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Child Wants His Parents Together Again
Q: My son is seven-years-old and does very well in school. I was a very young mother and his father was gone from his life for about two and a half years before getting visitation rights. He spends most of his visits with his grandmother and when he returns he always has a false hope that his father and I are going to be together someday. But when he is with me the subject is never brought up. Then he called me, while on one of his visits, and said that his dad still loved me. He wanted to know why I don't love him. Is he old enough to know the truth about the break-up? Thank you for your advice.
A: Your son is being placed in an unhealthy triangle between you and his father. From your testimony, it appears that his dad and perhaps his grandmother have been fueling his attempts to get you and his dad back together. A child will often take on this position, even thinking that he is to blame for the separation or divorce of his parents. Your son should never have the burden of that blame. But in your family's case, his father seems to be the one placing your son in the role of matchmaker.
Don't offer all the details of your break-up to him. What he does need to know, however, is that you and his father do not love each other anymore and that you will never get back together again. That does not mean that you both do not love him or will not act with respect toward each other. This can be conveyed in an age-appropriate manner without condemning his father or giving him the whole truth behind your break-up. Perhaps he could better understand how you don't want to be with his dad if you compared it to something that has happened in his life. For example, if he's had good friends that he decided were not his good friends anymore, so he broke off his friendship with them.
Ideally, you and his father should attend a few therapy sessions together with a family therapist who has counseled couples in similar situations. Perhaps his dad could be persuaded that it's best for his son to come to an understanding about the finality of his relationship with you. A talented therapist can do this without making his dad feel like the "bad guy." Everyone needs to be saying the same words to him about the nature of your complicated relationship. Please get your son the help that he needs. If you don't seek help, your son will become more and more obsessed with the notion that he must get you back together again.
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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.