Q. My son is 14 and I wasn’t around for most of his life, but about two years ago I reached out and he responded positively. We are now pretty close, but it’s obvious he is even closer to his stepdad, which I think is because he has been around since he was two. Father’s Day is right around the corner and I’m scheduled to be with my son, but I don’t think he really wants to be with me. I don’t know what’s right or wrong here. Should I demand that we spend the day together or let my son stay with his stepfather on Father’s Day? What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. Good ex-etiquette always begins with “Put the children first.” (Ex-etiquette for parents Rule #1) and that rule is especially helpful when it comes to making decisions like the one you have before you. When you use what is best for your children as the deciding factor, most answers are really quite simple. It’s when parents let their own feelings color what’s right or wrong that decisions get difficult to make. Good for you. You are searching for what is best for your child.
Don’t jump to conclusions. It would be understandable if your son wanted to stay with his bonusdad (stepdad) for Father’s Day, but he could also be quite torn about the decision. Set the stage with a conversation that doesn’t make him feel as if he must choose and lets him know he’s wanted in both places.
Too often parents think a child is 14 or 15, and that makes them old enough to choose where they want to spend their time. That puts far too much pressure on them, especially in your case when your son may be weighing his allegiance to a man who has raised him against his allegiance to his biological father with whom he wants to nurture a relationship.
Luckily this doesn’t have to be an either or proposition. You can arrange the day so that your son can spend time with both of you. It’s starts with getting on the same page with his mother and stepfather and then present any decisions as a unted front. You might arrange to pick your son up for a few hours and take him to lunch. Or, if that interferes with already made plans, suggest breakfast and have him back before noon. You may even want to start a new ritual and make the Saturday prior to Father’s Day your day with your son–that way he can have time with both you and his bonusdad without having to choose between the two of you—a choice that may get more difficult as time goes on.
You are lucky. It’s not uncommon for kids who might feel abandoned or rejected by a wayward parent to rebuff the parent if they show up later. The fact that your son reacted positively is a tribute to his character, but also to his mother and stepfather’s character, as well. They have not let jealousy or envy interfere, but have given your son permission to love you so that your relationship with him can flourish. That is the essence of “put the child first” and the best ex-etiquette possible. But, I have to say it, don’t dissapear again or you may not have their support again.
Happy Father’s Day! Let’s hope you all continue to work together in your son’s best interest.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr. Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of seven books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, and other Ex-etiquette books. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.