Dear Dr. Sylvia,
I have been the residential custodian of my 15-year-old son since he was born. During that time, his father has maintained a responsible and regular presence in his life with weekly visits, weekend sleepovers, and vacations. During the past four years, however, the day-to-day responsibilities of raising my son became more difficult. He was diagnosed with ADHD and a learning disability in fifth grade, and trying to find the right combination of medication and behavior modification combined with pre-adolescent hormonal changes took its toll on both of us.
His dad, though wanting the best for his son, was really unable to contribute to the day-to-day activities because he simply was not present daily. Consequently, he did not have to deal with perpetual lateness, homework battles, sports events, and so on. By the end of our son's eighth-grade year, I had reached an emotionally exhausted state. In anger and frustration, I told both my son and his father that during the high school years they would have to live with each other because I could not take it any longer. Of course, much turmoil occurred during the next several weeks, but my son ended up moving in with his dad.
High school has been a blessing for my son, and he is thriving. The problem is he would like to live a week with his dad and a week with me. Since his father and I are almost equally distant from his school, I think it is a great idea and at least worth a try. His father is against it, saying it would not be healthy for our son and would provide no consistency for him. His dad has several evening meetings during the week, so it's not as if he would be "missing him."
Our son is bright, articulate, and gets along well with adults and children alike. Having had the summer to regroup and the stress of his eighth grade behind me, I am much more relaxed and enjoying him more. He would like to see if an alternate-week arrangement could work, and I would love to have that happen as I do miss his daily presence in my life, as does his brother. Do you think that at his age his wishes should respected? Is there research that indicates that alternate weeks would not be beneficial or in his best interests?
-- Torn Parent --
Dear Torn Parent,
It sounds as if your son has taken an important turn in improvement, which may indeed be much more related to his living with his dad than you would like to believe. That isn't meant as an insult to your mothering, but only an observation that teen-age boys are often more willing to toe the line for a father than a mother.
My experiences with children who move every other week are not good. It is difficult to keep any consistency and easy for the children to blame their problems on the other parent. My guess is that you are easier on your son than his dad; thus, he would prefer the additional freedom.
Give your son at least his high school years with his dad and continue to have liberal visitation with him so you can enjoy this new young man. Your relationship will be better, and his dad will feel supported. This is not the time in his life to permit him to manipulate between you. It will probably be good for his brother to have some special time with you now, and perhaps in high school he can spend more time with his dad as well. It is good for children to appreciate both their parents even when the parents are no longer married.