Q. I have two children, my son is twelve and my daughter is six. My husband and I are divorcing and my son wants to live with his father. He told me that the reason he wants to live with his Dad is that he doesn’t want him to be lonely.
What is your opinion on allowing a child to live where they want after a divorce? Should I be concerned about him being separated from his sister? Am I wrong to think that my son not wanting his Dad to be lonely isn’t a good reason for living with his Dad? Will separating him and his sister have a bad effect on them? Should we consult a therapist before making a final decision?
Jaime, my opinion is that parents do what is best for their children. No one understands a child’s needs more than the two parents who love the child. When going through a divorce those parents have to be aware of the impact that the divorce will have on the child. As long as parents pay attention to the needs of the child and are able to communicate with each other concerning those needs they will eventually figure what is right for the child.
Have you and your ex-husband been able to talk about the child’s reasons for wanting to live with his Dad? If not, you should. As parents, we are responsible for the feelings of our children, not the other way around. I would question the reason why your son feels it is his responsibility to keep his Dad from feeling lonely.
If he has a strong bond with his father and sincerely believes he would be happier living with his father then, by all means let him have some say in where he lives. If his only reason for wanting to live with his father is to take on the role of a caretaker then you need to question the long-term effects this will have on his childhood.
As for separating him and his six year old sister, that would depend. What kind of relationship do they have now? How often would he be seeing his sister. Let’s face it, twelve year old boys don’t have a lot in common with six year old girls. I would venture to say that, although they are siblings they probably don’t do a lot together other than family things. I think that as long as you and your ex-husband make sure that his relationship with his sister is cultivated there would be no problem.
In a situation like yours, family counseling would be a great idea. If you, your ex-husband and children could enter into counseling with the frame of mind that you are there to figure out what is in the best interest of both children you would find family counseling a valuable tool.
Individual counseling for your son could help him realize that it is OK to put his needs first. That he is a child who deserves the stability of a school he enjoys, friends to play with and happiness in his life even if his Dad is lonely. He needs to learn from somewhere that his Dad’s problems and feelings are not his to fix.
Many parents going through divorce make the huge mistake of putting their feelings and needs before those of their children. We often here how resilient children are and that is a good thing because they seem to get lost or put in second or third place when their parents divorce.
I recently watched an episode of Oprah where adults where talking about the divorce of their parents. One woman could remember that her mother was holding a roll of pink toilet paper the day her parents told her about the divorce. This was over 25 years after the fact. Her parent’s divorce had such a negative impact on her that, as an adult she was still dealing with those memories and the pain the divorce caused.
The decisions you and your ex-husband make regarding your children at this time can affect the rest of their lives. My advice is to not allow a child to arbitrarily decide where he wants to live. Pay attention to his feelings but, involve a therapist who is trained in dealing with family issues and can help you make the right decision for your children.