Dear Dr. Jann: My sons’ dad and I have been apart for almost five years. We have always shared the boys’ time equally and have had very few problems. Lately, my sons, now ages 13 and 14, have been telling me that they want to spend more time at their dad’s. It’s hurtful and I don’t know why their dad would undermine me now after all these years. Do you have any suggestions?
Dr. Jann Says: I hear this from moms all the time — and if your kids were girls, it might be reversed. The first thing parents in your position think is it is the other parent is undermining them and if you have been doing so well in the coParenting department, that’s probably not it.
It seems right around middle school kids start to gravitate to the same gendered parent. Their bodies are changing, their likes and dislikes change, and they want to spend more time with the parent to whom they can better relate. To be blunt, if a girl has cramps she feels more comfortable talking to her mom about it than talking to her dad. The same is true with boys. If dad and you were still together, you would celebrate when the boys want to take off for some private time with their father, but since you and dad are no longer together, your mind naturally goes to, “I didn’t do anything. It must be dad undermining me!” Honestly, that could be true, but more likely, it’s just biology.
Don’t make this an issue between you and the boys. As kids get older, flexibility is an important component for easy transitions from house to house. Stay up on their likes and dislikes and work on keeping open communication with dad. Don’t let resentment take over — there’s nothing that shuts a kid down faster than an angry desperate parent.