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So your kid wants to live with your ex. Here's what not to do

A column that tackles behavioural problems from toddlers to teens

The problem

Your teenage child wants to change homes and live with your ex.

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Fifteen-year-old Logan says to his mother, "Mom, I want to live at Dad's."

His mother responds, "You don't like it here because I have rules. You just think you'll be able to do anything you want living at your father's, because he doesn't care."

"No, maybe I want to live there because you treat me like I'm a six-year-old. Dad said I could live there and that's what I'm going to do."

What if you feel that changing homes would truly not be in your kid's best interest? What do you do?

What not to do

Don't focus all of your efforts on trying to prevent it.

In my experience, flat-out prohibition – "No, you are not going to live at your father's" – usually doesn't work. And if you and your ex-spouse end up in court, judges tend to support what teenagers say they want, unless one parent can prove that the other home is truly unfit.

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You can try to convince your kid that it is a mistake, but that can swiftly alienate more than help.

What to do

If you feel that changing homes would be a mistake for your child, by all means tell him or her what you think. But also be prepared for the fact that, despite your best efforts, your child may still go to live with his or her other parent.

In the life of a teenager whose parents live apart, there are many chapters in the saga that is their teenage years. Much is in flux: relationships with friends, school achievements, self-esteem, their place in the world. All of these things change. Many dramas unfold.

Your role in your child's life will change as well. Once they leave, they may come back … and maybe leave again. You have a very important role – very important. You want to continue to be there for them. And that is a role you must continue to inhabit, regardless of which parent they may live with at any given stage of their adolescent years.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including I'd Listen to My Parents if They'd Just Shut Up. E-mail him your thorny questions at

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