My Young Son Wants to Live with Dad

Parenting expert Jan Faull, MEd, counsels a divorced mom about how to handle her 6-year-old son's wishes to live with his father.
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Q. "My ex-husband and I split up one year ago. We were together for 10 years, and we have three sons, ages 8 years, 6 years, and 19 months. The oldest and youngest boys have adjusted to the change, but my 6-year-old misses his daddy a lot. He constantly talks about living with daddy even though he sees him just about every weekend.

My concern is that I don't want to split up my sons, and I am concerned that my ex-husband isn't responsible enough to have a 6-year-old child living with him. I'm also feeling a little selfish. I would miss him if he leaves. I'm not sure what to do here, and I don't want to see my son so sad. How should I proceed?"

A. Please understand that a 6-year-old child cannot make the decision about which parent he lives with. He is not mature enough nor does he have the intellect, judgment, or experience to do so.

You are the custodial parent; the court determined a parenting plan for you and your ex-spouse to follow. Beyond those requirements, as a responsible parent you must proceed with your son's best interests in mind.

You've hit upon a couple of the most important issues here. First, it's important not to split up your three sons. You and your 6-year-olds' brothers provide a consistent and stable atmosphere for your son. Leaving that stability and consistency behind would be extremely devastating to him. Second, you don't feel that your ex-husband is responsible enough to adequately care for a 6-year-old. If this is true, you can't even begin to entertain the thought of having this little boy move in with his daddy.

It's important to remember that your son's desires are motivated by sadness, and that giving in to those desires in order to placate his emotions does not address the long-term physical and mental health and well-being of your child.

So what to do to diminish your son's sadness with respect to missing his dad? Rather than trying to convince him that living with you is the best for him, speak to his wishes. Here's what you might say: "I know you miss Daddy and you wish you could live with him. You probably wish that he still lived here with all of us, but that's not how it is. When you're 18 years old, then you can decide if you'd like to live with him, with me, or someplace else. But for now, the courts and I have decided it's best for you to live here with me and your brothers. Besides, if you lived with Daddy, we'd all miss you so much. We're really glad you live with us."

When he's obviously sad, address the emotion by saying, "You miss Daddy, you're so sad, you wish you could see him right now. Would you like to call him?" Other times say, "You can be as sad as you like, I'll be right with you when you're sad but I can't allow you to move in with your father."

Do all you can to make sure your son sees his dad at least once a week and has the opportunity to talk to him on the phone every day. Keep a picture of his dad next to his bed. Post a calendar on the refrigerator to mark the days until the next visit. Also, invite Dad to all sports, school, and holiday events. This man is the living, breathing male role model for your sons. You must make sure that you're doing everything you can to allow him the opportunity to be the responsible father your sons need him to be.


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