Michael and Jennifer have been amicably divorced for six years. They have three children ages 6-14. As outlined in their final decree of divorce they split custody of the children on a 60/40 basis. The children are with Jennifer 60% of the time, with Michael, 40% of the time.
Until recently this arrangement worked well for both the parents and children. Jennifer worked weekends as a Registered Nurse and felt secure knowing her children were with their father and well cared for.
Michael traveled with his job during the week and worried less about his children knowing they were safe and sound with their mother. The children benefited from the quantity and quality of time with both parents.
Problems started when their oldest child became a teenager. Craig turned 14 and became less and less interested in spending Friday through Sunday night with his father. Craig had developed new interests; he wanted to “hang-out” with his friends on the weekends instead of his father.
Given their history and closeness, Michael was confused and hurt by Craig’s lack of desire to participate in their regular visitation schedule. Out of fear of hurting his father’s feelings, Craig didn’t want to discuss the situation with his father. This left Michael to wonder if he had done something wrong or if someone else was influencing Craig and undermining his relationship with Craig.
Needless to say, Michael became upset and started demanding that Craig visit as usual. Then Jennifer became involved and this once amicably divorced couple experienced their first post-divorce conflict.
Michael thought it was Jennifer’s fault that Craig didn’t want to visit; Jennifer felt defensive and lashed out at Michael. And Craig, he just felt helpless and responsible for all the chaos but still unable to be open and honest with either parent.
When Children of Divorce Become Teens
Whether you are a divorced parent or not, here is the reality of raising children, the older they become, the less interested they are in spending time with you. That’s right, the day comes when children need to test their independence, develop their autonomy and Mom and Dad are rarely part of that process.
When your child reaches those teen years, the most you will get to do is set rules and boundaries and accept that time with you is no longer a priority for them.
What Should Michael Do?
Encourage Communication: Children want to communicate, to be understood and to understand. As parents, we have that advantage. What we have to do is make sure our children learn that they are safe in communicating with us. For some reason, Craig felt responsible for his father’s feelings. This sense of responsibility kept him from communicating what he was feeling.
Michael can encourage open communication by letting his children know they are not responsible for the way he feels and that when problems arise, solutions can’t be found unless everyone is willing to share their thoughts and feelings via communication.
Be Flexible: With a growing sense of independence, teenagers can begin to resent time-dependent visitation. Michael’s scheduled parenting time will need to turn into shared parenting time with Craig’s friends and interests. Michael needs to start planning his time with his children in a way that allows Craig to also have plans of his own away from time with his father. Willingness to do this will give them both what they need. It will give Michael time with Craig and Craig time to exert his independence and “hang” with his friends.
If you find yourself in Michael’s situation my advice is to not jump to the wrong conclusion. Many parent’s fear parental alienation, or dealing with a child who has developed anger toward them. In most situations where a child suddenly no longer desires to visit, the problem may be as simple as time with Mom and Dad is no longer being a priority for them.