Dear Dr. Jann: I’ve been divorced for four years, and my ex and I have done our best to coParent our son, who is now 14. My ex travels a lot, which means I have primary custody, but they talk on the phone constantly and spend as much time together as possible. Recently my sister visited my son’s Facebook page and found that he declared that his dad was his “hero.” My sister was upset by this and worried that it might mean that my son will want to go live with dad and his new girlfriend and family. Should I be worried?
Dr. Jann says: First, it’s great that you have access to your son’s Facebook page. I’m all for giving a kid privacy, but when a child is 14, it’s a good idea to monitor his computer use.
Second, we also understand your sister’s concern. She loves you, she loves your child, but she may not understand the relationship you have built with his father, or for what reason, and that’s the red flag we would like to call to your attention. Her concern is fear based and when you come from that place everything is done on the defense.
For example, the child’s father takes him to Disneyland for a weekend, next trip you take him to Disney World for a week. Dad takes your son to a football game, you buy season tickets. Our examples are extreme, but we use them to demonstrate our point. You can’t parent on the defense. Tell your sister that you appreciate her concern, but let you coParent as you see fit. If a child of divorce cares for both of his parents without qualification, you have done something right. Good for both of you.
All that said, at 13 it’s not uncommon for a child who has lived predominantly with one parent to want to live with the other. We see this most often boys who have lived with mom as the primary caregiver. They hit 13 or 14, start to relate to dad and “guy” things more than they did when they were babies and gravitate toward their father. Mom hates it, fears dad is behind it in some way and resents dad. Communication that might have been okay in the past now becomes strained, and junior is right in the middle. And, it’s not his fault, he’s doing what comes naturally, so do your best to not resent his behavior — or necessarily blame it on dad.
There are parents that play that alienation game, which is about the worst thing you can do to a kid, but it if he eventually wants to live with dad it doesn’t mean he loves him more. It may simply mean he loves him, too — which is exactly how you brought him up.