If you’re like most parents, preserving a close relationship with your child after your divorce tops your priority list. Despite your best efforts as a parent, don’t be surprised if your child utters, whines, or outright yells something close to: “I want to go live with [insert your ex’s title here]!”
How should a stressed-out, under-appreciated parent deal with the big emotions the declaration can bring?
We have some tips to get you through with much of your sanity intact.
As your blood pressure rises at the threat your child has made about leaving you and living with your ex, please take a moment to put yourself in their shoes.
As a child, splitting time between two parents and two houses isn’t easy. You’re constantly missing one parent. You wish things were like they used to be. Will you always feel guilty about having fun with one of them?
Parents, as tough as the divorce was on you, children can find it especially challenging. It can be a sad and confusing time in their lives.
Children’s brains aren’t fully developed until their 20s, so they often don’t have the perfect coping mechanisms to handle all their big emotions. Adding to the complexity, one parent may spend more money and have fewer restrictions in an attempt to offset the stresses of divorce with their child.
Any child is totally justified in resisting change and testing the waters. Prepare for the request (or demand) to go live with your ex and recognize all your child’s challenges. Seeing things from their perspective can help you form a healthy response.
Try not to take the request personally. Kids have big feelings. They lash out and push boundaries.
They are frustrated and will express that in a number of ways. After all, they are smart. However, they aren’t great at dealing with so many emotions at once: the stress, anxiety, and guilt.
During a heated argument, they may even tell you how much they like living with your co-parent more. Remain as calm as possible, and don’t take everything they say to heart.
Of course, your child might not say these things when they’re mad. Male children may crave more time with their fathers as they approach adolescence, and female children, their mothers. Children who spend an unbalanced amount of time with one parent might naturally crave and ask for more time with the other as they grow.
You may be heartbroken or fuming on the inside, but don’t let it show on the outside. You can appear calm without actually being calm.
Leave the room, take some deep breaths, or exercise to get those good-feeling endorphins flowing. It’s challenging not to take the attitude your child is giving you and give it right back to them. Resist the urge—you must model how they should act. They need you to be the calm, responsible adult.
Avoid saying things you don’t mean (“I should send you to live with your Dad. Let’s see how he likes your attitude!”). You’ll lose your credibility as a parent when it’s obvious you say things you don’t mean. Also, you could give your child the wrong impression that your love is conditional.
Suppose your child requests to live with the other parent whenever you argue over house rules and responsibilities. Your child may miss the lifestyle their other parent offers while in your care.
So, you have more stringent rules. Your co-parent may be more lax, but rest assured your child needs structure from at least one of their parents. Don’t cave to the pressure of changing your rules.
And on that note, are your rules still beneficial to them? It’s vital to reevaluate your established ways as your children age.
Remember that one of your parental roles is to teach your children how to live without you. They need gradual independence from you.
Also, their internal clocks change as they age. The 4th-grader who needed to go to bed by nine is different from the 11th-grader who can’t fall asleep until 11:00 and then sleeps until noon the following day.
Your child doesn’t call the shots. However, their development and concerns can clue you into what’s best for them.
If possible, engage in open and regular dialogue with your ex. Write to each other via text or email or talk by phone. Address any concerns about your child’s behavior—what they’re verbally telling you, and what their non-verbal actions are saying. You and your co-parent can work to become a team, supporting each other and building a united front.
An app for divorced parents can help you and your ex communicate about all kinds of parenting tasks. These apps make managing co-parenting life easier, from requesting a percentage payment for a bill to engaging in regular communication about your child’s development.
You can even create your custody schedule and reschedule as life happens. If your child needs more time with their other parent, it could be in their best interest to grant them that time. Request and document the change through your app—it’s an easier way to communicate and keep track of scheduling arrangements and rearrangements.