I let my son live with his dad when we got divorced – was it a mistake?
“Three years ago, I divorced my husband with whom I had three children. The two younger ones – both girls – stayed with me but my eldest, a boy of (then) 15, went to live with his dad.
“My ex then moved across the country, taking my son with him. It made things tricky, especially as the divorce was messy, but I’ve managed to stay in touch with my son and he’s stayed here about four times a year since then. On each occasion, he was very quiet and rather moody, but when asked about it he said everything was fine.
“On his last visit though – for his 18th birthday – I could see he was stewing to say something and that he was clearly very upset. I tried to get him to talk but he just got angry, wouldn’t say what had upset him and walked out. Although I tried to find out from my ex-husband, he wasn’t much help either. He’s just had a baby with his new partner and they both seem too wrapped up in their own problems to talk about my boy.
“My son rang a few days later to say sorry, although he was still reluctant to talk about why he’d lost his temper. He eventually admitted that he blamed me for ‘abandoning’ him. I had no idea he felt this way and now feel so guilty about letting him stay with his father – which was what I thought he’d wanted as they were so close. What do I need to do to sort this out?”
“Please try not to feel guilty about this decision; at the time it was taken, I am sure you were doing what you thought was best for your son. I wouldn’t mind betting that it was what he indicated he wanted at the time too. Although, he was probably confused too, and has had a lot to process.
“I suspect part of the current problem lies with the possibility that he has had too little contact with you since then. The pandemic has almost certainly made this worse, but four times a year really isn’t very much – could he spend more time with you? Presumably, as he’s 18, he’s now finished school, so could he move back to live with you for a while? Might he even want to move back permanently?
“The fact there is a new baby he has to ‘share’ his father with will probably also be having an impact on him and making him feel unsettled.
“You don’t say whether you’re still living in the same house you shared with him and his father, but if you are, could that have something to do with it? What has happened to his bedroom – have you repurposed it for something else? Have you moved with your girls to a new place where he doesn’t have his own specific bedroom?
“He needs reassurance that he is loved, and time with you and his sisters to talk about what happened. But do please be prepared to listen to everything he wants to say, without pressure or judgement or making it about you and his father.
“He is an adult now, so custody and access issues are no longer relevant – he can make his own decisions about where he wants to live. It might be difficult for you to talk with his father, but if you could have a chat it might help, as he seems unaware of the fact your son has a problem.
“Your ex may see this as you trying to blame him so you will have to tread carefully, but if you can make him aware so that he talks to his son more, it might help. This divorce seems to have been very painful for all concerned, particularly your son, and whilst that can’t be undone, that’s no reason not to start the healing process now.”
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