Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have been divorced for several months now, and I’m concerned about my son. He seems to act differently around me now that I’ve moved out of the house.
What’s going on here, and how do I get things back to the way they were? Is there anything I can do to fix things?
A: As you know, divorce can have a devastating effect on kids. Behavioral changes toward both parents are pretty common, but they can be especially severe for the one who moved out of the house, whether that’s dad or mom.
To start with, your son may feel that you’ve abandoned him. Kids, particularly younger ones, have a hard time understanding why you and mommy aren’t together anymore.
All he knows is that you went away, that mommy is upset (probably) and that you’re not there for him anymore. Seeing you in your new home – which doesn’t feel much like a home to him – will make the differences between his old life and his new one even more obvious.
Adding in a new woman in your life (whenever that happens) will complicate things even more.
Sit down with him and gently remind him that you love him as much as you ever did, and that nothing can ever change that, whether you’re living under the same roof or not.
Kids often just need a little extra attention and reassurance that you’re still the same old dad you always were.
There’s also a good possibility that your son feels guilty about the divorce, that it happened because of something he did or didn’t do, that he somehow drove a wedge between you and his mother.
This is an incredibly common belief, yet it’s almost always wrong.
If you have any serious reason to suspect that your son’s new behavior has to do with things your ex may be saying about you behind your back, take the matter up with her.
Do not put your son in the middle – and do not badmouth your ex. Instead, lay your concerns out simply and straightforwardly. Whatever drove you two apart, you were once an intimate part of each other’s lives.
You can put your heads together long enough to find a way to help your son through this difficult transition.
The biggest predictor of how well children cope with their parents’ divorce is how well the parents get along.
But back to our theme: Be sure to spend some one-on-one time with your son, doing things, talking, just hanging out together.
Show him, through both words and actions, that nothing that’s happened changes how you feel about him, and you’re fully committed to being a part of his life.