Dear Dr. Jann: Why would my son, age 10, lie to his mother about his time with me? I rarely speak or coParent with her, but it seems he pits the two of us against each other. He tells me he loves coming to visit me. My wife and I provide a very loving family, he has 2 brothers and grandparents here, yet he calls his mother and tells her he wants to go home, misses her and doesn’t want to be here. It’s causing big problems. Why would he do this?
Dr. Jann says: Most likely — guilt. It’s pretty common for kids of divorce to struggle with this; Allegiance to one parent means betrayal of the other. A child’s reasoning: Dad has remarried and he has you. Mom has not remarried and therefore she is alone and lonely. If he openly enjoys time at your house, it will hurt mom–especially if she is the kind of parent who lets him know how much she misses him when he is not with her. “I’m just so lonely when you are with your dad.” To protect her feelings, he tells her he misses her and wants to be with her, knowing full well he can’t leave when he’s at your house. “Mom, I’m only there because I have to be. You know I would rather be with you.” How much he lies is directly proportionate to how deeply he is trying to protect mom. However, if he’s telling whoppers, you perceive this as his pitting the parents against each other. In truth, the parents are creating the problem because they “do not speak or coParent with each other.” No communication puts your child right smack in the middle.
When divorced parents openly show animosity toward one another and do not communicate regarding their children, they are leaving their children to their own resources. This kid obviously loves both of his parents and he is trying the best he can to cope with their inability to put him first. Don’t blame your child for this behavior — you have created it.
Divorced parents often think that not talking to each other will eliminate further fighting. On one hand it does, but it also creates problems like you describe. Your son is still young and his motivation is to protect his mother’s feelings. He doesn’t realize he’s hurting your feelings in the interim. He’s just trying to survive with the tools you have given him. There are those children who sense their parents’ guilt and work it for personal gain, but that usually comes when the kids are teens and the parents, again, have set the stage by not talking to each other for years. Then the child’s motive is not guilt, it’s anger. Your family’s fate is not in the hands of a child. It’s the other way around. Talk to his mother. Get on the same page, and your child will relax in both homes. He deserves both of you.