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What do you do when your child chooses to live with their other parent?  I shared my story this week at The Village.

What do you do when your child chooses to live with their other parent? I shared my story this week at The Village.


This article will print in the Press Democrat on Friday, January 11.

My 14-year-old daughter, DQ, is moving out.

It’s weird, I never thought I’d type these words before she turned 18. But here I am, standing by as she packs up her bags and prepares to leave the nest. My nest. The one I have padded with protection and comfort since the day she was born, through a messy divorce, during financially tight times, and in her tumultuous teen years. She is flying the coop with my assistance when I drive her a full three hours away to live with her father.

And this might just be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

For 14 years, I have been her primary caregiver, the one who is responsible for every aspect of her life. I am the one who has filled out her school forms, checked her homework (till her homework got too smart for me), packed her lunches, and made her doctor’s appointments. I was the parent she told about her first love, and the parent who picked up the pieces when her heart was broken a few weeks later. I am her chauffeur, her personal chef, her nurse, her cheerleader, her everything she needed me to be so she can be a happy kid. I’ve gone to every one of her soccer games. I volunteer at the camp she attends every year. And I have done all this on my own. So to hand over the reins to her dad, allowing her to move three hours away and out of my realm of parenting, was way beyond my comfort level.

My first impulse was to say no, absolutely not. But she asked me to at least think about it. So I agreed to mull it over before I ultimately said no.

I was at war with what was the right thing to do in this situation. Of her two parents, I had proven to be the more responsible. Our two children, DQ and Taz, live with me full time, and I have fit my whole entire life within their schedule and comfort. Their father, who moved several counties away a few years ago, has never had the privilege of moving heaven and earth to make it to a parent-teacher conference at the same time as a mandatory meeting at work. I’ve been the parent while he’s been the one they visit occasionally. I’ve accepted that this is what works for raising the kids, and hold no bitterness over this. It’s just the way it is. But to give up my place as my daughter’s primary parent was rocking a boat I didn’t want rocked.

During the time when I was to be thinking this over (even though my mind was still set on NO), DQ took the time to patiently discuss all the perks of her living with her father. She talked about her new baby brother over there, how she would get a chance to know him and help take care of him. She took me on a virtual tour of her new town through Google Maps, pointing the cursor towards all of her favorite hangouts a few blocks from her home. She told me about the friends she had there, helping me to get to know them though her description. She handled the whole situation like she was the adult and I was the child. She was patient and kind, helping me with a hard transition. I was stubborn and tearful, refusing to budge.

Then a funny thing happened – my eyes were suddenly opened.

It didn’t happen on my own, but through a lot of help. I talked with my husband at great lengths about the whole decision. I discussed it with a counselor. And eventually, I called my ex-husband himself and talked about the possibility of our daughter moving in with him. After much deliberation and thought, I realized I had much less reasons to say no, and many more reasons to say yes.

So I let her go.

I know in my heart that I’ve made the best decision I could for her. DQ gets a chance to get to know her other side of her family, the part that makes up the other half of her. I, in turn, get to feel what it’s like on the other side of the coin – the one where I merely get to visit her instead of seeing her every single day. This still feels like a bad dream. I keep waiting for DQ to tell me she’s changed her mind. Of course, she hasn’t and likely won’t.

But I’ve realized something. Loving a child isn’t just about holding on to them and protecting them. It isn’t just about being there every step of the way.

Sometimes love is knowing when to let go.

‘Letting our children go’ is a lifelong process for parents, one that we wrestle with again and again, and each parent has to wrestle with it in his or her own way. – Mister Rogers

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Comments

23 Comments

  1. Rnmom

    It’s gotta be tough. I grew up with a dad whom I saw only on Sundays. When I asked to move in with him, he said “No way.” I would be grateful for a father who wanted to engage in his teen daughter’s life. Dads are so important. Breathe. Cry. You’re doing a good thing, mom.

    January 8th, 2013 1:04 pm

  2. Brad

    I applaud ( standing ovation ) your courage. I do not know that I could have made the same choice. It sounds like you utilized your resources and came to a very good decision for your daughter.

    January 8th, 2013 2:10 pm

  3. The Bat

    It’s a tough call, but you’ve obviously raised a daughter who’s destined to become a strong, independent woman. You’re doing the right thing. Way to go :-)

    January 9th, 2013 7:49 am

  4. Michael L. Kamrath

    Good morning Crissi,

    What an excellent heartfelt piece of writing. It was the first thing I read this morning, and it definitely has my “morning routine” turned upside down.

    We have a 14-year-old-daughter as well. And though we, her parents, are still married I simply can’t imagine Kira not being a part of our lives. I regularly admonish my wife with phrases like “You know, she’s going to be gone soon” or “Its all part of the process of letting go”. Truth be told when I say those things to my wife, I’m really trying to prepare myself.

    You should know (and probably do) that she gave you and your parenting skills a wonderful compliment when you said “She handled the whole situation like she was the adult and I was the child”.

    Good on you, and congratulations for being such an understanding and loving parent.

    Warm Regards,
    Michael L. Kamrath

    January 11th, 2013 6:28 am

  5. The.Village

    Thank you guys. This was definitely a hard decision to make, but every day I am reminded that I did make the right choice. Since she moved out (2 weeks ago), we have kept in touch with almost daily texts and phone conversations. Without prompting, she tells me she loves me at the end of every conversation – something that didn’t happen ever when we lived together. Now that we live far apart, we are both naturally appreciating these little things instead of taking each other for granted when we did live together. And I appreciate that her dad and I have been able to let go of our differences for the kids’ sake, and that she does have this chance to get to know her father and baby brother a lot better. It makes it easier to know that this, for now, is being treated as a trial situation. She’s living there until the end of the school year, and then deciding if she’s like to continue on there or move back here. Seeing how this hasn’t been the death of me, I can now see that no matter what her choice ends up being, it will all be ok.

    January 11th, 2013 4:00 pm

  6. Angie

    I am currently going through the same thing with my 9 year old daughter. Her father lives in another state, she visits over summer breaks. I’ve had her on my own since she was 3. Recently she has brought up wanting to live with her dad… She brings up valid points, especially for her age. She is mostly curious, I think, about what it would be like to live there, be near her father and his family and get to know all of them more. Or could it be that she’s an only child there, with 2 new little sisters here that she competes for attention with. Her questions have been on my mind for months. I go back and forth. I should let her go, what if its best for her, what if she’s happier there. Then to no way, this is my little girl. But then I think her curiosity will never leave her and it will continue to be a question that she asks, for me to be the bad guy that says no, absolutely not. Then for her to resent me for keeping her from get dad and family. Do I let her try it?? Do I let her try for her curiosity? I would of course be thrilled if she were to try and come back home to me, but what happens if she wants to stay? The thought kills me….

    January 14th, 2013 4:08 pm

  7. The.Village

    Has she ever spent time alone with her dad, without her sisters? It’s possible that she is wondering what that might be like, too. It’s never an easy decision as to what’s right or wrong in this situation, whether to let them go or to just say no. It’s also a huge decision that means she’ll be switching schools and leaving behind all her friends. And it also means that there will need to be amendments made to whatever your custody agreement is, child support, and all other legal issues that have to be changed. It’s definitely not a decision to be made lightly.

    My advice to you, since she is still so young, is to say “no” for now while it’s still the school year. Then during the summertime, let her visit her father by herself for a couple of weeks, just to see what that feels like. And, of course, make sure her dad is on board with this decision making too (would he be okay if she moved in with him?). If she still wants to leave, and both of you feel this wouldn’t be a horrible idea, that’s when you can talk about whether this would be a viable situation or not. If you do let her go, it’s possible she might want to come back home. But you can’t send her off believing that, because she may also decide she likes living there better. My situation feels a little easier than yours does since my daughter only lives three hours away. That’s just a car ride away. Yours is going to take a lot more planning for visitation sake.

    I wish you luck in whatever you decide!

    January 14th, 2013 4:38 pm

  8. Angie

    She is the only child to her father at the moment. I have 2 other little girls, 2 and 3. This year she went to her dads for Christmas. She did talk to him about it because all she’s done since she’s been home is talk about going back… He had no objections to her coming. It’s all “new” there. It’s all about her while she’s there. I thought about letting her finish the school year out there, just so she can see it will be the same routine. Whenever she goes its like a vacation. So, I feel like if she sees that it won’t be a vacation. I wouldn’t even still be considering it if she weren’t in tears every other day about going. Since her dad said that it was okay if that’s what she wanted it gave her all new ideas about it. And I really don’t want her to be sad about where she is or isn’t, ultimately I want the best for her and if that’s where she wants to be, I know it’s a hard pill to swallow, but I’d be happy if she were happy. Thanks for responding. I know many parents face these same issues, I just thought mine wouldn’t be for a few more years, lol.

    January 14th, 2013 5:22 pm

  9. The.Village

    I feel your struggle of wanting her to stay, but also wishing she could get that dad’s house wouldn’t be such a vacation reality if she moved in there. It’s definitely not an easy decision, is it? I wish you well in whatever decision you decide.

    January 15th, 2013 9:17 am

  10. been there, done that

    Your column intrigued me because when my parents divorced in the mid 1950′s, that was part of their decree; my brother and I could decide at age 14 where we wanted to live. My mom was the custodial parent, and we spend every other weekend plus a month in the summer with my dad. When my brother turned 14, he elected to move to my dad’s. It was not a pleasant scene. There was crying and screaming and accusations and resentments and ultimatums…..permanent damage to the relationship between my mom and my brother. I think she saw the defection as a “win” for my dad, and she could never say anything nice about him or let him win in any way. That is so hard on kids who love both parents. Though it sounds like you are trying to work thru this in a logical way, sticking in little barbs are who is the better parent and making references to messy divorce and hostilities, etc does not help the situation, especially since your “dirty laundry” get washed in the very public laundromat of the local newspaper.
    I wrote for a paper about the size of the Press Democrat for a number of years, and have published many magazine articles. I know a bit more about writing and editing than your average responder here. Often when reading your column, I cringe a bit over certain details you have included and wonder “oh my, wonder what her kids think about this being in the paper?”
    It’s more important to keep the love and respect of your daughter than it is to come off as the “good parent” in your column. Good luck on this next chapter. I think moving to my dad’s was the right decision for my brother. Staying at my mom’s was the right decision for me at the time.

    January 15th, 2013 3:02 pm

  11. The.Village

    It’s no secret that my ex and I had a messy divorce. But what I didn’t mention here is that we got beyond it. We are now able to communicate with each other in much healthier ways, and put the kids first. It helps that we’ve been divorced for 9 years, so there are very little residual emotions from past hurts or wrongs on either side. I own my mistakes I made in our divorce, so does he. And that’s why I am able to now discuss these things in a matter of fact way (while leaving out a lot of details that aren’t for the public eye) to help other parents. And I would never claim to be the “better parent”, only that I have been the custodian parent for the past 9 years.

    Also, every article that is written here is also read by my kids. I write with full knowledge of that, and would never include anything they wouldn’t want written about them. And there’s a reason I don’t disclose their real names in my column.

    With that said, I can understand your mom’s reaction, even if it wasn’t exactly the right one. It’s hard to not view the kids as MINE instead of OURS. And it’s hard to not have feelings of rejection when a child chooses one parent over the other to live with. Of course, there are so many shades of gray in this decision, and sometimes it’s not the best idea for a child to move in with the other parent. But as long as your dad was a healthy parent, your brother had every right to decide to live with him at 14.

    January 15th, 2013 3:24 pm

  12. Angie

    This morning, all of these questions still plagued me. As I made cupcakes for my daughters honor ceremony, still it was on my mind. This afternoon as I sat with my daughter, waiting for the principal to call her name for her straight A certificate, I suddenly felt my eyes well up with tears. I have molded my beautiful daughter to what she is today. It is not the 6 week summer visits that have gotten her where she is. As selfish as it sounds, it is my husband and I that have molded this curious, confident, at sometimes defiant tween. It was her fathers decision to leave and it is my decision as sole guardian to keep her. So as of right now and for a long while, I can say with confidence my daughter stays. : )

    January 15th, 2013 5:23 pm

  13. The.Village

    I don’t blame you, Angie. Truth is, I’m not sure I could either when my daughter was 9. It feels easier now that she is older and more independent.

    January 15th, 2013 7:33 pm

  14. marie

    This article was exactly what I was looking for and exactly what I am feeling as a mother. I am going through the exact same thing with my 14 year old daughter. I can’t imagine her not being with me on a daily basis but I have to remember whatever is best for her is best for me. I feel to the same as the writer. To be able to come and go as you please will be like the shoe on the other foot. I will be able to do the things that I had to put off even though her father was footloose and fancy free with none of the daily obligations. I am still mulling the decision over but it was great to get a perspective from someone who has been

    May 17th, 2013 6:35 am

  15. kyla

    My daughter is 13 and the father has no visitation nor does my dauhhter really know her fsther or feel comfortable around him he has to pay child support and doesnt feel he should have to pay if he doesnt ser her we have went to 2 counselors and the counselors say she doesnt have to see her father she is angry now he is saying im alienating her she is 13 this is crazy now his mother is going to court to be a witness her own grandma I have always done everything to try to gey him in her life my 13 is very angry…what does child support being taken away from your chikd have to do with anything my daughter has written letters to the judge my daughter wants nothing to do with thus man how cqn he say im alienatung her when I have invited him to dance recitals birthdays and he doesnt come he is only tryung to avoid paying child support but is only hurting a teenager

    July 28th, 2013 11:59 am

  16. Kat G.

    As I sit here, typing this comment, my daughter is finishing packing. She is 11 1/2 yrs old and today I take her to the airport to live with her Dad a few states away.
    I want to cry. I hate her Dad right now, even though I know he is a good parent. We get a long and put our differences aside a long time ago in order to put our daughter’s needs first.
    She just started the whole hormone-moody-attitude this year. She’s been tough to deal with but we’ve managed. The attitude only got worse once she decided life would be better if she lived with her Dad. I think it’s always been a vacation for her when she’d visited for the occasional week and summers…She’s faced some tough times at school and feels like she has no friends – the usual teenage angst. She thinks things will be different with her Dad. And it might be different.
    Although I do know the same issues that plague her here will still find their way to here when she moves…but, like I said, he’s a good parent – I just don’t think he realizes how much she has changed and all of the attitude she is coming to him with – she is not a little girl anymore and I don’t think he realizes this. It may be good for him to experience the moodiness and hormone-laden crisis she faces on a daily basis.
    But it still hurts…she’s so happy to leave and start this new track in her life and it feels like she could care less about the cracked heart she has left here in my chest. I’m just nosy and annoying to her anymore – a standard Mom, I guess. She just doesn’t know or care how her leaving gives me a void in my life that I have nothing to fill with…
    I am sooo afraid that she will go and never come back – I will be the part-time parent from now on and only see her on occasion. I won’t get to see the first boyfriend, dress her for her first dance, comfort her through her first broken heart…
    I’m being selfish, I know. I feel like I’ve been forced into a decision I don’t want – if I refused she would hate me and resent me even more and possibly cause irreparable damage to our relationship. I have no reason to refuse. Although it was her Dad that made the decisions in his life that put me and her together for the past 10 years – she was always a bit of a daddy’s girl and missed him and cried when she had to leave him to come back and continue life with me.
    I wonder if she will feel that way about me or if I will just become her annoying mom she has to visit on occasion. I do not make near the money her Dad and his new wife make – he can give her so much more than I can and I wonder if that will make the difference…
    I don’t know…all I know is that right now, I have to start getting ready for the trip I have dreaded all summer. The trip to the airport to send my daughter to what she hopes will be a better life than what she has now…and will leave me with a life that is always missing something – my daughter.

    July 31st, 2013 4:38 am

  17. Kim

    My 17 1/2 year old daughter just told me that she wants to go live with her Dad full-time. It has been 50-50 since we divorced when she was 4 years old. I am devastated, shocked, crushed, rejected etc. I knew this day would come but just always assumed she would stay with me. Her Dad and I get along great, have always put her first. He lives about 7-8 miles away from me but that makes all the difference in the world. Near beach, her job, friends, AA meetings and her Dad has a bigger house and is much less stricter than I am. I am asking myself all kinds of questions like how will it be not having her living there, not getting to see her in person or share late night talks IN PERSON. I know I have to let her go but no doubt the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Not sure how to get through the transition, it just seems like it will be incredibly lonely. Our daughter has had alot of emotional/substance abuse issues over the past 3 years and has spent a year total in Residential Care. The last 6 months have been the best ever and makes this even worse in my mind. Now that things are great, she wants to move out. Feeling really lost right now.

    August 7th, 2013 4:34 pm

  18. Michelle

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, it made me cry. I have gone through a very similar thing in the last month and have had such a hard time letting go. My son now lives 3 hours away too, he is my only child and I miss seeing him everyday so much. I’m trying to focus on the positives for him, and there are many, but I just find that my life and role as a mother has changed so much. I find alot of comfort in your comment that love is knowing when to let them go. Thank you xx

    September 9th, 2013 8:12 pm

  19. Marie

    Today, I am losing my daughter. At least that is how it feels. Yesterday she told me she wanted to go live with her dad (also 3 hrs away). I, like you, have proven to be the responsible parent, doing anything and everything for her happiness. I love her more than life itself. She is going because she wants a relationship with him, as he does not get her on the many occasions that he can, etc. He has said that she may come. I feel more hurt than I ever have in my entire life. I feel like I am losing a part of myself – dying. I feel betrayed and rejected and punished for doing a good job and he is being rewarded for doing a ‘not so good job’. I am so worried. So worried that she is going to change and not for the better. Worried that his values (which do not line up with ours) will rub off on her and she will make negative choices because of it. I am so scared, sad, empty, dark, right now, I can hardly even function. Reading your story made my heart ache for you, knowing you probably felt everything I am feeling. I am letting her go because I know that if I don’t, she will resent me for it and our relationship will never be the same.

    September 20th, 2013 6:15 am

  20. Robyn McCullough

    I completely understand what you are going through and I’m glad it’s working out positively for you. It didn’t work out so swell for me but there was no way to know until I let her explore the opportunity. Best of luck to you both!

    September 30th, 2013 11:48 am

  21. Jacqueline

    I completely feel your “pain”. I have a 14 year old who is also a twin, who decided she wanted to move 1000 miles away to live with her dad! I felt like my heart was ripped out of my chest and jumped on, but I to, let her go. That was in September of last year. I am happy to say as I write this, that she has been back home with me for 3 weeks! I guess she discovered on her own that there is no greater love than that of the one who HAS always moved heaven and earth just for them! But I do pray your child finds what they were hoping to get out of that move and that you find strength to believe that good will come out of such a hard decision.

    February 26th, 2014 11:39 am

  22. The.Village

    Congratulations to you! My daughter, also, moved back home after only a couple of months. She realized the same thing. Her dad has since moved closer to where we live now, so she now gets to see her dad more, but still live in my home. Totally a win-win. :-)

    February 26th, 2014 12:38 pm

  23. Michelle

    I am in the same situation. My heart is shattered my daughter is just going on with life as if nothing iss wrong. Anyhow for all of you whose daughters moved, have they came back? Everyone keeps saying that she will realize and want to come home.

    April 18th, 2014 6:12 pm

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