Stepfamily Talk: Going Between Houses

Stepfamily Talk: Going Between Houses

Custody: What Should I Do if My Teenager Doesn’t Want to Spend Time With Ex?

Dear Lisa:

Do you have any advice about 50/50 custody splits? My teenage son’s dad wants to change our custody arrangement so our son is with his dad more often — with me one week and with his dad the next week. My son doesn’t want to do this. He’d rather be at my house more often, close to his friends.

A.R.

Dear A.R.:

A 50-50 custody arrangement doesn’t always make sense, especially for a teen. Susan Wisdom, a licensed professional counselor in Portland, Ore. and co-author of “Stepcoupling,” stresses that teens often are breaking away from their families. “They want more control of their lives. They’re self-centered and into their friends,” says Wisdom. “That’s the normal development pattern at this age.”

Many teens don’t like the idea of splitting their time equally between two houses. Often, their friends live close to either Mom’s or Dad’s house. “Teens don’t want to schlep their stuff, and they don’t want to be inconvenienced or taken away from friends,” says Wisdom. “Forcing a reluctant teen to switch back and forth against his will is often a mistake,” she says.

Wisdom suggests that parents focus more on “quality time,” not quantity time” she says. “If the teen spends two nights a week with Dad, it doesn’t mean that Dad is losing him,” Wisdom says. The goal is to work out a solution that provides for “quality time” between the parent and the teen. “Yes, it’s sad and difficult for divorced parents to not have their kids grow up with them 24-7,” says Wisdom. “The challenge is to work out a solution that includes quality time between the parents and teen. Then the teen will continue to stay connected with Dad and Mom in a healthy way.”

I agree that this situation is particularly sad. When parents first get divorced, they often don’t realize that dividing kids between two homes will really limit their time with their children once they become teens. It’s critical for the parents to work together to resolve this issue. You may consider seeking a third-party counselor to help you resolve this.

Good Luck!

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Lisa

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