My name is Noah. I’m 15 and my parents divorced a year and half ago. Although I obviously wanted parents that stayed together and would’ve preferred an intact family, I realized long ago how different my parents are from each other. Actually, I’m surprised they stayed together as long as they did. I now spend equal time with my parents, a week at a time with each of them.
My mother has already re-married and her husband, James, is a nice guy. He has a 10-year-old daughter that stays with us on weekends and she’s a nice little girl as well. They’re not the issue. My mother has a right to create a life that makes her happy. I just wish she would understand it’s a big adjustment for me. Everything in my life with her has changed; nothing is the same.
My father is a smart, successful, handsome guy and has been dating women much younger than he is. For the last three months he has been seeing a young actress who is pretty and funny, but I can already tell this relationship isn’t going to last. I can hear them in the middle of the night arguing and then making up and getting all lovey-dovey. I’m over it. I asked my dad if he could have her not stay over on the week I’m there. He said he’d stay at her place and I objected.
What’s the point of staying at my dad’s if he’s not even going to be there? He said he’d do what I request, but he thinks it’s unfair. He feels I’m always willing to accommodate my mom’s behavior more than his. I don’t mean to, but I feel like something has to give. I know both my parents love me. Do you think I’m being unfair with my dad? I just want some of my old life back until I go away to college.
I understand your feelings and genuinely empathize with how your parents’ life decisions are affecting you. I also appreciate how you try to interpret their personal struggles fairly and grasp that — much of the time — they’re probably doing the best they can. Nor have you lost sight of the fact that you’re loved.
However, I agree it’s time for you to set up boundaries in order to make your life more comfortable and happy. Sit down with your dad and explain to him that you need stability and time alone with him. Make clear that while you are doing your best, the divorce and subsequent changes in your life have been difficult on you and need to be kept at a minimum. If for right now you want little to do with his romantic relationship, slow down your participation. Agree to have dinner with the two of them weekly and try to get to know her better. Show your dad and his girlfriend you’re willing to make an effort to be friendly and open.
Request that they keep their relationship private for at least another three to six months. If they are then committed and their relationship is evolving, you and your father can re-negotiate these terms. Even though your father loves you, there may be a bond between him and his girlfriend that’s he’s not willing to give up. Dating as a single parent, however, is different from dating as a single person. His responsibility to keep you emotionally safe makes it incumbent on him to take his relationship slow and test the various facets of his relationship before he thrusts her into your private familial life. It’s not unreasonable for you to try to lessen added stress to your life. If you feel you need more support, talk to your father with a counselor present.
Your father may have a point concerning your relationship with your mother. Are you overly accommodating when it comes to her? What requests can you ask of your mother to eliminate stress? Weekly dinners with just you and her?
There are no easy answers. Part of growing up, however, is learning how to protect oneself and to cope with the difficult actions of loved ones.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email email@example.com. Visit her website, patticarmalt-vener.com.