When Children Pick the Other Parent

Question: My husband and I have been married for five years; we each have two children from previous marriages. Recently his children chose to live with their mother, and the court ruled in their favor. We were very hurt by their decision (they are 13 and 11, a boy and a girl) and have spent many hours agonizing over why they would want to leave us. We have not received any good advice on the subject and wonder if you have any suggestions on how to deal with our feelings and also how to relate to the children now that they are living far away in Baltimore. For example, this was the first Christmas we have not had them with us and we weren't sure what to get them (their mother had bought them just about everything) or how to deal with long-distance Christmas greetings. We would appreciate any help you might suggest.

Answer: You may never know the real reasons for the children's decision to live with their mother, but it is imperative for your own peace of mind that you deal with your sense of loss and grief and accept that you did everything you possibly could to be good parents. Only then will you be able to go on with your lives without guilt or recriminations.

The children haven't been gone long enough for you to have been really out of touch with what they wanted or needed for Christmas. I suspect that you are feeling intimidated by the changes and therefore inadequate. A good therapist specializing in family counseling will help you sort through your feelings and accept yourselves and the situation in a proper perspective. Meanwhile stay in close touch by mail and phone. Ask the children about school friends, activities, fads and, most important, their feelings. Your warmth and efforts to stay close will set the tone for the relationship.

Q: My ex-wife's behavior is a continuing source of embarrassment to me and my family. She has gotten a reputation for being promiscuous and loud. Her manner of dress is cheap and suggestive. When we were married she wasn't at all like that. My problem is this: Several of my male acquaintances and business associates have been out with her. Once I find out or, worse yet, see them with her, I have difficulty continuing any relationship with them. Since I can't leave town--my business and family are here--what can I do about her?

A: The problem is one of self-image--yours. You are not responsible for your ex-wife's behavior and will not be judged by it. Ignore it.

Send your questions for possible use in Living With Divorce to Virginia Doody Klein, P.O. Box 16290, St. Louis, Mo. 63105.

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