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Parental Blackmail: When Your Teen Wants to Change Residences

When your child wants to change residence to live with their other parent the bottom can fall out.  It is easy to find yourself competing for the affection of your teen as a result.  Before you react consider the following:

Normal Adolescence:   As children become teens they need to become less focused on us and more focused on their own needs. This is a very difficult stage for both the teen and the parent. Social connections take over the desire to spend time with the family.  Peers outweigh almost everything.  As a result cell phones, electronics, face book, their push for independence and freedom, all seem to take first place. You know they love you but you don’t feel it very often.  When children are younger the parents give and make sacrifices and receive much in return from valentines and kisses and hugs and being told they are the best parent in the world. Now things are off-balance and it is not an equitable relationship; parents typically feel used and unappreciated during adolescence. When your little darling became a teen it is as if your relationship underwent a major change.  It is no longer reciprocal and you are not their number one focus.  This can be very hurtful but parents must adapt and modify their expectations. This process is complicated further when your teen has two homes.

The Other Home: The contrast between homes may become strained with differences in values, responsibilities, expectations and limits.  Competition between homes becomes inevitable for the teen seeking the least amount of responsibilities and limits.  Suddenly it seems you are being held hostage by your teen and/or the other parent.  When the rules in the other home are more lenient or the child is bribed with possessions the child is likely going to pick the other home. It is difficult to think of this logically when emotions are running high. If you believe the other home is just trying to “win.” You will be so angry you may not make the best decisions.  Parents of teens are acutely aware of the fleeting days before they will be leaving us.  This creates fear, sadness and anxiety on top of feeling unappreciated or rejected.

The completion may or may not be intentional like the father would bride his son to come live with him.  He offered to pay his son $500 a month since he would no longer be paying the $1,000 child support.  This was malicious but worked.  What teen, short on spending money, would be tempted to choose this door? Don’t assume the other parent is intentionally trying to take your child or that it is alienation.  It may just be your child is tempted because the life style behind that door is so appealing.

Parenting Values:  If your teen claims they want to live with the other parent it may be because the rules are easier.  However, you continue to parent based upon your values and have your child prefer the other parent.    Your other option is to reduce your own parental expectations and values in hopes of keeping your child content with the current arrangement.  You find yourself concerned that your child will not have the supervision or restrictions necessary to have a healthy, safe adolescence. Your parenting values such as chores, money, and responsibilities must now either be a eliminated because the competition is too great or you stand strong with your parenting convictions and get more resistance from your teen and push towards the other home.

Maintaining Your Connection:  Whether your child seeks to change residences or not, it will be very important to maintaining your connection with your child during these last 4-5 years.  Their choice is not even remotely tied to their love for you.  That is a given. It’s simply a matter of picking the door with the most material goods, friends or freedoms. Although you may know better all they hear is “The price is right-come on down! Pick the door!”  It is reasonable to expect a normal self-absorbed adolescent to pick this door. Do not take it as a personal affront to all that you have done.

So the questions are, how far will you go to adjust your parenting values and rules in light of the lenient situation in the other home. The second question is how you want to react so as not to harm your relationship with your child if they choose to live in the other home. You find yourself in an unthinkable situation.  The child you raised will return sometime after this stage.  Remember it will only be a few years at most before this developmental stage changes.

  • Don’t take any of this personally. It is likely not about you.
  • Don’t react if the only time your teen claims they want to live with the other parent is when they are angry with you
  • Decide to pick your battles with your teen and let some smaller issues go.
  • Decide how far you can go and stick to it.
  • Don’t think your child is “choosing” the other parent
  • Don’t assume the other parent is trying to alienate you from your child intentionally
  • Remember not to get angry for your child’s desire to make life easier on him/herself
  • The most important thing is to hold onto is a positive relationship with your child no matter what happens.

Remember this stage, like all those before, will come to an end soon enough.  What once seemed like endless diapers and sleepless nights did eventually come to an end just as promised.  So will this stage.

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