to Moms, the response is usually "because I miss her so much", and we've been using Facetime with Mom when this happens to help with the feeling of missing her.

I suppose my questions are as follows -

- What can we do to help with the whole wanting to go back to Moms all the time, and having Daughter be happier to be at Dads? We realize that all kids go through mom/dad phases.

- What coping tools can Dad and I use to help us not hurt so much when she seems to prefer Moms house so much more? Dad is especially sensitive to this, I have a bit more emotional understanding because I grew up in a split household.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think this is a mom/dad phase. It sounds like it legitimately sucks at your house. And little kids are naturally attached to their moms, especially if the mom has primary physical custody. I realize there's not much you can do about that right now. But rather than continue to have her be miserable, maybe you could change your visitation to short, fun outings somewhere else? It's not the same as hanging out at home but hanging out at home clearly isn't working for her. I think you have to give her what she needs. My dad's place was perfectly comfortable but at that age I felt utterly forlorn to be away from my mom and main home. I would have been a lot happier with shorter visits where I got to sleep in my own bed at night.
posted by HotToddy at 10:18 AM on March 5, 2014 [72 favorites]

This living situation sounds absolutely dismal. Could the two of you find a roommate/some roommates and move elsewhere? (I know you said no friends/family have room - but what about roommates who aren't friends or family?) A single room would be an incredibly boring, claustrophobic space for a 4-year-old.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 10:18 AM on March 5, 2014 [23 favorites]

That's hard about the living situation and I wouldn't want to stay there either. I wonder if Dad might be reading too much into the emotional side and not enough into the practical. "I miss Mom" might not be so frequent if you weren't all stuck in one room.

As a mostly broke parent I don't grok

Unfortunately our budget doesn't really allow for us to take Daughter out to do things when we have her

because there are endless things to do out of the house with a kid that are totally free. I get every cent meaning something, but once you are in the loop for this stuff, carpooling situations appear out of nowhere and your kid gets used to eating nuts from a baggie in your purse instead of buying snacks at the thing, etc. Hard to suggest specific whatnot without knowing if you are urban/suburban/rural and what transportation is like, though.
posted by kmennie at 10:20 AM on March 5, 2014 [25 favorites]

On previewing, have to agree that most anybody would prefer to be somewhere else besides being confined to a single room for a whole weekend at a time. All the explaining in the world about parental dynamics isn't necessarily going to make it better that being at Dad's kinda sucks. But you know there's an end in sight, right? Make plans for then. Move heaven and earth to make sure that move out date is as soon as it humanly can be. In the meantime, budget should not mean that there is literally nothing you can do to get out. Park? Library? Other friends/family to visit?
posted by Sequence at 10:20 AM on March 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

Are you SURE it's really a preference for her mom and not just a preference for her mom's house? Your living situation sounds extremely stressful and unpleasant to put it mildly, so I wouldn't be surprised if she is upset by that and just not expressing it artfully.
posted by gatorae at 10:21 AM on March 5, 2014 [18 favorites]

Make a blanket/pillow fort in a corner of your room.
posted by disconnect at 10:27 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

My inclination on reading this is:

*You absolutely have to move. Absolutely. This is not a good place for anyone.
but especially not for her. It sounds boring and stressful to me, even as I'm reading it --- boring out of not being able to do anything and stressful in having to worry about not doing anything to upset this other person.

*Is there anything that you can do that is not staying around the house? Do you have a public library with a children's room nearby? Could you just go on car rides to places with pretty views? Is there a weekend activity that her parents could sign up her up for jointly that falls to the responsibility of that family on each weekend --- swim lessons, dance lessons, gymnastics? A local pond used for ice skating? A mall playspace where you can get a small treat or lunch after? Anything? There has got to be something that she can look forward to doing when she's with you. Until you figure out that (and move --- hopefully move --- much sooner than another year), I think you're going to have to contend with a really bored child who in part misses mom because she's bored.....
posted by zizzle at 10:28 AM on March 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

Agreed that the living situation does sound stressful. Maybe you can ask next week for ways to maximize your budget/earning ability--it's amazing to me how often there is wiggle room that people just don't see. If you really can't move, then take your daughter out to a park at the very least.

Please also be aware that split custody like this is pretty much inevitably awful for kids. I hated going to my dad's every other week, even though he lived next door to a water park (seriously). I hated leaving all my stuff and my mom and having my friends be more than a five-minute walk away. Split custody is pure selfishness on the part of the parents. That's not to say that you shouldn't do it, but please don't be surprised that it makes the kid unhappy.
posted by chaiminda at 10:29 AM on March 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

Nthing that it is your living situation, not a rejection of Dad and Step-Mom. I'm an adult and I'd go legitimately bonkers living like you do. It's a lot to ask of a four-year-old to stay confined to one room in a freezing cold house ruled over by a grumpy tyrant (your housemate) for an entire weekend.

I think you should treat "get out of this living situation" as an emergency. Do everything in your power to find another place to live. Your state probably has some kind of assistance, and your husband is a shared-custody parent so he and you would be entitled to more than if you were childless. Can you take an extra shift at work, or one of you get a second job? You must brainstorm every possible and probable way to get the hell out of that house ASAP.

Meanwhile, there has to be free stuff to do to get out of that house with the kid. Is there a park nearby? Any kind of zoo or museum that has free/reduced price admission days? Libraries tend to have wonderful and free or very cheap programs for kids of all ages. Or, heck, just bundle up, head for the library and spend some time reading together. Or go out in the back yard and make snowmen. Anything to get out of that house.

It's hard on kids to shuttle back and forth at age four; but your house sounds absolutely unendurable. Move. In the meantime, find free or cheap things to do that take you away from the house as much as possible.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:32 AM on March 5, 2014 [17 favorites]

I have to say that being stuck in a small single room within a freezing house occupied by a (possibly non-friendly, intimidating stranger), and no food (!) sounds horrible to me, and I'm an adult. It's easy to see how this situation could take on haunted-scary-house proportions for a four-year-old.

I agree with the suggestions that you might want to rethink your custody arrangement to provide for shorter outings until you are able to provide a safer emotional space for the child.
posted by lalex at 10:34 AM on March 5, 2014 [16 favorites]

Not only is your living situation not ideal, it sounds awful not only for a four year-old, but for anybody. The person you're living with sounds controlling and unstable and kids can sense that stuff a mile away. And I say this as someone with two people close to me who have OCD who do not exert that kind of control on the people around them.

You have to move. You say it's not an option but you need to make it an option yesterday. Pick up another job or two or three. Get roommates who aren't friends or family. You can take all the field trips you want but the kid does not want to be in that house and frankly, I can't blame her. I have a nephew who is 3 1/2 and he is the sweetest, most considerate little guy I have ever met and I shudder to think what would happen if I tried to keep him in a room with me for more than a few minutes if he didn't want to be there. He would be scared. Heck, I'd be scared to live in those circumstances.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:36 AM on March 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

Just want to pop in and say that as a child of divorce, I don't agree that split custody is selfishness on the part of the parents.

Yes, it's not always fun and is frequently disruptive, for a child to have to move back and forth, but (IMHO) it's so important that a child has that opportunity to experience life with both parents and build the kind of relationship that can only be built when you spend significant time together.

In the meantime, definitely find things to do. Most museums have at least one pay-what-you can day per month. If there's a children's theater in your town ask if you can volunteer usher. I know my local Y offers financial aid and scholarships so all children can participate in activities. Just hanging out in the park (not easy to this past winter) can be awesome.
posted by brookeb at 10:42 AM on March 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

I don't think that you are set up to have this 4-year old over to your place overnight. I am having a very hard time wrapping my head around the food thing along with the other details that you mention. The only reasonable answer here is to restructure the visitation time until you guys are in a drastically better living and financial situation. I imagine that your step-daughter will respond positively to this approach.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 10:42 AM on March 5, 2014 [15 favorites]

I think it has nothing to do with the back and forth, and nothing to do with her relationship with the two of you. It has EVERYTHING to do with your unhealthy living situation. Sit down and think to yourself what kind of experience your step-daughter is having when she is staying with you. Seriously. It sounds like prison. A very confusing, unhappy, claustrophobic prison. It sounds like a prison for adults, and I can only imagine how she is experiencing it. I get that you guys try your best to have fun with her in your one room but this is not a healthy living situation for anyone, let alone a four year old. I know you say you can't move out on your own until 2015 and maybe that is the case, but maybe it isn't. I would look REALLY hard in to finding a way to move. Maybe you could make some changes, maybe pick up another job, and then be able to afford to live someplace less miserable.

I hate to say this but if your one room in a until with an unstable person is absolutely the best you can do, then maybe it is best for your daughter to stay with her bio-mom for the time being. Your living situation is not good for her. If you want what is best for her then I think this is your only option. Once you guys get a healthier, more stable, kid-friendly living situation then you can readopt your shared custody plan, but until then I think you need to do what is best for the child involved.

FWIW I'm a step mom too and we have shared 50/50 custody.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:46 AM on March 5, 2014 [37 favorites]

Not to pile on, but your living situation sounds terrible for anyone -- especially for a child. It's not surprising in the least that she prefers her mom's place.

If you truly are not able to get your own space, I would suggest letting her stay at her mom's full time but that you and her dad take her out on the weekends. If you Google "[your town] free kid activities" you should be able to find stuff to do with her that doesn't cost much, or indeed, anything.
posted by sutel at 10:50 AM on March 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

also, agreeing with there being a ton of free activities for kids out there. Just going for walks or going to the library or visiting a local park. Seriously. There is a ton you can do with her for free that is outside of that room. Again, I really think you need to hand over custody to her bio-mom starting now, but if you are adamant that you guys continue to make her spend every second weekend in that room then you NEED to get her out of that room as much as you can. Pack a lunch and LEAVE. If I were you I would be doing everything I humanly could to minimize how much time she spends there.

Also, continuing to force her to stay there in the room is likely going to be a lot more damaging to her relationship with you two than handing off split custody for a stint so that you can get your life together.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:55 AM on March 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Oh man, anonymous, if you lived in my area, I would invite you and the kiddo over to my house as much as possible, that sounds absolutely miserable.

But I have also been in complicated/roommate-ridden living situations, as well as flat busted broke, so believe me when I say that I am not being judgemental towards ya'll at all. You have to do what it takes to survive and keep a roof over your head.

And with winter Refusing to Die, you can't even go outside, so it's not surprising that the kiddo is griping. And maybe leaving the house is not about money but about lack of transportation/being too cold to bike or walk?

So I would suggest (without knowing the particulars of your situation):

1. See if you can either skip visitation or make it shorter/in an outside location (church? Girl Scouts then cheap dinner? Museum?), at least until the weather abates. If the mom is working with you, she should understand. And it will also let the girl know that you are listening to her and value her comfort (regardless of what you and her dad are willing to put up with).

2. Try to speed up your apartment/house hunt any way you can.

3. Once it's warmer, have most/all your interaction with the kiddo outside your home as long as you live with the Worst Roommate Ever.

Though it's hard, you have to put her first, and that house is not a great place for her. It's complicated because of all the politics in step/ex-relationships, but she's the priority here.
posted by emjaybee at 10:58 AM on March 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

I think PuppetMcSockerson makes a great point: forcing your child to spend every weekend in that room in that house might well damage her relationship with you all around. She's four, which is too young to process reasons why Dad and StepMom might have to live there. All she knows is that it's a cold, cramped and dismal prison that everyone has to huddle in for fear of Scary Unstable Housemate. And you don't want her to start permanently associating Dad with misery and fear.

If it is absolutely, positively, that house or the streets, then it might be best to let Mom have more custody until you are in a position to provide Daughter with a better home environment. You can stress to Mom and StepDad that this is temporary and you are going to move mountains in order to get yourselves into a good living situation so you can resume shared custody. In the meantime, you can spend time with Daughter outside of the house with free or cheap activities. Even if all you can do is go to the library - well, you and Daughter are spending quality time together in a nice place, which is an improvement on a cold, cramped, prison-like room with parents who walk on eggshells to appease Scary Roommate.

You have to put your daughter first. This may mean not seeing her as much as you would like until you get your living situation sorted out.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:03 AM on March 5, 2014 [24 favorites]

Since you have a decent relationship with Mom and Stepdad, would they be amenable to having you do things with your daughter at their house? Maybe you could babysit at their house, on the weekends that they currently go to the grandparents?

"We both love you very very much, and so we have to share you so we can all spend time with you".

This kind of jumps out at me as possibly problematic. It could be setting her up to feel like she has to be torn in 4 different directions with parents and step-parents, and it's her obligation to be "shared" and make everyone happy. That is a big burden for a child.

The focus should be on what's best for her - if she's telling you repeatedly over time that it's upsetting to switch houses so much, then that's more important than just getting as much time as you can. And I would say that even if you were living in a mansion.
posted by nakedmolerats at 11:07 AM on March 5, 2014 [23 favorites]

Expecting a 4 year old to endure a living situation that not even her parents find comfortable or nurturing is absurd. She's 4. She needs to be somewhere warm, safe, and open. You need to move if you want to hold up your end of the custody agreement.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 11:14 AM on March 5, 2014 [22 favorites]

A kid is just a small person. This is a small person who has to leave a pleasant, happy living situation and go to an unpleasant, unhappy living situation. I think, respectfully, that you are understating when you say "not ideal." If she had to sleep on a couch and couldn't have her own room, that would be not ideal. This is more than not ideal; this is one room for three people where she doesn't apparently ever get to leave or get outside the house and where, if she steps outside the room, she's in an unheated house.

The good news is that from what you've said here, I don't think you should take this personally as a reflection of how much she loves you or Dad. The bad news is that I do think you should take it as evidence that she is miserable and needs something to change. Whether it means daytime visits until you have a reasonable place for her to stay overnight, whether it means taking her out to do things that are free, this has to change, because she's unhappy. And you seem to have really, really good intentions, but what this looks like is not someone who is rejecting you and Dad, but someone who is quite understandably rejecting life as three people living in one room under stressful conditions where you're all walking on eggshells all the time.

I think it's one of those "I'm itching over here and you're scratching me over there" situations. You're earnestly trying to solve a problem that may be different from the one you have. I feel for you; you love her and you're doing the best you can, and lacking the funds to get in a better living situation is awful. But I think she's telling you something hard to hear, and the most loving thing you can do might be to hear her as peaceably as you can. Not hearing it a statement of how she feels about you, but as a statement of what she needs.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:15 AM on March 5, 2014 [29 favorites]

Can you contact a mod and ask them to add an update with your location? You might be able to get specific suggestions for free/cheap outings if we knew your general whereabouts.
posted by moxiequz at 11:18 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fix your living situation. I wouldn't want to stay with you either and I can't blame your daughter for feeling that way.

"won't be able to afford our own place until 2015"

I don't see how this is true in any sort of absolute sense. Start looking for new jobs or move to a new town or stay with one of your parents or *something*. You may have some special situation that you're dealing with but I think it's unlikely that you are as inextricably tied to your current situation as you say.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:24 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

But I think she's telling you something hard to hear, and the most loving thing you can do might be to hear her as peaceably as you can. Not hearing it a statement of how she feels about you, but as a statement of what she needs.

I had a long answer written out, and just deleted it upon reading this from Linda_Holmes on preview. This is the perfect distillation of both the reality of the situation, and the way to approach it in terms of coping with the pain of feeling rejected by your daughter. She needs something she's not presently receiving. This is not a statement about her love for her father, but simply a reflection of how a 4-year-old is going to process the reality of very difficult living conditions. I think if you can both start framing it that way, it might take away at least some of the sting of her reactions, and will also point the way toward real solutions that will help your family now and in the future.
posted by scody at 11:28 AM on March 5, 2014 [14 favorites]

I totally understand your frustration and feelings of hurt, especially since a 4-year old can't really convey nuance just yet, so the statement of "I miss my mommy and I want to go to mom's house!" can hit right in the breadbasket.

Sure, this could be a mom-preferred phase... or it could be as people noted in this thread that it's the housing situation she finds unpleasant, and she doesn't have the vocabulary or maturity to articulate this yet.

I had a similar situation occur last week. My stereo system recently blew in my car, and my wife and I split taking our 4 year old to day care and picking her up after work.

Like clockwork, ALL of a sudden she suddenly is extra-missing mommy in the AM and she wants mommy to pick her up after daycare "because she misses her soooo much." Which I'm sure has nothing to do with no music or DVD player in my car. /sarcasm.

It hurts. Hell, it still stings a tiny bit for me even knowing that it's a simple preference over the amenities in mommy's car vs. my car, but be patient, understanding, read the advice about outings and such in this thread.

Not that you need to be told, but do what's best for her, and come at this from the angle of what you would want in her shoes, and I have a sneaking suspicion that everything will turn out just fine.
posted by Debaser626 at 11:28 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I read your question and immediately thought what everyone else is saying above -- that this is a terrible living situation, and that's the root of the problem. I'm not clear on why on earth you can't move until at least 2015 - even if you have a lease. Agree that getting out of here and into your own place (or a better shared situation) is your top priority. Have you looked into public housing assistance (sometimes called Section 8) or similar? As a family with children (I'm assuming you actually have 50% custody here, vs. just weekend visitation) you will get priority. Are you paying rent for this terrible situation? If so, I'm certain that you can pay rent in a shared place (even via Craigslist or similar) that would be better for this child than the place you are in now.

Also, there are tons of free/cheap things you can do with a four year old. Heck, even just going to McDonald's, spending a buck on a cup of coffee, and letting her run wild in the playplace for an hour or so would probably improve her experience. Go to the library! (And then ask them for suggestions on other free resources, I'm sure they can help.) Does your Mall have a children's area? If so, take her there. Is there a children's museum near you? See if you qualify for a "scholarship" membership (I bet you do). Same for your local YMCA - their mission is to provide access for all families, and I have no doubt that if you are really that broke you will qualify for a 100% subsidized membership, which would provide more options for your entire family. If you're somewhere snowy I know that outside isn't an option right now (it really isn't here for more than short bursts) but if you poke around I'm certain you can come up with some better options than the three of you stuck in one room for hours and days on end.

It also strikes me that this child has a lot of transitions and very little stability -- she has home, then your place, then home, then grandparents place, then home, then your place again .... she's bouncing around all the time and that has got to be stressful for her, particularly since, at 4, she doesn't have good time sense yet. If your communication is really as good as you say it is, I think that talking with the other parents about finding a way for your daughter to stay in place in her own home, and having the adults rotate through as caregivers is probably the best possible solution for this child, at least until you find a better place to live and probably even beyond that, since once she starts school having that stability will become even more important.

Echoing what was said above about contacting the mods with your location; I'm pretty sure that, as a group, we can ID a good list of free things for your family to do with your daughter and maybe even point you toward other help you had not considered.
posted by anastasiav at 11:31 AM on March 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have two suggestions.

First: don't pick her up from mom's house. Have mom drop her off. My ex and I -- who are great friends, and have great homes full of great stuff, and no live-in significant others, so no specific reasons why the kids would prefer one place over the other -- started out picking up from each others' homes, and quickly discovered it was always stressful and dramatic. On the rare occasions we dropped off, things went well and smoothly. So, we transitioned to always dropping off, and it completely ceased to be an issue. After much consideration, all I can think of is that kids who are picked up feel like they're being taken away to another place, while kids who are dropped off feel like they're getting brought back home. Give it a try.

Second: agreed that your situation does suck, and were I a child of four I certainly wouldn't want to spend time in the cold house where I can't bring my things out of the room and I have to deal with disapproving OCD person. Since your situation sucks and can't change right now, your best bet is to be honest and upright with her: sometimes life is difficult, and right now this is a difficult time because we cannot live in any other place. We don't like it either, but we are making the best of it, and we are grateful that if we have to suffer, at least we have each other to suffer with, because being together and spending as much time with you as we can makes life a lot better, even though our living situation sucks.
posted by davejay at 11:31 AM on March 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

and yes, getting out of -- or mitigating -- your living situation should absolutely be your primary concern, even if it involves breaking the lease. Make it a point to have one outside trip a day, even if it is to the library or the park or for a playdate at someone else's house, and even if it is only for 30 minutes. That situation is bad for her, but also for the two of you.
posted by davejay at 11:33 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, I missed the part about the large number of transitions. That, too, should stop. Again, with my own kids, the original plan had them changing homes every few days. What a DISASTER. Terrible idea. Finally got buy-in for changing once a week, every week, and again it changed everything for the better.
posted by davejay at 11:34 AM on March 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

Our current living situation is not ideal - we have had to live in a room at a friends house since January of 2012, and won't be able to afford our own place until 2015. The house rules are pretty strict because the owner has severe OCD, we can't have anything of ours outside our room, and can't really keep food in the house. He also keeps the house insanely cold, for most of this brutal NE winter he's had the heat totally off - the only room that is warm is ours, so we tend to stay in there. We have plenty of toys/books/crafts/TV/computer in the room. Unfortunately our budget doesn't really allow for us to take Daughter out to do things when we have her, so we engage and entertain the best we can with what we have.

You aren't going to find an adult who wants to live in this situation. This isn't about phases; this is about an unsuitable environment for the kid.

I think you are expecting too much of a 4 year old to put this situation into perspective and accept the trade-off for you and your husband's emotional well-being. You need to move up the time table of moving, and until then, I think you should reduce the amount of time she has to spend at your place. Are visits to her mother's place out of the question?
posted by spaltavian at 11:36 AM on March 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think I remember you from a previous question. If so, what others should know is that the issue isn't a lease. The issue is no money, debt, and bad credit. Moving is not an option, and it's not about a lease.
posted by Houstonian at 11:37 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

if we have to suffer, at least we have each other to suffer with, because being together and spending as much time with you as we can makes life a lot better, even though our living situation sucks..

I think this isn't such a good thing to say because the reality is that she DOESN'T have to suffer. The bio-dad and step-mom may have to suffer through that horrible room until they can afford to move, but she has a way out. Plus, she knows it, so how is she going to feel towards bio-dad and step-mom if she feels like they are forcing her to suffer when she doesn't have to? I could see how saying something like that that could create major confusion, conflict, and upset in her. She knows full well she has a way out of this awful situation, and that would probably make her feel guilty for wanting to leave and save herself the suffering. She would be torn between trying to fulfill HER needs (for a safe, warm, healthy home) and trying to not disappoint/abandon her dad.

I really don't think there is any way to explain and rationalize this terrible living situation to a four year old, nor do I think they should try.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:47 AM on March 5, 2014 [11 favorites]

Even if no money, debt, and bad credit is the problem, then Rental Assistance should be the solution (provided the OP is in the USA). If this family has an income at or below 50% of the median income for the county or metropolitan area in which you choose to live significant assistance is likely, particularly as a family currently living in a sub-standard situation. Credit history is not generally considered in public housing decisions (at least not where I am), although it may be a factor in being approved for a particular unit through Section 8.

OP, the links in this comment will provide you with a starting point. You have a right to safe, decent, and and affordable housing, regardless of your credit history or past debt. If you need help applying, please don't hesitate to reach out. If you contact the mods with a location, we can probably point you to additional resources.
posted by anastasiav at 11:50 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

[This is a followup from the asker.]
A few points that i feel need to be clarified after reading responses -

We do get her out of the house as much as possible. We live in a very rural area about an hour and a half away from Philadelphia, there aren't a lot of resources around that are indoor besides a library, which we frequent. I don't feel comfortable posting our specific area due to my the possibility of my anonymity being compromised as this is a delicate situation. I've done the free child activity searches that people are recommending. We also take her to my mother's house as many weekends as possible, which is very large and open, she loves it there. We spend most of our time outdoors when weather permits, but weather has NOT permitted any outdoor activity in our area.

As for moving being a priority - it's our number one priority. I understand exactly how miserable our living situation is, it's been a huge trigger for my depression, and we do the best we can to put on the happy face for her sake when we have her. We make just above the cutoff for gov't assistance, but not enough to make it from week to week AND save money. I'm a highly budget minded person, and have budgeted and cut out all unnecessary expenses. I plan our income out to the dollar because i *have* to in order to keep food on the table and a roof over our head.

Having her stay a mom's house all the time is not an option, as we specifically set up the custody schedule to have her when there isn't anyone else available to watch her, to work with everyone's schedule. Same goes with the bouncing around - it's only one other house she stays at the weekends we don't have her, her grandmother's, which she very clearly loves.

I am in the process of trying to get a second job on top of my full time day job so we can get out of where we live as fast as possible. Hubby works a full time hard manual labor job, and is physically unable to work a second job. We have the best jobs we can possibly have with our work experience. The problem with moving is having the security deposit as well as first months rent, which every listing in this area requires. I have contacted many places asking if they would be willing to split up the deposit over a few months, none are willing to do so.

Houstonian has it right - and frankly now i'm just unreasonably upset and angry at the suggestion that we're not putting our daughter first and *must* be able to move - We have debt, no credit, and as I said, we don't make enough money to save for a security deposit, but i'm doing the best i can to get a second job. Moving to another town isn't an option, then we'd just be spending more money we don't have on gas to get to work/get daughter.

anastasiav, thank you for the links, i will try those. I stated in my question, which some commenters seem to have not read all the way, I have looked into every other living situation possible and there just isn't anything available until we can save enough for that initial security deposit.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:00 PM on March 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

anonymous, please also memail me
posted by Debaser626 at 12:05 PM on March 5, 2014

Anon, this is all good help and clarification. It sounds, as I said, like a very hard situation in which you're doing your level best.

I know you're trying to put her first, and it sounds like since you only have her when Mom can't watch her, everybody needs to be involved in solutions for when Mom isn't able to have her and you don't really have a place for her to stay. It's not only your problem to solve, certainly.

As yarly pointed out, people who are in dire financial situations have a right to parent their children, obviously. I think all people mean to do (at least all I meant to do) is encourage you to think of your daughter's reaction as being not about how much she loves you or misses Mom, but how she feels about the living situation itself and go on that. And if that means that there is absolutely no alternative to everybody sucking it up for a while, then that's what it means. I just think you're going to frustrate yourself if you try to attack it as helping her miss Mom less, if in fact that's not her issue.

Anyway. It's a very, very hard situation. Thanks for the additional info and the clarification, and for everything you're trying to do for her, and for loving her so much.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:14 PM on March 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

- What can we do to help with the whole wanting to go back to Moms all the time, and having Daughter be happier to be at Dads? We realize that all kids go through mom/dad phases.

I will be blunt, but not cruel: find a better living environment. She's not objecting to you or her dad, she's objecting to a shitty living situation, which is perfectly reasonable and should be listened to. I respect that you don't have much money, none of us does these days, but there has got to be some way you guys can at least have your own space before 2015. This living arrangement is unhealthy for her--quite literally so if the house isn't using heating, and lack of heating in a home is something that CPS tends to frown on--and it is unhealthy for you, which as a child of a split household I'm sure you know kids will pick up on.

- What coping tools can Dad and I use to help us not hurt so much when she seems to prefer Moms house so much more? Dad is especially sensitive to this, I have a bit more emotional understanding because I grew up in a split household.

See above. She prefers Mom's house because it is a home and not a claustrophobic single room in someone else's house, a house she functionally isn't allowed to walk in.

None of the above is to criticize you. You're obviously in a shitty situation and trying to make the best of it. It might be worth reflecting on the idea that what is best for her right now may well be spending more time at Mom's place.

Once you sort out your living arrangements, if I may make a suggestion: the way she is moving around all the time sounds very tiring and disorienting for a kid. When I was a kid, my parents had joint custody too; I'd get dropped off at school Friday morning by Parent Set 1, and get picked up Friday afternoon by Parent Set 2. This ensures the kid has a stable home week, and the inevitable slight adjustment period from going to one house to another takes place over the weekend and doesn't interfere with the school week.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:27 PM on March 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

What if you found her some awesome friends that she can visit when she comes to stay with you. It would be something to look forward to. It could help out some other parent if you were to take both kids to the museum, park, etc., and she might sometimes be able to go to their house as well. Do any of your friends have kids? Group outings could be quite fun for everyone.
posted by Vaike at 12:55 PM on March 5, 2014

OP, I am glad you followed up. It sounds like a bad situation and you feel trapped. I still think that accelerating the move-out timeline is imperative. Unless your local rental market is super-tight and you are restricted to your one rural area, there may be some small landlord (someone just renting out an individual house or condo as opposed to a rental agency) who will allow you to move in without a large upfront deposit.

IANAhousingL and you might want to consult one (some are willing to do a pro bono consultation); here is a website for Pennsylvania tenants rights. You may be considered a tenant if you have lived in your house since 2012 and may have more rights than you think. Your roommate-from-hell may HAVE to give you heating and the run of the house; and they may not be able to kick you out on a whim. Again, check with the tenants laws in your area. States vary in how much the law favors tenants. If you live in an area that favors landlords you may be stuck appeasing your awful roommate but you may have more rights than you think.

And agreeing with other posters that this should not be your problem to solve alone. For your child's sake, her other family members need to help out with the custody and housing situations. It may be that you are estranged from your other family or they have issues or problems with you or themselves, but surely they want to do right by their daughter/grandchild/niece and will be willing to help out so that she isn't miserable.

The bottom line is: this is not about hating Dad, it's about a four-year-old hating Dad's awful living situation. Your daughter loves you but hates your house and your roommate. It's not personal! And she's too young to grok "it sucks but we're all in this together" or "Dad and Stepmom love you and want to see you but have no choice but to live in Awful House."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:57 PM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been poor as hell, and cold, and miserable. And stuck out in the middle of nowhere. It sucks, baby. This we know. But there's more than one way to skin a cat, as they say.

Anon, I wonder about this friend you're staying with...You say the person has severe OCD...but that doesn't mean they are a jerk and aren't willing to listen to you if you brought up a few issues, like the no heat and no food storage thing. If you are paying this person so much money for just one room (and no kitchen storage space or living area space at all) that two full time jobs don't let you save the money for several years, this 'friend' may be ripping you off. An efficiency at a cheap motel would leave you just as broke as you are now, but at least it's warm throughout and you have a place to put your food.

Maybe revisit the subject with your mother~ you say her house is large and open and you go there as much as possible. She is completely unable to let you stay at her house for a set period of time so you can save money? Possibly hit her with the grandkids happiness and well-being argument? This is her GRANDCHILD. Most grammies wouldn't stand for their grands to be cold and uncomfortable. If you go there a lot, and kiddo has a great time, then hopefully a bond exists there. Work that angle.

Possibly you could sit down with your (friend and) house-mate and explain to him how the lack of heat and lack of food storage are making this situation untenable for a little kid? Put it on them. Are they going to be the one to look like a jerk? Sometimes you have to put people on the spot to get what you want. Ask him outright, can we do something here? Having OCD doesn't let you off the hook for basic decency. No heat with a kid in the house is ridiculous...I assume she uses an unheated bathroom. Yeah, not ok, if you are paying rent.

There are ways to make extra money, or to save extra money. Do you pick up pennies off the street? No? Start doing it. Check the couch cushions everywhere you go. Look under, behind and in the change slots of every vending machine you come across. Clip coupons. Get free samples from the internet so you don't have to buy as much at the store. I make a little money from home doing Swagbucks.

Last piece of advice, DO NOT GIVE UP calling these apartments and asking about splitting the deposit. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. These things are barriers. You need to figure out a way to remove the barriers. I would move heaven and earth for my step-kids, so instead of being sad, my love, get mad. It's a much more efficient emotion when you need to get things done.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 1:04 PM on March 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

Oh wow, the poor kid does move around constantly! And there are other kids in the mix who are on a different schedule. It's difficult and stressful at best.

How are things with her grandparents-- the ones she stays with? Might you consider a setup where she stays with them on weekends, but you come over first thing one day and last thing the next, and she is with you for the two days but sleeps over with you just one night? Maybe every weekend? I suggest this because one night can feel like a fun sleepover almost no matter where; it's a string of days where you really start to notice discomfort and restrictions. I realize that this is a reduction in time spent, and it conflicts with some other good advice, like davejay's observations about picking up vs. dropping off. It's just a suggestion. I think if she sees you making an accommodation, even if it's not perfect, even if it has to be changed, that's going to mean a lot.

Not sure if anyone has mentioned libraries and bookstores for storytime. If there is B&N anywhere on your route, get a Kids Club membership and a schedule. There is always a nice crowd around storytime, and often craft projects and stuff. If you were near me, I would demand that you come to my bookstore!

Wishing you the best.
posted by BibiRose at 1:13 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

can't really keep food in the house

And you say you don't have money to go out, so I'm not clear how you are feeding this child.

People get grumpy and unhappy when they are hungry. If you can somehow feed the child before she is so hungry she is grumpy, she might not be missing moms house so much.
posted by yohko at 1:16 PM on March 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

The friend you are staying with is your landlord, and you as a tenant have a right to a safe and habitable place to live. Your current home, with a lack of heat in winter and lack of place to store food, does not qualify as safe and habitable, and therefore, this friend is breaking the law.

Please review the information here, and contact the legal aid organizations for assistance. Good luck.

posted by Asparagus at 1:26 PM on March 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

One more "memail me if you can" from over here...and if you do, please confirm whether or not you're in the US.
posted by davejay at 1:32 PM on March 5, 2014

I'll just say that you should both be eligible for the Earned Income Credit and that should provide you with a lump of cash. Which you should use to move.

My two cents.

Are you in PA or NJ? That may make a difference. In PA, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency might be able to help with security deposits, etc.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:38 PM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

What a horrifying situation. I feel very sorry for you all, and hope your situation will be better soon. Generally, I agree with everyone else, but I do feel there are a couple of things that haven't been mentioned.

First of all: you and your husband are clearly in the worst situation, dwelling-wise, but I get the sense from your original post that the other family is also very stressed out. The child is not really spending a lot of time with her mother, and I am wondering wether this is an issue as well, or even the real issue. Together, you have a really difficult situation, and it is not easily solved. However, across the globe, people grow up under difficult circumstances and do just fine.

Second, I understand your worries about changing the schedule. But since everyone is struggling in your dual families, everyone should help out, too. For my daughters, we have had a number of different schedules over the years, adapting to their different needs, and our needs, too. At one point, my ex was living in an unheated warehouse, and couldn't have our daughter there, so he stayed at my apartment while I was at work, or we spent time together during the weekends.
One thing I'd really like to underline here is that even though both daughters at times have preferred to stay at my house, they both have very close and loving relationships with their fathers and, in my youngest's words, her bonus mother.

I would like to say don't worry, but of course you worry, and you should. But remember that things can be changed, and everything will change. Your daughter will still love you, no matter what, and at some time, this will be a distant memory, half forgotten.
posted by mumimor at 1:42 PM on March 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

OP I think it might help lend some perspective to your situation here if you explained how much debt you're carrying and what the payments are, and what the security deposit you're required to pay is. The situation is different if you're carrying 25K of debt versus 5K. If the debt is really being chipped away at, and you'll be done at a point on the foreseeable horizon, that's a different situation.

I'm really sorry you're going through this.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:28 PM on March 5, 2014

Do you have to have overnights right now while the housing situation is hard? Maybe get an agreement that you will do weekend afternoons and have her dropped off at the library with you waiting there. If the mum is okay with you visiting at her house, that's good too. It might feel like a step back but reducing the visits to experiences in only positive pleasant environments temporarily may be a better balance than having her see dad's as a sad weird place to be. Ask about adding on daily FaceTime/phone calls or if your work schedules allow, you pick her up from childcare and take her to her mom's. You don't have to have a 50% chunk of time to be an involved parent - it can be a patchwork of regular shorter parenting times.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:10 PM on March 5, 2014

I am the grandmother of a 6-year-old in a similar situation. Not as bad as yours, but similar.

First of all, her mother needs to explain to her that she absolutely can't come home, it's just not possible due to work. However, the little girl can FaceTime her when she's feeling particularly sad. This does help a lot! Presenting a united front makes all the difference.

Next, it helps if she knows specifically what the weekend schedule will be. Make some plans in advance and tell her what she can expect. "On Friday we're going to play at McDonalds at 6 and then walk home and watch X movie. Then Saturday...." Little kids like a schedule, like to know the schedule in advance.

Then, take advantage of some of the activity advice above. I love the coffee at McDonalds suggestion. Also, one donut at the local diner. Walking to the drugstore for a new coloring book (they're CHEAP!) Spend a large block of time at the grocery store picking out one piece of fruit to taste at home. Feeding ducks at a pond with stale bread. Lots of suggestions online, or burn next week's question asking for more. We take lots of walks downtown, because we live in "the city" and she lives in a small town.

Last, I would suggest that you stay at your mom's house if you can while you have her. That's what my son does on his visitation weekends. His living situation is not difficult, just new to her. She was familiar with my house, so they stay in an extra bedroom here when he has her. Some weekends I see them very little, others I spend a large amount of time with her. Does your mom have an extra room? Could you stay for just one night?
posted by raisingsand at 5:12 PM on March 5, 2014 [5 favorites]

anon, I'm sorry you've received so many thoughtless replies. From the way you explained your question, it was more than obvious that you realize your housing situation is bad, but that you can't do anything about it at this moment. If only it were so easy as, "get a new house." (By the way, kudos to you for doing a lot of things right, including saving up for a move in the medium term).

As for what you can do now, I would try to work with Mom & Step-dad to start some special traditions that are reserved only for weekends with you two. Maybe every Friday you all sit down to watch a movie of her choice, or eat PIZZA, or play her favorite game (I looked forward to pizza day all week when I was a kid!). Keep it consistent so she knows that Friday is game night with dad and anon, for example. Mom can get on board and play it up during the week.

Space wise, is there a way to wall off a small section of your room with a privacy screen? I love the idea upthread to have a fort/hideaway just for her. Decorate the area with her artwork and some pictures of her Mom and other family members.

Does she have a stuffed bear or blanket or some comfort object to carry around? It might seem silly, but I think they can make a real difference, especially if mom imbues it with some the-bear-is-watching-you-for-me story.

Finally, as for you & dad's feelings, I think you are just going to have to toughen up and think of her comments, as others have said, not as anything against you, but as an expression of her difficulty with all of this moving around, coupled with your current living situation. The most important thing is that you are loving parents who are part of your daughter's life. You'll ride this one out and build a stronger relationship in the process.
posted by snarfles at 6:18 PM on March 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

With your followup: Dave Ramsey is not somebody I'd turn to on a lot of things, but he has this thing about budgeting when you're in more debt than you can really afford. You make a list of the things you need to live. The debt payments go at the bottom of the needs, but above the wants. You draw a line where the money runs out, and you pay needs first, and then debts, and then wants. Right?

A habitable place for you and dad and kid is 10,000% a Need. It is one of the very top Needs. To put this nicely--if you are both employed and you are making more than would allow you to qualify for assistance, you could almost certainly afford a house share or something that actually had heat and a kitchen. A nice one? Maybe not. A place to yourself? Might be tough. But something better than this. I'm not saying that you're not prioritizing your daughter high enough--I think you're not prioritizing YOU high enough.

I think you've been so focused on trying to be responsible that you've condemned yourselves to sackcloth and ashes and that's just not necessary. If there's debt that's making this impossible, it's time to contact a bankruptcy attorney, and there is absolutely no shame in doing that if it keeps you in habitable housing. Or, if the quantity is relatively small, maybe you just let yourself get behind a couple payments on a few things if you think you'll be able to catch up after you're moved, but either way, you are completely ethically allowed to put decent food and housing before debt payments.
posted by Sequence at 6:20 PM on March 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

I totally understand the housing situation; it's insane like that in my area, too.

The grandparents she stays with on the weekends she's not with you - are they her Dad's parents or her Mom's? How much room do they have? Would it be possible for her to stay there every weekend and have you and Dad also go and stay there with her? Or, if there's not enough room for all three of you to sleep there, maybe she and Dad could and you could join them there during the day?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:38 PM on March 5, 2014

You need to prioritize finding housing over paying off debts. Paying off debt is important, but a warm, livable housing situation is much, much more important for your daughter. Surely, there's something in your area that you can afford on two full time salaries.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 6:55 PM on March 5, 2014

Also, I want to point out that I can empathize with you, and want to kindly suggest to you that this feeling of hopelessness and sadness and panic and not being able to afford a place until 2015 may be your depression talking. Depression is going to fight you and it's going to make things FEEL hopeless and impossible, but that doesn't mean it actually IS impossible. Try to keep your head up, and keep trying as hard as possible.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 6:58 PM on March 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

This sounds really hard. I just wanted to second what some people have suggested upthread: is it possible for you or her dad to watch her at bio-mom's house and do your visitation that way? At least on the weekends you can't take her to your mom's? It'd cut down on your time with her some, but it'd mean she'd only be spending 2 evenings and a morning at your house.

This is a big ask of bio-mom and probably no fun for your husband, but it might mitigate things a bit.

Good luck.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 7:11 PM on March 5, 2014

Anonymous, please memail me. I have a suggestion and want to respect your need for privacy.
posted by prefpara at 8:18 PM on March 5, 2014

Consumer Credit Counseling may be an organization you should talk to, if you haven't already. This is a non-profit, legitimate credit counseling organization that can really help with looking at budgets. They also have some familiarity with programs that may provide a different kind of assistance to you.

You should also look at Modest Means. You may be able to get some help from them, too.
posted by zizzle at 7:31 AM on March 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a huge fan of creating a better support system for parents because situations like yours are common and in many cases it's not because the parents are not trying hard or that they don't care about their kids, it's because life is hard and we all different external and internal resources to meet those challenges making "try hard" generate radically different outcomes in terms of effort/energy that is possible to generate towards change vs surviving as is- and outcome that results of those efforts. That said, however well meaning, when kids needs aren't being met, it really is damaging for the child in the short and sometimes whether we like it or not, the long term also.

I've had to face a lot of situations like yours and so have a lot of parents I've known and I believe you completely that you are trying with what resources and energy levels you've got and also I wish I could wave a magic wand and create the resources families really need (in all domains of support; emotional and psychological support, access to health building activities, work training, life skill related, and financial support)...

But given that things are what they are, if you can't get heating, and access to food storage and provide an environment that meets basic health needs, I think you should REALLY consider doing the visits at your daughter's biomom's house until you can get your current situation in better working order if AT ALL possible. Her health might really be damaged by a house with no heat. Even before indoor heating we have now people used fire to stay warm in the winter and a lot of children died from bad conditions. Consider heating a health need and if you can't provide it, beg... literally to stay at biomom's house and let her know you're worried about your daughters well being staying somewhere without heating. Does biomom know the conditions are your house are what they are? If not, tell her exactly why you'd love to keep watching her while biomom is at work but these are the conditions and are likely part of why daughter is missing home so much. It's not healthy there.

Whatever guilt you have about being poor, toss that shit. Poverty itself---and the arguments humans make that the poor are at fault for it, will erode your personal power enough. You know you want more for your daughter than this. You know you will provide at each opportunity you have to make it better, just keep your spirits up and keep looking for those opportunities and accept any charity/opportunities that come your way. Also, can you get sliding scale counseling for yourself? Some places that have sliding scale fees offer it for 5 to 15 dollars. Poverty itself is painful and overwhelming and having some support on your side might help you wade through and keep your spirits and strength up to make it through this. If you're prone to defeatist thinking having someone help you keep exploring options and looking for more solutions, resources and charity options when things feel hopeless can be really valuable. (This tends to be called solution focused therapy if you want to look for a counselor who does something like this). You and your partner can do massages for each other, do meditation/yoga/exercise to keep your health up and your stress down and build a better mood for each other and her.

I wrote a long list of additional activities and things to create a nice time for her but I think the cold and food issue are so concerning you really need to not be looking at your current house as an option for her to stay at over night. Tell biomom about this, work with her. You can figure out something better, I know it.

Also you say you bring her to stay with family whenever possible, is it possible to tell your family/in-laws that you're really concerned about cold conditions, and ask if they could just commit to every other weekend if you can't do visits at biomoms? Present them with reading about it like this:
"Living in cold, damp housing may well have an impact on children’s mental health too, increasing children’s chances of experiencing stress, anxiety and depression."
Call people, ask for help, let them now how important it is, look on craigslist, don't accept bad conditions. This could really be harming your daughter more than you realize, and you should be literally doing anything possible, including begging, on behalf of getting your daughter out of this TODAY. It's not acceptable any longer. Decide that is final and make solutions based on that decision including arguing on her behalf with others who are claiming the cold and food issues aren't harmful for her (I think if you really explain details of how bad your housing situation is you might get further with family/biomom if you haven't already done so).
posted by xarnop at 9:31 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, you found ONE person willing to rent you a room with your credit history, the chances are very good there is at least one other person in your city who would rent you a room even with your credit history, AND have heating AND let you use the kitchen and store food there AND let your child play with toys in the common area. Keep looking in craigslist or wherever else every single day for this.
posted by xarnop at 9:40 AM on March 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

If no one is home at the mom's house, and that's why you have the kid, could you go to the mom's house? I'm sorry if I missed the answer to this somewhere.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:59 AM on March 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think if you posted the situation on reddit's /r/assistance it might help you get donations. This sort of situation is the kind of thing that they do very well. And memail me too please, I would like to contribute some money. I know it is soul destroying to ask for help, but the comfort of your daughter during this essential developmental phase of her life would, in my view, take priority over avoiding that embarrassment. In my view this situation is bad enough to spur you to ask for help to get the security deposit and moving expenses together.
posted by Mistress at 12:57 PM on March 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

As a step parent to a four year old and a child of divorce myself I just want to chime in that the issue may very well 100% be the large number of transitions and not enough time with her mom. At age four I really didn't notice uncomfortable accommodations as long as I had food and a place to sleep, but I very much noticed the absence of my mother and I acted out a lot more the more frequently I was moved from place to place. My stepson is the same way and we had to have a few family chats about altering his schedule so that he wasn't at three different homes PLUS school in one day.
posted by annathea at 2:47 AM on March 8, 2014

There’s a lot of good advice here about your living situation—and yes, you should make every effort to get out of there, for your own personal sanity.

But, look: my parents had shared custody. And my dad had a big nice house with toys and a yard and pets and everything a kid could reasonably want. But I was miserable every time I had to go over there, because I just missed my mom. I was totally totally bonded with her and my little heart broke in my chest every time I had to leave her. It wasn’t my dad’s fault—even at the time, I didn’t blame him—I was just intensely sad about being separated from my mother.

In a way, this is a more difficult problem than your housing situation. You can’t solve it with a security deposit. All I can say is, take your kid’s feelings seriously. Don’t try to convince her she shouldn’t be missing her mom. It’s great that you’re doing Facetime. I also remember that I liked to make stuff for my mom when I was away from her—cards, art projects, pipe cleaner jewelry, stuff that I could show her when I got back.

Also, this may sound silly, but: can you get a fish? It was really helpful for me to have something at my dad’s house that I could care for. It made me feel like I was needed there.

For what it’s worth, I bonded with my dad as I got older. Now, as an adult, I’m close with both my parents.
posted by Mender at 10:22 AM on March 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

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