Adolescent years are a challenge. For everyone involved. Young individuals searching, yearning for their independence though not yet prepared to manage the cost/benefit scales of life. Crazed parents hurt by their child’s sudden rebuttals and scared by both their loss of control and their child’s inability to make consistent good choices. These years are typically speckled with yelling matches, sulking, door slamming, grounding and aren’t often remembered as the glory days. I’m sure we can all remember wishing we could just run away, with only the thought of living on the street and having no money keeping us home.
But children of divorce uniquely have another option. They have somewhere safe to run. Somewhere that is also considered home. Their other parent’s home. And almost every single child of divorce that I know, including myself has done the house hop. For the child, it’s a logical solution. Most likely it has been important to both parents for them to feel the other parent’s home was their home too. So if their current residence isn’t satisfactory, why not try the other? It’s certainly not as tumultuous as moving in with grandma or an aunt. Much better than living in a gutter somewhere. Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to live with a biological parent. Either one of them.
And so the question gets posed. Can I come live with you? But the answer can be tricky. A catch twenty two. For the other parent doesn’t want to say ‘no’. What would that say to their child? A rejection. It would say ‘no, I don’t want you. You don’t live with me and there’s a reason for that.’. But what does ‘yes’ say? It says ‘sure, don’t try to work out your relationship issues. Escape is a perfectly acceptable solution to conflict. So come live here instead.’. How can a parent win? How can the child?
Co-parenting. Pure and simple. Because teenagers are rash. Parents living with teenagers become overwhelmed. And that leaves only one role available to relieve the situation. The moderator. Decisions made out of anger or resentment are never wise and decisions made by teenagers are rarely well thought out. Someone needs to be the voice of reason. Someone not directly involved in the battle but who’s opinion is also valued. And the other biological parent is in the perfect position to take on the job. But as I’ve mentioned before, co-parenting isn’t easy.
And the role of moderator is difficult even by co-parenting standards. Made more difficult if relations with their ex spouse are tenuous or if they have an underlying self interest in custody. And the level of difficulty only increases if they have never had the experience of parenting, really parenting a teenager themselves. But moderating is vital to teaching the child how to positively deal with problems in relationships. Their sense of conflict resolution may already be based on a model of severance or withdrawal due their own view of their parent’s divorce. And it should be vital to any parent not to reinforce that. It’s a pattern they don’t want established. Once the crisis has been moderated between the child and parent, then both parents can discuss the custody agreement with each other. If both are in agreement, changes can be made. For although there is debate among professionals on this topic, I believe that custody issues should never rest on the shoulders of children.
I am still haunted by my own experience with doing the hop. Thirteen hundred miles and a complete breakdown in co-parenting escalated the situation to a level it never needed to go. But as I look around at my ACOD friends, it is rarely such a dramatic event. Just another strange reality in their line up of strange realities. I hopped twice. Once from my mom’s to my dad’s, then from my dad’s to my mom’s. I’ve seen some hop from just once. Others over and over; back and forth. I still carry the guilt of my hop with me. The typical child of divorce. Responsible for everything. Wondering if it was my job to be the moderator instead of the teenager.
House hopping will happen. As long as the decision isn’t made as a means of escape, I don’t really see the harm. Parents should understand that it’s not personal. Look past the pain and realize that it is simply a teenager finding one more way to exercise their independence. It may not be something that your peers with nuclear families have to endure, but your child doesn’t live in a nuclear family. So take solace in the knowledge that your child loves you. Will always love you. Even if they are a little house hopper. I mean really, why shouldn’t a child of divorce get to experience living with both of their parents? The other kids get to. They just don’t have to move to do it.
Carolyn is the founder and primary author of her website http://www.thegrownupchild.ca As a nearly lifelong child of divorce, she has a profound understanding of what it means to grow up with divorce as well as a gift for writing about her related feelings and experiences. With strong opinions regarding both how divorced parents should conduct themselves and what children of divorce need, she is always striving to provide insight to all involved.