Q. I’ve been divorced for four years, and my ex and I have done our best to co-parent our son, age 15. My ex travels a lot, which means I have primary custody, but they talk on the phone constantly and spend as much time together as possible. Recently my sister visited my son’s Instagram account and found that he declared that his dad was his “hero.” My sister was upset by this and worried that it might mean that my son will want to go live with dad and his new girlfriend and family. (Afraid Son Likes Dad Best) I am worried. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. First I want to say that I think it’s great that you have access to your son’s Instagram account. Not that I’m not for giving a kid privacy, but in this day and age I think it’s a good idea to monitor your child’s computer use. You might want to check to see if he has an additional account where he interacts with his friends and just gave you access to that account to appease your parental curiosity. I’ve seen that more times than I would like to admit.
Second, to answer the more important question–I also understand your sister’s concern. She loves you, she loves your child, but she may not understand the relationship you’ve built with his father, or for what reason, and that’s the red flag I would like to call to your attention. Her concern is fear based and when you come from that place everything is done on the defense. For example, the child’s father takes him to Disneyland for a weekend, next trip you take him to Disney World for a week. Dad takes your son to a foot ball game, you buy season tickets. These examples are extreme, but I use them to demonstrate a point. You can’t parent on the defense. Tell your sister that you appreciate her concern, but let you co-parent as you see fit. If a child of divorce cares for both of his parents without qualification, you have done something right. And, if he sees his father as his hero? Good for both of you!
All that said, at 15 it’s not uncommon for a child who has lived predominantly with one parent to want to live with the other. I see this most often boys who have lived with mom as the primary caregiver. They hit 13 or 14, maybe 15, start to relate to Dad and “guy” things more than they did when they were babies and gravitate toward their father. Mom hates it, fears dad is behind it in some way and resents dad. She might start badmouthing dad–communication that might have been okay in the past now becomes strained, and there the child is right in the middle. And, it’s not his fault, he’s doing what comes natural, so do your best to not resent his behavior—or necessarily blame it on dad. There are parents that play that alienation game, which is about the worst thing you can do to a kid, but if your son eventually wants to live with Dad it doesn’t mean he loves him more. It may simply mean he loves him, too–which is exactly how you brought him up.
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.