Q: I feel as if I am being replaced. My 12-year-old daughter just told me that she would like to live with her father and bonus mom full time. She currently sees them on the weekends but asks to see them more often. I always let her, but it doesn't seem to be enough. She did not see her dad for the first few years of her life — he was in the Army and traveling. Now he's home and is married with another son. At my house it's just me, and I have to work all the time. I'm losing her. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: There's a lot going on here, and although I don't know the specifics, I can speculate. You probably do feel as if you are being replaced — and that is because of the type of co-parenting relationship you and Dad have maintained over the years.
It's not uncommon for a child who has lived predominantly with one parent to hit about 12, 13, 14ish and start to gravitate to the other parent. It usually happens with boys who have been raised predominantly by mothers. They hit their early teen years and start to gravitate to Dad because of same-gender likes and dislikes. However, I see it with girls, as well.
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The main obstacle is that if the parents have not built a co-parenting relationship over the years, there's no incentive to offer the child balance. It becomes an either/or proposition — either you live with your mom or me — and the child feels as if he or she must choose.
If you and Dad had built a positive co-parenting relationship, when your daughter mentioned she would like to live with him he would have realized that his daughter needs both parents and approached the subject differently — possibly a phone call to discuss the desire for more time based on his conversations with her, maybe an additional day here or there, possibly more time during breaks so they can take vacations together, but he would not have thought that a huge change in custody must be made. Co-parents support their child's time with the other parent because they know it's in the best interest of their child. (Ex-etiquette rule No. 1: "Put the children first.") Children have the right to have both of their parents in their lives.
Parents who share custody of their children should not think that the parenting plan that worked when their child was 2 is a forever-after answer. As a child grows, if you successfully co-parent, you acknowledge that the schedule with either of you might need to be adjusted to address your child's interests. Say, Dad lives closer to school and the child has an early practice three days a week. The days prior might be the days that he or she should sleep at Dad's house so his or her sleep is minimally disrupted. But parents don't often see it that way.
If there is no cooperation, they only see a change in time to be a change in child support, not in the child's comfort, so the proverbial custody fight begins. One wins; one loses. The child always loses.
Finally, even though in some states the law says children can choose where they want to live at a certain age, it doesn't mean they should. You are the parents. Figure it out together in the best interest of your child. That's good ex-etiquette.
Email Dr. Jann Blackstone at email@example.com.
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