Q: I have 12-year-old son. We were very young when we had him and I really wasn’t into it until about two years ago. His mother and I now split his time equally.
After he spent last weekend with me, he went back to his mother’s and said I said stuff I never said! And, we had such a great time – or so I thought. What’s going on?
A: Experience tells me that the reason your son could be telling his mother things you never said is because he’s trying to make her feel better. You didn’t see him regularly for 10 years. He developed a close relationship with his mother. You’re now in his life and he’s probably delighted – but he’s also afraid his delight may hurt mom’s feelings, so he lies about wanting to see you, having fun at your home, and things you said so he can make sure mom knows he loves her.
He’s probably doing the same thing when it comes to you. He’s facing the allegiance and betrayal issues so many kids of divorce cope with – and unfortunately, the way they cope is – they lie.
Kids act in this manner when their parents don’t talk to each other. I know you didn’t actually have a relationship with his mother, but that’s really no excuse for bad parenting now. If you and his mother don’t talk, he’ll tell you exactly what he thinks you want to hear – and he will do the same with mom. The key phrase is “what he thinks you want to hear.”
He’s listening and processing the information from a 12-year-old’s perspective – so don’t be quick to believe everything he is telling you. And, if you and mom don’t fix this, as he gets older he’ll play you against each other – he’ll tell you mom said something was OK when she didn’t. He’ll tell her you signed his report card when you didn’t. And, why would he ever get caught? You and mom rarely compare notes.
The most loving thing you and his mother can do for him at this point is to openly communicate and problem solve together.
I have gone as far as suggesting that divorced parents who often disagree stage an apology right in front of their children to demonstrate how to properly apologize – and how to graciously accept one.
Plus, openly problem solving in front of the kids lets them know you do compare notes.
Do whatever you have to do to get your son out of the middle. Right now he’s running defense for both of you. Even something as innocent as telling him to call his mom to let her know you’ll be late puts him right in the middle of the two of you. If mom’s angry that you’re late, he’ll get the brunt of her anger.
And, next time you ask him to call he’ll lie in order to diffuse the situation. Best tactic – talk to each other, make decisions between the two of you, then pass things on to your son.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.