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Girl Changes Mind About Custody Decision

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 15-year-old daughter who lives with her mom and brother, has wanted to come live with me, her stepmom, and three siblings since she was 10 years old. We waited until she was 14 to see if this was still what she wanted. We went through the legal system which was very traumatic for her. It failed us and she remained with her mom. A year passed by, and she states "That she has never been more confident in her decision to come live with me."

We tried once again, this time outside the court system. Her mom stated she was going to sign the change of custody papers but never did, and was never really supportive of her daughter's decision. When the weekend came we were supposed to move her into our home, she could not do it. She was afraid her mother would hate her. Her mother and grandmother told her how horrible it would be to come and live with me. Her inability to make this decision despite the pressure has hurt me and my family emotionally and financially. I am terribly dissapointed in my daughter. We were very suppotive and gave her many chances to back out. I feel her mom is trying to turn my kids against me and it is working.

My question is how do we mend the hurt feelings? How do I teach her that how she handled this was wrong? She has not tried to contact me since this all has occured. Do I continue to have contact, but let her not forget how I feel or should I not call and let her come to me when she is ready.

I have already told her that this was her last chance. I can not emotionally or financially go through this again.

A:

I certainly understand how these recent events have left you angry and hurt. I think what you are feeling most, however, is sad. You are sad because you think that your daughter may very well have duped you into thinking that she really wanted to come live with you when all she did (and had done on prior occasions) was play you against her mother for her own advantage.

You need to know that you have acted only out of love for her and wanting to do what was best for her in terms of a primary family environment. You have always asked her to consider her desires to live with you or to remain with her mother very carefully. I am assuming that you have not engaged in the same character assassin-like tactics regarding her mom that you suspect her mother of regarding you.

Although you are very angry and feel a betrayal of trust on your daughter's part, I would not be so convinced that she was toying with you or manipulating you all along. Think about the fact that she allowed a farewell party to be thrown for her -- a 15 year-old would not willingly go through with such a public send-off if she knew she never planned on moving in with you.

Never underestimate the power of emotional blackmail in these circumstances. You appear to have good reason to believe that your wife and her mother have been attempting to poison your kids' relationship with you. She may have been much more the victim in this triangulated web than a conscious manipulator.

My advice to you is not to disconnect with your daughter. Be the loving, supportive father that you have always been to your kids. You can't spend all your energies asking your kids what lies their mom is telling them about you and then defending yourself. You may think that I am asking a lot of you, given your hurt and the effort (and money) that you have expended ...and I am. You are the adult here and she is your 15 year-old daughter, a child who may be caught in an ever-tightening vise as regards her allegiance to and love of her parents. I would suggest that you contact her personally, to try to explain why you are hurt and saddened by this dramatic turn of events and to say that you will continue to try to do your best to understand what she's going through. Tell her that you are not going to spend your time defending yourself against anything that her mom says about you. Ask her to try to trust in the relationship that you and she have built over the years and to judge and value it apart from any others' opinions. Leave her knowing why you have been hurt but knowing that you remain her loving father.

My advice may seem inappropriate and too much of a challenge for you at this time. Please reconsider it in a while if that is the case.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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