You and your spouse had an amicable divorce, in which you agreed to joint legal custody of your young son, Brad. The schedule called for him to spend every other weekend with you.
For years, both you and your son looked forward to these weekend visits. When the weather was pleasant, you enjoyed outdoor activities like bicycling in the park or visiting the zoo. Even rainy days were fun: you would beat each other at Blasters of the Universe or spend hours reading.
When Brad turned 13, things changed. He wanted to hang out with his friends on weekends instead of spending time with you. Given the fact that you both lived for your weekends together, you’re hurt and wondering if someone is undermining your relationship or, worse, you’ve done something wrong.
You likely haven’t. All parents divorced or not, eventually realize that the older their kids get, the less they are interested in spending their free time with you. The teenage years are a time when young people take their first steps toward independence, and peer companionship is suddenly more appealing than hanging out with Mom and Dad. Although you all still love each other, the relationship dynamics have changed.
So what should you do?
Keep the lines of communication open
The chances are that Brad feels a little guilty that he wants to spend weekends with his friends instead of you. This feeling of responsibility keeps him from talking to you about it. You can help the situation by letting him know that his shifting priorities are normal and it doesn’t change your love for him.
Be prepared to share your parenting time
When you think back to your teenage years, you probably remember how much you disliked rules and schedules, as they curbed your growing sense of independence. You need to start planning your visits with Brad in a way that allows him to make plans of his own with friends. This flexibility can create a win-win situation: you get to spend time with him, and he can develop his independence further.
Talk to your former spouse
Even if you agree to essentially share your parenting time with Brad’s peers, he doesn’t have free rein to blow off your visits entirely. Your former spouse should understand that they can’t sit back and indulge a teenager’s desire to spend every weekend with his buddies. Your relationship with him will always be more important than these friendships, so if your relationship with your ex is positive, solicit their help in insisting that Brad spend a scheduled amount of parenting time with you.
When teenagers suddenly become distant, many divorced parents worry that their son or daughter is angry at them. Don’t jump to the same conclusion. In most cases, it’s a simple problem of time with Mom or Dad no longer being a priority, and like most difficulties, it will pass.
Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx, NY Family Court attorney with over 35 years of experience. He has helped many clients obtain suitable visitation schedules for their children. Mr. Lutzky offers free in-person initial consultations and convenient weekend appointments. To set up an appointment, call 718-329-9500. To read more about child custody visit our blog.