Dear Dr. Jann: My 14-year-old daughter lives with me most of the time. She has told her mother that she loves her and wants to see her, but doesn’t want to live with her. I want to support my daughter but I feel that she needs a relationship with her mother. How do I handle this?
Dr. Jann says: Tell her what you just told me — because you are right, a child needs a positive relationship with both parents. Don’t let this go to your head. A lot of different things could be playing into this change of events:
- When she’s with mom she loves it there and tells Mom she wants to live with her. When she’s with dad she loves it there and tells Dad the same thing. Both parents believe her and so they about where their daughter really wants to live. Truth is, the child is telling the truth. She probably wants to live with both parents.
- Poor communication between parents. One house is more lenient than the other. Child knows the parents don’t compare notes and is gravitating to the more lenient home. Be careful, when this happens kids play their parents against each other. “Dad doesn’t make me do that.” Check with Dad or you’ll never know.
- When a child turns anywhere between 10-14 and has been raised predominantly by one parent, it’s not uncommon for him or her to gravitate to the other parent’s home. It’s usually children gravitate to the like-gendered parent, but not always. The problem here is if things don’t go the way the child expects, he or she often begins a campaign to return to the other parent. Things can get really miserable if you don’t nip this one in the bud.
- The “other” parent may have been painted as the “refuge parent.” When things got tough, the child was not been taught to address the issue, it has been, “Go see your dad for a while and cool down.” She’s doing what you taught her to do.
It’s important to note that your daughter is not telling you its mom’s house or dad’s house, she’s saying she wants a relationship with her mother, she just wants to live with you most of the time. That’s a red flag. Figure out why. The best plan is to sit down with mom, compare notes, don’t take things too personally and really look for what’s best for your daughter at this time in her life.When you decide, present it to your daughter as a united front. Never make her choose.