Jann Blackstone-Ford and Sharyl Jupe: Bonus familiesWe think my husband’s son wants to live with us
Q: My 13-year-old stepson has been calling my husband nonstop for the past month. We think he may want to live with us and we are thrilled. His mother remarried last year and is expecting a baby soon and we believe that may be behind the change. We would like to initiate a conversation about him coming to live with us, but we don’t want to alienate his mother — or put any undue pressure on him just in case we are wrong and that isn’t what’s behind the additional phone calls. How do we handle this?
A: As a boy enters adolescence, it’s not uncommon for him to gravitate toward dad. It’s just plain biology. If this were a conventional two-parent family, mom would probably rejoice as father and son bonded. If parents are divorced, what’s natural biology can be misunderstood by mom to be an attempt to alienate the child. She may not believe the child is initiating the change even when he is.
Although new parents the second time around may view an addition as the glue that holds their new family together, the child from a previous marriage may view the baby as merely a distraction for his mother’s affections. Good for you for not going to the son with the offer to move in with you. Talking to his mom first is the best approach. Of course she may not respond positively at first, but approaching her first will also show her you are not trying to undermine her, which can be just as important as letting the child know that there’s a place with you if he wants to make the switch.
We do have a few suggestions for how to approach the subject with his son without adding pressure. First, your husband may want to initiate a longer visitation next time. Second, he needs to make sure he communicates how happy he is that he’s hearing from his son so often, saying something open-ended like, “I really like that we’ve been talking more recently.” It doesn’t make the child check his allegiance to his mother.
Saying something like, “You know you can live with me anytime” may sound reassuring on the surface, but it can put his son in the position where he feels he has to choose. Don’t be afraid to talk to mom about the changes in her home and what that is saying to your son. Bottom line, he may just want to spend some time with a dad that he doesn’t have to share. And as we mentioned, that’s biology.
JANN BLACKSTONE-FORD and SHARYL JUPE are co-founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com) and authors of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After a Divorce or Separation.” Blackstone-Ford is married to Jupe’s ex-husband. Contact them at email@example.com.