My Child Wants to Live with My Ex
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Strategies for coping with this common Solo Mom dilemma
I’m in the thick of it. After 18 years of living with me, my daughter announced she’s going to live with her father for the summer. He was a crappy dad. He still is. He left soon after she was born, and I raised her alone. He didn’t want custody, just control. And now he wants her.
This is a win for him—and it is going to be a catastrophe.
The announcement was born from an argument, several arguments, really. The inevitable mother-daughter push-pull that begins when one is starting to get her period and the other is losing it; one young and beautiful, the world at her fingertips, operating in the center of her universe (aka a teenaged girl); the other overwhelmed, the weight of the world on her shoulders, operating in a traffic jam (aka a middle-aged single mom).
Note: I also have a teenaged son (aka the mediator) who thankfully is firmly rooted in our home.
I no longer knew this angry, foot-stomping woman-child who lolled in her messy bedroom, left dirty dishes in the sink, and spilled drama all over my son and me. I had to look at her baby pictures to remind myself of the person who lived under that wrinkle-free skin. And because I love her more than my heart can hold, I decided it was time for some tough love.
I wrote her a letter asking for kindness, a clean room, some help around the house, and token rent—even $10—something to show she cares to be part of the team that makes up our loving, nonnuclear family.
In return, I got a text that said, “I’ll stay with Dad this summer.”
I thought being dumped by a boyfriend was bad enough; trust me, it doesn’t hold a candle to being dumped by your kid.
When your littles are little, their living situation is generally mandated by a custody agreement. But what happens when they are old enough to have an opinion?
Don’t think of it as an attack on you personally. It doesn’t mean your child loves your ex more. Before getting defensive, before you crawl into bed and feel like a failure as a mother, consider the factors that might have prompted this desire to move: Your child might sincerely miss his father. Maybe there are problems at school and she wants a fresh start? Perhaps he’s tired of switching houses, or she’s uncomfortable with your dating.
Or, as in my case, it could just be the inevitable power struggle between mom and child. Mom toes the line. Dad has looser rules. Mom says no. Dad says yes. Dad is more fun!
No matter the reason for the request, it’s how you respond to it that counts. Assuming a move won’t pose any danger to your child, there are a few ways to handle the situation:
1. Talk to your child. Attempt to understand her point of view. Refusing to discuss the issue is not going to make it go away. Be an active listener, and assure your child that you hear what she is saying.
2. Keep the lines of communication open. If you can, communicate with your ex and bring him or her into the loop. Discuss options that focus on your child’s feelings while still maintaining some consistency.
If this scenario is not possible and both parents cannot agree on a modification to their custody agreement, it can become an issue for family court.
3. Try not to cry. (That’s impossible for me, but I get the logic.) You don’t want your child holding back out of guilt. He needs to know he is loved unconditionally and you will survive. Dry your tears and get out of bed. Take your kid for an ice cream and feel proud that he is comfortable telling you how he feels . . . and still will get ice cream with you.
4. Help your child test it out. If your child is trying to manipulate you with the threat, then it’s doubtful the new arrangement will last long—for Dad and your child—and she’ll come home with a much greater appreciation of YOU.
5. Let your child go. At some point we all have to allow our children to start making their own decisions and deal with the ramifications. When my 15-year-old son wanted to shave his head (to get a laugh at school), I cautioned him not to do it but ultimately drove him to the barbershop. It’s taken two months for his hair to grow back, and he’ll never do it again. Lesson learned.
My daughter wants to move in with her father because of my reasonable boundaries. I will support her decision. I will hold my ground. I will love her and let her go. It will be a long day. I will cry after she leaves. I will continue to nurture our relationship. I will stay in touch. I will be the mom and hope my parenting has taught her what is important in life.
Your child will figure this out, and know this will make your relationship stronger in the end—because sometimes we have to let them go for them to come back.
P.S. I give my daughter two weeks.
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