House hopping

by Carolyn on July 6, 2009

house hopper, painted by Sharron Pierce McCullough

"House hopping" painted by Sharron McCullough

Adolescent years are a challenge.  For everyone involved.  Young individuals searching, yearning for their  independence though not yet prepared to manage the cost/benefit scales of life.  Crazed parents hurt by their child’s sudden rebuttals and scared by both their loss of control and their child’s inability to make consistent good choices.  These years are typically speckled with yelling matches, sulking, door slamming, grounding and aren’t often remembered as the glory days.  I’m sure we can all remember wishing we could just run away, with only the thought of living on the street and having no money keeping us home.

But children of divorce uniquely have another option.  They have somewhere safe to run.  Somewhere that is also considered home.  Their other parent’s home.  And almost every single child of divorce that I know, including myself has done the house hop.  For the child, it’s a logical solution.  Most likely it has been important to both parents for them to feel the other parent’s home was their home too.  So if their current residence isn’t satisfactory, why not try the other?  It’s certainly not as tumultuous as moving in with grandma or an aunt.  Much better than living in a gutter somewhere.  Yes, it is perfectly acceptable to live with a biological parent.  Either one of them.

And so the question gets posed.  Can I come live with you?  But the answer can be tricky.  A catch twenty two.  For the other parent doesn’t want to say ‘no’.  What would that say to their child?  A rejection.  It would say ‘no, I don’t want you.  You don’t live with me and there’s a reason for that.’.  But what does ‘yes’ say?  It says ‘sure, don’t try to work out your relationship issues.  Escape is a perfectly acceptable solution to conflict.  So come live here instead.’.  How can a parent win?  How can the child?

Co-parenting. Pure and simple.  Because teenagers are rash.  Parents living with teenagers become overwhelmed.  And that leaves only one role available to relieve the situation.  The moderator.  Decisions made out of anger or resentment are never wise and decisions made by teenagers are rarely well thought out.  Someone needs to be the voice of reason.  Someone not directly involved in the battle but who’s opinion is also valued.  And the other biological parent is in the perfect position to take on the job.  But as I’ve mentioned before, co-parenting isn’t easy.

And the role of moderator is difficult even by co-parenting standards.  Made more difficult if relations with their ex spouse are tenuous or if they have an underlying self interest in custody. And the level of difficulty only increases if they have never had the experience of parenting, really parenting a teenager themselves.  But moderating is vital to teaching the child how to positively deal with problems in relationships.  Their sense of conflict resolution may already be based on a model of severance  or withdrawal due their own view of their parent’s divorce.  And it should be vital to any parent not to reinforce that.  It’s a pattern they don’t want established.  Once the crisis has been moderated between the child and parent, then both parents can discuss the custody agreement with each other.  If both are in agreement, changes can be made.  For although there is debate among professionals on this topic, I believe that custody issues should never rest on the shoulders of children.

I am still haunted by my own experience with doing the hop.  Thirteen hundred miles and a complete breakdown in co-parenting escalated the situation to a level it never needed to go.  But as I look around at my ACOD friends, it is rarely such a dramatic event. Just another strange reality in their line up of strange realities.  I hopped twice.  Once from my mom’s to my dad’s, then from my dad’s to my mom’s.  I’ve seen some hop from just once.  Others over and over; back and forth.  I still carry the guilt of my hop with me.  The typical child of divorce.  Responsible for everything.   Wondering if it was my job to be the moderator instead of the teenager.

House hopping will happen.  As long as the decision isn’t made as a means of escape, I don’t really see the harm.  Parents should understand that it’s not personal. Look past the pain and realize that it is simply a teenager finding one more way to exercise their independence.  It may not be something that your peers with nuclear families have to endure, but your child doesn’t live in a nuclear family.  So take solace in the knowledge that your child loves you.  Will always love you.  Even if they are a little house hopper.  I mean really, why shouldn’t a child of divorce get to experience living with both of their parents?  The other kids get to.  They just don’t have to move to do it.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Frank July 6, 2009 at 11:32 am

“Thirteen hundred miles and a complete breakdown in co-parenting exacerbated the situation to a level it never needed to go.”

I share that guilt, and not a day goes by I’m not sorry for my part in it. I’m glad your life turned out splendidly just the same.

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2 Carolyn July 6, 2009 at 11:50 am

You were only a witness to the second time it happened. I was writing that line with the first one in mind. But they are of course a reflection of each other. Different circumstances with the same roots.

You should try to let the guilt go. I know I’m trying to. No one should have to carry around such a futile cross for 16 years. Be free my friend, be free.

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3 Frank July 7, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Sorry. I’m Sicilian. We treat guilt like an Olympic event. I’m pretty sure I could land a gold medal on this one.

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4 Urchin July 6, 2009 at 11:37 pm

Huh. I never really thought of doing that. I could have, several times. I know I used to go and sleep in the tree house, or walk all night just to walk when things got rough. I was even kicked out once for “not sleeping”. Really? Not sleeping? Wow.

Sorry, I just kinda wish I HAD thought of the house hopping thing.

Yeah, I can see how it would be difficult, and with your previous blog about Co-Parenting not always working the way it should. I like your closing statement, a lot, and feel that more people need to read this blog of yours.

-goes to network-

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5 Carolyn July 7, 2009 at 9:29 am

For not sleeping? Boy, your parents were…..strict. I think for children of divorce it becomes a viable option because usually they are already living part of the time at their other parent’s house already either during summer vacation or on weekends. And it only becomes difficult when the shift in residence becomes more than just a move and more of choosing one parent over the other.

I’m glad the last statement resonated. I struggled to find the words to express what I wanted. That we aren’t weird for house hopping. For wanting to live with both parents. What’s weird is what we have to do to achieve it.

“-goes to network-” You’re awesome! Really awesome. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive reader. Thanks! I’ll be doing some networking today too.

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6 Frank July 7, 2009 at 12:48 pm

“I couldn’t ask for a more supportive reader.”

Hey! While I don’t dispute Urchin’s awesome, somebody plugged you pretty darned good on their immensely popular global music show! Hmph!

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7 Carolyn July 7, 2009 at 1:02 pm

Didn’t you read my comment about good things happening to me on the discussion page? Check it out. You are thanked over and over. Watch. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you….. :) And I couldn’t ask for a more supportive reader than you as well. You are all more supportive than I could ever ask for, really.

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8 Urchin July 7, 2009 at 5:50 pm

It wasn’t that he was strict (it didn’t bother my mom, just dad) he was just sick of if and having a bad week or something. I’m not excusing him, never excusing him. Particularly since he broke the door jamb to tell me to get out. He woke more people doing that than I ever did with my light on and a book.

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9 Carolyn July 7, 2009 at 11:10 pm

That makes me sad. Nobody should ever be treated that way. I’m glad you don’t excuse him for it.

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10 Urchin July 8, 2009 at 1:52 am

I got used to it. Or rather, I think I’d always been used to it. It’s hard for me now because people are treating me well and I have this really odd sense of not having earned it. It’s the whole self-image thing and part of my masking.

Please don’t be sad for me. Remember, I’m wiggling my toes in the grass every now and then. You, and this blog, are helping me in more ways than I can express. Thank you for this.

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