Adapted from an online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I am in the middle of a divorce, and my 13-year-old son is being, frankly, a brat about it. I get that divorce is hard on kids, but it’s hard on the adults, too, and I’m losing my patience with him.
The big issue right now is we have both agreed that we will allow him to decide whom he’s going to live with during the week (he’ll live with the other on weekends). This decision needs to be made soon, and he is flat-out refusing to decide. My soon-to-be ex and I are both at a loss on how to get a decision out of him. Any suggestions?
Divorcing: No, you did not just call him a brat. No no no.
“It’s hard on the adults, too”?!
I am going to hope with all of my hope cells that you wrote this in a fit of exasperation and would like nothing more than to retract it. But in case you’re standing by it:
Your son had no say in the dissolution of his home and family. That is traumatic.
The say you are giving him, over which parent he will live with for more of his days than the other, is also traumatic. It is not a favor to a child of any age to make him choose one parent over the other. Do you have any concept of the guilt he will carry if he does make this choice on his own?
I back him 100 percent in not bowing to the pressure to make a decision that is beyond his maturity level.
You and your soon-to-be ex need to make this decision, now, egos aside, based on what you can agree is best for your son. Whether it’s admitting one of you is better at school-week parenting than the other; or has the better house, district or access to his friends; or the shorter distance to his favorite activity: Just grow the erf up and do it. If you can’t, then enter mediation to do it. Anything but dumping that weight on your already traumatized kid. Or expecting him to handle it like you or any adult would.
Then apologize in your heart for the brat thing. Because, wow.
· As a teacher, I would beg for thinking through what will make his school days the best — shorter commute, access to the best school, more friends, easier access to fun after-school activities, more support at home with homework. Your son is going through so much — you don’t want his schoolwork or friendships to suffer unnecessarily.
I hope you and his other parent grow up quickly. He will be leaving home in a few years, and you don’t have long to get this right. Your letter implies you don’t understand the needs of kids/teens and don’t have a habit of putting him first.
· I would not normally think it was a bad idea to give a 13-year-old a choice in what is his own life. But if he is refusing to decide, well, that is indicative of overwhelm, right?
· I’m a divorce lawyer. Consult a good, reputable mental health professional for help with this decision. But Carolyn is spot on: Whatever you do, take this burden off your son’s too-young shoulders and tell him that — NOW.