Q: I have a 12-year-old son. His mother and I have never really had a relationship, and I haven't been in my son's life except for the last two years. This year I started paying child support. On top of that I pay for his clothes, and travel over 300 miles to see him. He spends one weekend a month with me and half of summer. How come I do everything? After he spent the weekend with me, he went home and told his mother I said stuff I never said!
A: Actually, seeing him once a month for a weekend and half the summer is far from "doing everything." And we venture to think the reason you do anything at all is because you love your son. Driving 300 miles to see him is commendable. Your son likely appreciates it very much.
He's facing the allegiance issues so many kids of divorce cope with, and unfortunately, the way they cope is to lie. Your son and his mother have a close relationship. You're now in his life and he's probably delighted, but he's afraid his happiness may hurt Mom's feelings, so he lies about wanting to see you, and things you said so he can make sure mom knows he loves her.
This is what happens when parents don't talk to each other. Just because you never had a relationship is no excuse for bad parenting now. If you two don't talk, he'll tell you exactly what he thinks you want to hear, and he will do the same with Mom.
The key phrase is "what he thinks you want to hear." The most loving thing you and his mother can do for him is to openly communicate and problem-solve together. We have gone as far as suggesting disagreeing parents stage an apology right in front of their children to demonstrate how to properly extend and graciously accept one.
Finally, don't turn your son into a messenger. Even something as innocent as telling him to call his mom to let her know you'll be late puts him right in the middle. If mom's angry that you're late, he'll get the brunt of her anger. And, next time you ask him to call, he will lie in order to diffuse the situation. Best tactic: You tell mom.
Jann Blackstone-Ford, Ph.D., and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of "Ex-Etiquette for Parents," are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com).