My Daughter Is a Different Person At Her Dad’s

And it’s become a big red flag.

Shannon Ashley
Jul 27, 2019 · 6 min read

My daughter’s dad lives only 30 minutes away in a neighboring town, but I don’t think she’s seen him more than twice since her 5th birthday nearly 4 months ago.

In theory, we have agreed for her to spend every other weekend at his place, but in practice it’s not happening. I don't always hear anything from him when the weekend rolls around, but when I do, she often doesn’t want to go and I won’t make her.

Some people scoff at the idea of my daughter getting a choice in the matter. Or, they assume I’m punishing my ex by somehow swaying our kid’s opinion.

But the truth is that I’m not inclined to force our daughter into being uncomfortable as if her needs and feelings don’t matter. Especially when I have found out that she’s a different person when she’s there.

I’ve written before about not wanting to send my daughter to her dad’s and I think most readers understood my sentiments. A few folks, of course, felt I was being selfish or unfair.

They claimed I was only looking at my thoughts and feelings instead of what was good for her.


And yet, I have these concerns when my child tells me she doesn’t want to go to her dad’s. That’s a pretty big feeling for her to own and verbalize.

The sentiment that a child needs her father is nice, but does it matter whether or not he’s truly present? Or are we operating under the notion that his right to his child trumps his actual parenting habits?

My daughter has been crying when it’s time to go to her dad’s since we moved down to Tennessee when she was two-and-a-half. Very occasionally, she wants to go or asks to go and then, of course, she doesn’t cry.

But more often than not, she doesn’t want to go to her dad’s, and her explanations tell me that she’s too uncomfortable at his place.

Do 5 year olds have a right to comfort?

My daughter has repeatedly told me that she’s not comfortable asking for what she needs at her dad’s house.

Well, she doesn’t say it in so many words. Instead, she tells me stories about her time there.

“Last night at daddy’s house, I couldn’t sleep so I just stared at the ceiling…”

“At daddy’s house I miss mommy and sometimes I cry and can’t calm down…”

Whenever I ask her if she told her dad or asked for help, she says no.

“I didn’t want to tell them,” she replies.

Recently, I was alarmed when she told me about two different potty accidents at her dad’s house. For the first one, she described wetting her bed in the middle of the night but being too embarrassed to tell them so she got a towel to put on top of the bed so she could go back to sleep.

In the second story, she told me she had trouble wiping her butt good enough and instead of asking for help she threw her panties away. At my house, she still needs my help in the bathroom, so I asked her what she does at her dad’s.

“I don’t really poop at daddy’s house anymore.”

She’s a different person at her dad’s.

The little girl I know would never cover up an accident. She suffers from anxiety, but even when she’s embarrassed about something here at home, she lets me know about it.

She asks for my help.

And as much as I want my kid to grow up to be independent and strong, it’s a big red flag for me if she does these independent things out of shame.

I can’t convince my kid to trust her dad or stepmom. No matter how much she loves them and feels they love her, I can’t make her comfortable enough to talk to them when she needs something and I’m not there.

It’s not enough to just be a father.

This might be an unpopular opinion but I’m not going to beg, plead, coerce, or force my daughter to go to her dad’s. If he wants her to want to come over more often, it’s up to him to make it her home.

He’s known for more than two-and-a-half years that our kid is more comfortable with me at our house. Occasionally, it’s enough to tell her that her step sisters will be there. But like this weekend, it’s not enough.

When I explained to my daughter that her sissies are going back to Ohio and that this is her last weekend to see them for a long time, she replied, “I care about my sissies but I don’t want to go to dad’s house.”

What good would it do to tell her that she must go anyway? It’s already been an issue that when she goes to her dad’s house she rarely gets quality time with him because he often picks up hours at a second job.

And I can tell you right now that he’s not going the extra mile in any way when it comes to fatherhood.

Just yesterday, he complained that he rarely sees his sons these days because the eldest got a job, the middle has band, and the youngest got more involved which his church youth group.

“I could be an ass and make them not do those things on my weekends but then I’m the bad guy.”

What can I even say to that? There are ways to show up as a parent despite those things, but he’s not doing them. Instead, he’s mad that his ex-wife doesn’t force their sons to cancel their activities to sit around at their dad’s house every other weekend.

I don’t feel bad about that.

Like a lot of moms, I’m my child’s safe zone.

Some folks call it anchoring. My daughter is comfortable enough with me to be vulnerable and let her feelings out.

She feels safe testing limits and complaining about chores at my house. At her dad’s, she doesn’t question the directions she’s told but then covers up her accidents.

I know that they aren’t mean to her, but they’ve never truly bonded with her either. Neither her dad nor stepmom put in the effort to really know her emotional needs and as a result, they’ve got a shallow connection.

There’s no doubt that she loves this other side of her family, but she doesn’t feel completely safe with them either.

On the flipside, I never have to convince my daughter to see her Nana (her father’s mom). She’s never refused to go to her house, but then, she’s also never told me any story about being too uncomfortable to tell Nana what she needs.

And I understand why.

Even if Nana doesn’t do everything the precise way I do it, my daughter knows she can trust her to take care of her. If my kid can’t sleep, gets hungry right before bed, or has a potty accident, she’s not compelled to hide those things at Nana’s.

This tells me that my daughter’s dad and stepmom have the opportunity to make our kid feel welcome and safe… but it’s up to them to rise to the occasion and actually make it happen.

The hardest part about being the legal guardian is having these talks with my ex.

I know better now than to hope for him to change or to take these issues to heart. When I tell him that his daughter doesn’t want to go to his house, he just feels sorry for himself.

When I relay the stories she’s told me, his response is simply that he doesn’t know anything about that. He doesn’t do the laundry so he didn’t know she wet the bed. He didn’t see her panties in the trash.

And as guilty as I feel because I know that somebody is going to write me off as the cruel single mom who’s keeping her daughter away from her dad, my first responsibility is to my child.

I’m going to be her advocate even when that means I must upset her father.

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Shannon Ashley

Written by

Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. Top Writer.

Home Sweet Home

A publication for parents and families of all types to share their experiences.

Shannon Ashley

Written by

Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. Top Writer.

Home Sweet Home

A publication for parents and families of all types to share their experiences.

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