Q: I'm extremely concerned and hurt that my son never wants to talk to me when he is at his mother's house. When the kids are at my house, which is 50 percent, I encourage them to call their mother if they want and call her back if she calls. My son seems happy at my house and likes to talk to his mom when she calls, but is distant and withdrawn from me when he's with her. I've brought this up to his mother, but since it's not happening to her, she really doesn't care. What should I do?
A: It sounds like your son is facing what we call "allegiance and betrayal issues." Very common when kids go back and forth between their divorced parents. If he's with Mom and enjoys it, he's betraying Dad. If he's with Dad and enjoys it, he's betraying Mom. Are you or his mother possibly falling into the following traps?
--When your son is at the other parent's home you call just to tell him how much you miss him -- right before bed so he can fall asleep knowing you love him.
--Just before he leaves to go to the other parent's home you get a touch of sentimentality and wave goodbye with tears welling in your eyes.
--You buy him a puppy, kitty, new video game, etc. and call him at the other parent's house just to let him know it's waiting for him when he gets home.
--You put down the other parent.
Parents who do any of these things are putting a child right in the middle. When you sadly call him right before he goes to bed, the last thing he hears is your anxious voice telling him how life just isn't the same when he's not around and so he feels guilty for being there when it makes you so unhappy -- even if he loves being there.
Even complaining about something like the other parent's lateness in front of the child can make them start to weigh their allegiance. Check yourselves!
It will help if you and Mom understand that his spending time with the other parent is normal behavior when parents share custody after a breakup. Act like it! It's in your child's best interest if he feels comfortable in both of his parents' homes.
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). Reach them at eebonus families.com.