Q: I just found out that when my daughter is at my house she texts her mother behind my back. I found her phone and checked her messages. She tells me she's happy when she's with me, but she tells her mother she "misses her and wants to come home." Why is she lying? I feel betrayed. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: We've got some first-class red flags waving here, so let's start at the top.
Your question implies you think your daughter is in cahoots with her mother. They're plotting behind your back. As a result, you feel hurt and betrayed. Why is your daughter lying? You are the victim.
My primary question to parents who feel they're in this position is, "If you know your child loves you, why would she do this to YOU?" The most common answer? "Oh, her mother (or father) put her up to it."
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Although that might be true, that's probably not what's happening. Once children reach puberty it's not uncommon for them to gravitate to the same gendered parent– but in this case, it's also how you and mom are living the back and forth life. Your actions (exactly what, I don't have enough info) have asked your child to choose one or the other. She can't because she fears she'll hurt one of you – most often, the one who displays the most pain – and so she lies and tries to play the diplomat. You've put her in the middle without even knowing it. She's the victim, not you.
Here are some generalities. See if any fit:
1. You move, and the two homes are completely different. It's creature comforts, not which parent they prefer. Ask a child to sleep on a couch who is used to having his or her own room and even if they don't' say something, they're comparing. They "just want to go home."
2. You don't plan for their time with you. They're bored, miss their friends, and "Just want to go home."
3. You badmouth the other parent. (Good Ex-etiquette rule No. 3, "Don't badmouth.") Blame the state of affairs on something they've done and expect the child to side with you. In response they want to get away and "just want to go home."
4. You've moved someone in too soon, especially if your child knows you were running around while you were with their other parent. They reject you and your new partner, and "just want to go home."
What do you do?
Start talking to your child's other parent. Let your child know you cordially compare notes and work together in her best interest. When she sees that it's you and mom for her, not you against mom competing for her time, she'll relax and be more open with you.
Start listening to your daughter. Be receptive, not on the defense.
Take a look at the parenting plan you're expecting her to navigate. There are ways to spend time with your kids that don't require a ton of back and forth. Try volunteering at their school, coaching their soccer team – and never miss an extra-curricular activity, or regular dinner visits. They are easy changes to make for now, and that's good ex-etiquette.
(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. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)