Straight Talk Advice

Apr 29, 2009

Custody battle makes teen insane

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I hope you can help me. My parents are in the middle of a divorce and are fighting over us kids. Every little thing, like soccer practice, or one of them having to be gone a few hours, causes huge disruptions in the custody schedule and they won’t stick to it. And every time we are supposed to switch houses we are made to feel like we shouldn’t. We are legally old enough to choose parents, but neither is so horrible that we only want to be with one. To add to it, my dad’s girlfriend tempts me with clothes shopping on my mom’s custody time and my mom goes ballistic. I would just like our parents to follow the custody plan without fighting and let it be flexible when we need it to be. Is this so unreasonable? My brother has quit soccer and all he does is play video games to escape. Our life is total hell. What have other kids done to make things sane? — Complete insanity

Jennifer 15, Fair Oaks, CA Ask me a question

My parents fought a lot at first and my older brother fell into video games, too, taking his anger out on me. My dad would get extra time by guilt-tripping us, which worked for awhile because my mom stopped battling him when she saw the strain it put on us. When I would finally return to her house I would be completely drained from the unhealthy environment at his house. In seventh grade, he wanted even more time. But now I was strong enough to make my own choices and I chose to live with my mom and visit him when I wanted. He pushed but I held my ground. He still pushes, but there is no real issue because it’s MY choice. My advice is to live primarily at the healthiest house for your upbringing and visit the other parent as much or as little as you want. They can pressure you, but you have to do what’s best for your life.

Jessie 16, Ashland, OR Ask me a question

It’s been 10 years since my parents divorced and they still can’t decide who gets us when. What my brother and I did was force them to stick to the custody plan. If the parent needed to be gone during their custody time, they had to find a sitter (which could be the other parent). It was hard, but our firmness to the plan pulled us through. Now that we’re older, WE decide what house we want to stay at and when. When my parents made life completely insane, it was relaxing to vent with a school counselor and see what they suggested.

Rachel 17, Fair Oaks, CA Ask me a question

My parents divorced when I was tiny and you’d think over the course of my life they’d get the trading and sharing down to a science, but that never happened. Parents seem to think of us as the ball in a rugby game, whoever can smother it most, or tackle the opponent harder, wins. You have to become the ref not the ball; I know it seems unfair, we’re supposed to be the kid, but trust me, they need the guidance.

DEAR INSANITY: Be the ref not the ball, force your parents to stick to the custody plan, recognize bribes, hold your ground to stay where it is healthiest, know they love you regardless of your choice, seek a counselor. Advice doesn’t get better — more is on the website. But notice that to solve things, the teens ended up taking charge. They were the sane ones. The day is coming when letting kids become videogame-addicted will be grounds for custody loss, in the meantime, if your brother doesn’t snap out of it, you must take charge on your own. I guarantee you’ll feel better immediately.

  1. By Liva, 19, age , from Hudson, NY on 06/15/2009

    As someone who has been through a very similar custody situation, I will say that you have to have faith that things will get better. Maybe it will take years, but gradually (hopefully?) things will smooth out between divorced parents. Mine have been divorced nearly 9 years and they still fight about plenty of things, but it’s certainly much better than it was. My older sister and I have something silly we like to call “Points of Parental Unity” (PPUs); these are things our parents agree on, usually pertaining to our plans for our futures, or something to do with dealing with our younger sister. In any case, trying to focus on the positive things about the situation with your parents is about the best you can do. As time passes, hopefully there will be more and more that your parents can agree on, especially once they become established in their separate lives and are able to stop being bitter. Your mother will find someone to be happy with, or be happy on her own, and if your parents can realize that their competing with each other is bad for you and your brother, things will get better.

    The best thing I can say is that as you get older (how old are you?) and are able to be out of the house more, and less dependent on your parents for scheduling your time and providing transportation, it will get easier. If your parents are willing to let you choose when you spend time with whom, do it. Don’t stick to their custody schedule if you aren’t required to, but also don’t worry about pleasing/offending the parents. Do what feels right. If that means you stay with your dad for three straight weeks and then with your mom for two months while you see your dad every other weekend, then do it if you can. All I can say is that it will get easier and easier as time passes, as you grow up, and as your parents develop their new lives apart. Best of luck.

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  2. By Brie, 17, age , from Ashland, Or on 06/15/2009

    I went through a few major custody battles in my seventeen years. One thing that you always need to remember is that your parents will love you no matter what and none of what is going on is your fault or your brother’s.

    When my parents first divorced, it wasn’t too bad, but once I got to be about age 11 or 12, I wanted to live with my mother more and only be at my father’s on the weekends. My father contested this and threatened to call the cops on my mother if she didn’t comply with the custody plan. I don’t think they actually talked outside of court for a few months. It was that bad. And they always put me in the middle, which makes things even more difficult.

    There was another major battle when I was 15 and moved to a different state with my mother. My mother and I had informed my father months before we made the actual move of what our plans were. He was not happy about it, but didn’t try to stop us. Then, when my mother filed for child support, he counter filed for full custody of me when he knew that there was no way I could live with him. He claimed in the court papers that my mother had “kidnapped” me. This was a ridiculous accusation because I was fifteen, had a cell phone and a lot of freedom, so how could I have been kidnapped?

    My step mother and I have learned to avoid each other. And my father and I avoid certain conversations if we even talk. It wasn’t my step mother that was bribing me, it was my father. He said he would get me a car and a new phone and a computer and a TV for my room if I lived with him.

    Try telling your parents how you feel when they put you in the middle of things. Sometimes a very up-front conversation is what they need to realize what is going on. Above all, you just need to let your parents know how much their problems are affecting your life and your brother’s and remind them that their problems are theirs—not yours. Remind them that what they are doing isn’t fair to you and your brother.

    It is beneficial to talk to someone you feel close to, but not necessarily a counselor. I was court-ordered to see a counselor for 6 weeks and it just pissed me off. Another thing to know is that you’re not alone. As sad as it is, many many kids are going through similar situations. It’s tough, but it generally does get better as time goes on. And it really helps to have someone close you can talk to.

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  3. By Elise, 17, age , from Fair Oaks, CA on 06/15/2009

    First of all, what you need to do is just sit your parents down and tell them frankly how you are feeling and how worried and stressed out you are. They love you and they will understand. Approach it in a way that they will respect and don’t confront them about it in the middle of arguments. My brothers and I went through the same thing but our parents didn’t even talk

    to each other so the arguments were passed through us children. Throughout the years it has gotten more relaxed and I am now able to spend the night at the other’s house when I have the need. Just hang in there and try talking to them about it, they will listen.

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