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Different Parenting Styles
Q: I am a single parent raising three children, ages 9, 14, and 16. My 16-year-old is in a residential care program and my other two live with me. The children's father lives less than a mile away from me with his fiance and her two children. I have not had communication with my children's father about the children before and after our divorce. Our parenting styles are very opposite, I am raising my children to have guidelines, responsibilities, and respect for themselves and others; their father does not have rules, just a weekend full of fun. I have called him numerous times about issues with our children and his response is "I will get back to you" (he never does). I thought the best thing for my children would be to be near their father but at this time I have seen the damage that it has done to my oldest and the same problems starting with my other children. I have decided to sell my home and move one to two hours away and now my children's father is telling the children that they do not have to move with me and they can live with him. I have physical custody of the children. I could actually write you a book about my life as a single parent but my main question now is what do I do about the moving situation?
A: You unfortunately have been placed in the role of the "bad parent" by your ex. This is all too common and very painful for the parent in your position. It also triangulates the kids and forces them into choosing between the both of you. You have physical custody but do not mention what visitation rights were worked out. He has chosen to remarry and parent his new family. That is where his influence and values can be expressed with impunity. If his actions are causing the values you are teaching your kids to be compromised, of course you cannot tolerate that.
Moving a few hours away, however, is not going to diminish your kids wanting to have fun times with their dad. He has no moral right to pit the kids against you by telling them they can come live with him. This is not a game with the winner getting the kids. The fact that you two have not and do not talk about your kids shows me that this divorce needs a lot more work, for the sake of the kids. Could the two of you put your personal issues aside and meet with a skilled family therapist who specializes in after-divorce family relationships? Please try to do this soon before anger and resentment escalate and the kids are sacrificed in the name of winning. If he won't agree to see someone, will you please see someone; perhaps the therapist you see could contact your ex and make a persuasive argument that would get him in to talk. Keep your eyes on the prize, your kids, throughout these ordeals.
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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.