I am 38 years old, divorced six months ago, with a 12-year-old son. The divorce was my choice and the ex-husband reacted very badly at first. Then he calmed down and his attitude became less aggressive. My child is very attached to his father, and because we live relatively close, he asks to visit him often much more than the days we have set and it is something that I not only do not prevent but support, because I believe that it is important for the child to have a good relationship with both his parents.
However, lately I have noticed a change in his behavior when he comes back from his father’s house, especially if he has been there for a long time like this summer when he went on vacation with him. He is aggressive towards me, talks sarcastically to me, doesn’t answer me in detail about what he is doing with his dad and his family, and sometimes, when I ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do, he calls his father and asks him to come and pick him up.
I feel like the constant contact with his father is pulling him away from me and I don’t know how to deal with it. I’m thinking maybe the frequency of their visits should be reduced but I’m afraid of his reaction and even the fact that he might ask to stay with his father permanently. What should I do?
Divorce is a difficult phase for all children and especially for teenagers. Teenagers can cognitively understand the reasons that led their parents to the separation, however they may experience the divorce as a traumatic event, because they themselves are in a very difficult phase of their lives, where they are changing physically and psychologically. In this phase they have a great need to feel safe and it seems that the divorce makes them feel like they are losing the ground under their feet.
Depending on their age, they may start to react in different ways, show aggression, anxiety, or a tendency to isolation and may even experience difficulties with their lessons and psychosomatic disturbances. It even seems that boys externalize their emotions more strongly than girls and can often become aggressive towards the people around them.
Something similar may be happening to your own child. He may be struggling to deal with the fact that he now has to split his time between your home and his father’s, and his way of expressing this may be anger and aggression. Many times behind this type of behavior, there may be great insecurity, sadness, and fear for the future.
It would be very helpful to talk to a mental health professional to better understand what might be behind your child’s behavior and how you can make him feel better and improve your relationship with him.
What would also help a great deal is to improve the relationship with his father and deal with all the issues related to your child together. You can express your concerns to your ex-husband and ask him for his help in the issues that arise with your child. Children of divorced parents may ‘take advantage’ of the situation by claiming benefits mainly from the parent with whom they do not live. With a common attitude and a common approach to problems, you and your ex will be able to support your child more effectively in the challenges of his adolescence and you will help him understand that divorce is a situation that hurts the family, and that it does not break the child’s bond with his parents.
I don’t think it would help your relationship with your son to try to block or limit communication with his father. A good relationship with his father will help him transition into adulthood smoothly and with less trauma. In fact, having a good relationship with his father will perhaps help him to accept more easily the existence of another man in your life in the future.