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After a divorce in California, it can take some time for both parents and children to adjust to a new way of life, and to new rules—different rules for each parent’s home. This can sometimes lead to conflict between parents and children when there is one parent who’s preferred over the other, or one home that has fewer rules than the other. Through the eyes of a child, a home with less rules can feel more fun and appealing—especially for teenagers who crave autonomy and independence, and may be reeling from the emotions they have experienced following the divorce. This can cause conflict between the co-parenting dynamic when one child wants to spend more time with, or live with an ex for any number of reasons (rules or no rules). So what is a parent to do when hearing those six dreaded words that can pierce through one’s heart and ears like a dagger: “I want to live with … Mom/Dad.”
Hearing that your child wants to live with the other parent can be a heartbreaking experience, at the least.
“When a child chooses one parent over the other some parents may experience feelings of rejection, disloyalty, and abandonment … conjuring up old wounds and reminders of a failed marriage,” says Dr. Stephanie Burchell, PhD, LMFT.
A parent may also have safety concerns that cause worry and anxiety for the current custodial parent upon imagining his/her child living with the ex. A lack of rules can oftentimes lead to situations in which teens want to live with the parent with no rules. This can feel scary to the parent who is being left behind, and rightfully so. However, there are a few things to consider before allowing one’s emotions to overcome and cause any emotion-driven behaviors that could be regretted in the future. When a child breaks the news that he/she wants to live with the other parent, it’s important to follow the following tips in ensuring this situation is handled in a way that benefits both the child and parent in the long-run.
Hearing that your child wants to live with the other parent can cause a mix of emotions, and some of these may include sadness, anger, and fear. Despite one’s urge to yell, or become dramatic or start a fight, it’s important for everyone involved in this situation to remain calm, and avoid any negative behaviors such as talking negatively about the other parent to the child, calling the other parent names, yelling, or trying to fight with the child or retaliate.
Take Some Time to Pause
Before getting worked up, and having an emotion-driven conversation or argument with the other parent or child, it’s important to take a timeout. Allow yourself the time to calm down, and relax, and even start processing what’s been said to you before you react. If you need to take some time away from the kids, it’s OK to let them spend some time with the other parent or a babysitter (if they are young) while you take some personal time to process this news. It may help to consult with a trusted friend or therapist.
Have an Open and Honest Conversation
Once you are able to calm down, and start processing the idea of your child living with the other parent, there are likely going to be questions and concerns that arise. At this time it’s wise to write these down, and to have an open and honest discussion with the other parent, as well as with your child in a calm and collected frame of mind, and in a private, quiet space. Express any and all concerns and questions that arise, and determine how the other parent feels about this idea. It’s a good idea to talk with each individual separately, then to have a family discussion involving both parents and the child. Parents will want to work out any custody arrangements that this will affect in the future, and establish new rules, guidelines and boundaries.
Be Open to Negotiations
If there is a way to compromise with the desires of the child, this is a good time to negotiate. For instance, a child may want to live with the other parent, but the other parent may not be 100% on board. Perhaps new arrangements can be made between the parents. There may also be reasons such as a fight or issue going on that one hasn’t been willing to compromise on that is causing the child to feel like the only option is to live with the other parent. If this is the case, this is a good time to re-evaluate one’s stance on an issue that could be driving a wedge between you and your child. If you are able to reach a solution and compromise, this is a great opportunity to do so, and may cause the child to want to stay. Even if the child is set on the idea of living with the other parent, it’s important to have some closure with any unresolved issues or conflicts, if possible, before the child departs. This will help your relationship to become better over time, and will promote future involvement in each others lives.
Ensure You’re Covered Legally
When a child wants to live with the other parent, there will likely be legal actions to be taken to ensure the other parent has the same rights that the current custodial parent has. Things like legal consents for school activities, and the like will need to be sorted out with attorneys, as well as any new custody arrangements.
See the Importance of the Other Parent in the Life of Your Child
A parent’s first initial instinct may be to stop the child from moving in with the other parent, but this could do more harm than good in the long-run and create a greater divide between the parent and child. Instead, it’s a good idea to see the importance of the other parent’s involvement in the life of your child, and to try to empathize with the child, and allow him/her to experience what life is like living with the other parent. Who knows, the child may want to come back after a time with the other parent. This is a good time to determine if this will be allowed, and the finer details of such situations. At the end of the day, it’s always most healing for the children when they have a say in who they want to live with, according to Dr. Seth Meyers, PsyD.
Stay Actively Involved in the Life of Your Child
It can truly hurt when a child leaves the home to live with another parent. It can make a parent feel rejected, and unloved by the child, when this really isn’t the case. Regardless of one’s feelings surrounding a child’s decision to move, a parent should try to be as supportive as possible, and be as active in the life of the child as possible throughout the entire time the child is living with the other parent. This means parents should still be involved with co-parenting duties, attending after-school activities, transporting children to and from activities when required, celebrating holidays, and helping support the children in furthering their education after graduating high school. This will help parents feel like the child is not gone, rather staying with a friend several nights of the week.
Enjoy Your Free Time
Having a child live with the other parent will likely free up a considerable amount of time for the custodial parent. This is a time to celebrate one’s free time, and truly enjoy it. Take this time to do the things you always wanted to do, and said you would do if you had the time. This could be reading a book, writing a book, traveling, taking up a new hobby, or simply getting one’s ducks more in order than one was able to do before. Even indulging in a considerable amount more of self-care is a great way to fill in the void the child is likely to leave in one’s heart upon living with the other parent. So long as parents practice good self-care and refrain from encouraging any further disconnect with the child, or engage in self-medicating behavior, this can be a transition that holds many benefits for all, depending on one’s outlook, and is a situation that can be managed with grace and class when thrown such an emotional curve-ball.