'I Want to Live With Dad!'

Illustration of a boy playing a video game and glaring at his mother
Charles Lehman

"Joey, turn the game off and do your homework!" Samantha shouted at her son in exasperation.

"I hate you," Joey snapped back. He threw down his controller. "I want to live with Dad!"

Six little words: I want to live with Dad. Samantha had wondered if Joey would ever say them. Would this mean there'd be more legal battles? She could already feel her heart beating faster.

When a child says he or she wants to live with the other parent, it can mean several things. Perhaps the child is frustrated with schoolwork, is having problems with friends or feels some of the family rules are too strict.

If you're not sure what your child is really saying, ask open-ended questions. Depending on your child's response, you may find that the source of the emotional outburst falls into one of the following categories:

Experiencing anger

In a moment of anger, your child can say words that he doesn't really mean. These angry words may be no more than a frustration-fueled attempt at simplistic problem solving (e.g., he wouldn't have to do homework if he lived with the other parent). Once he has cooled down, he may see the fallacy of this solution (e.g., he would have to do homework with the other parent). Then you can discuss positive ways to better handle homework next time.

Feeling disconnected

Your child might be feeling left out, lonely or disconnected from you and his new family. Scheduling some one-on-one times with your child can help increase a sense of connectedness and help him feel he has a voice. But if the negative emotions are strong, talking to a qualified therapist can help your child work through the emotions and provide guidance for you.

Missing the other parent

Your child's comments may reflect sadness about a lack of contact with the other parent. If more time with the other parent is something your child truly desires (and it is a logistical possibility), then consider carefully discussing it with all parties involved. However, a first step may be to brainstorm ways your child can increase his connection with his other parent. Depending on your child's age and his parents' work schedules, solutions may include an extra evening together during the week or special outings.

Dr. Todd Cartmell is a child psychologist and the author of 8 Simple Tools for Raising Great Kids.
This article first appeared in the October/November 2016 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family's marriage and parenting magazine. Get this publication delivered to your home by subscribing to it for a gift of any amount.
© 2016 by Todd Cartmell. Used by permission.

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