This column appeared in the Contra Costa Times on May 11, 2005. I wish every divorced parent would take this counsel to heart.
Son takes back seat to new partner
Q: I have a 20-year-old son who still lives with me. After being divorced for six years, I am finally in a loving relationship and even though my son was my confidant, I sat him down and explained to him that my partner is moving in and in the future my partner will now play that role. He said that he understood completely, but then decided to move into his father's home -- a man with whom he has not had a close relationship for many years. I'm not sure how to handle this situation. Please help.
A: We are not sure you need to handle anything at this point. Your son is an adult and has made the choice to live somewhere else. Had you asked us how to handle it before your partner moved in, we would have probably told you not to put your son and your partner in direct competition with each other. If you do, one will lose, and the other will win, and in your case, it sounds as if your son gave up without a fight. How did you put your son in competition with your significant other? By stating that being your confidant used to be your son's job, but now that you have a partner, your son is out and your partner is in. Basically, you told your son that he could easily be replaced. Is there any wonder why he chose to move and cultivate a better relationship with his other parent?
It's not uncommon for divorced parents to use their children as their confidants -- someone to lean on in a time of stress -- and divorce or separation is a perfect time for this mistake because the adult is now alone without another adult in which to confide. At a time when children need to feel the most secure, however, telling them your problems only lets them know that Mom or Dad doesn't have the foggiest idea what to do, either.
When parents need someone to talk to about adult decisions -- for example, should your new love sleep over, should you blow your life savings on that trip to Fiji or should you invest in Microsoft -- consider talking to a therapist, an investment counselor, maybe your travel agent, but not your kids. Certainly, don't preface a huge decision with "Now that (insert a new boyfriend or girlfriend's name) is here, things are really going to change," or you are setting their relationship up for failure. The child will automatically think the new "friend" is taking over and, like the 20-year-old in this case, he or she will either leave or fight the change or resent the new person.
A better way to begin such a relationship is to not compare the two people. Understand that they both have separate roles in your life. Rejoice in the fact that you have a child and life partner and do not allow their roles to overlap.
Ex-Etiquette is written by Discovery Bay residents Jann Blackstone-Ford, M.A., and her husband's ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After a Divorce or Separation.
Visit their website at www.bonusfamilies.com.