THE BLOG

"Hell No: I Won't Go"

02/09/2013 01:18 pm ET | Updated Apr 10, 2013

At some point in the future, the child of divorce may rebel against the visitation schedule you, your ex, and your lawyers spent so much time and money constructing. This rarely occurs the first months after divorce. While you and your ex were divorcing, you clashed over your children's living arrangements. But by the time the divorce is finalized, your children will actually be relieved that the battle is over and that they are no longer the focus of all the parental attention. Children may be so emotionally exhausted and weary from the conflict that they willingly go along with whatever you and your ex agreed. Children are, just as you are, ready to put the strife of divorce behind them and move on with their lives. Consequently, they accede without a struggle to the new living arrangements you and your ex worked out. Children want their lives once again to revolve around school, sports, and friends -- not money, moves, lawyers and courts. So, for the first year or two after the divorce, the living arrangements you assembled so carefully work out as planned, with only occasional hiccups.

But eventually the calendar of visitations becomes complicated, and a child may begin to push back.

A young child enters into the routines of your life. When you were cooking dinner in the kitchen, your child played with the pots and pans. As your child grew older, homework was done at the table while you stirred the soup and made the salad. When it snowed, you two made a game out of shoveling the driveway.

But as your child enters adolescence, the ground rules for spending time with both co-parents change, just as they do for the child of an intact family. You need to understand this shift and adapt to it. If, as a co-parent, you want to have an effective relationship with your developing adolescent, you are going to have to adjust to the new reality and follow a new rule of centering your time with your child on your child's life, even if it means that you lose some of your precious visitation time.

Face it: having to switch houses every other weekend has become a real drag for your teenaged daughter (or son; I'm using one sex for clarity purposes). Look at it from her point of view. It's Friday night, and that means Mom drives her to Dad's house, but your daughter has other plans for the weekend: she wants to spend it with her friends. She wants to go to the football game and party afterwards, and then six girls are having a sleepover. Everyone is going to Stacy's house; she has a huge basement, big-screen TV, and room enough for six to sleep over -- and you don't. Stacy's house is cool; yours is not. She cannot possibly miss all that just to spend time with one of her parents.

Don't take it personally; she's not rejecting you and your house because she wants to spend time with her other parent. It's not because she doesn't love you. She simply wants to stay in the neighborhood that will allow her to hang out with her friends. Even if you readily provide all the transportation and communication tools to connect her to those friends and her meaningful weekday world, during adolescence, parents are a necessary interruption in her flow of the weekend. While she certainly can Facebook, text, and tweet from your house as well, she is being moved out of her comfort zone. She fears that at your place she will be passed over. Even if you do the good divorced parent thing and invite her friends to join the two of you, she is still not going to want to do it. Post-divorce parents must enter into the life of the child, rather than expect the child to enter their lives. In an intact family, the child does not have a choice: "This is what our family does." But in divorce situations, your adolescent does have an option -- stay with the other parent.

Living arrangements that worked for the co-parents for years now change. Academic, social, and extracurricular commitments will alter accustomed patterns. Your adolescent no longer wants to spend every other weekend shifting homes or sleeping over on Wednesday nights.

Adjusting the times you and your child spend together does not mean changing your co-parenting responsibilities. To successfully parent after divorce, both co-parents must continue to agree on how to manage the unbridled enthusiasms of their adolescent. Shifting the times and places you see your adolescent child does not mean abrogating your responsibility for making sound decisions about your child's life.