There are few experiences as heart-wrenching as when your teen tells you he wants to live with his dad, say Circle of Moms members Mel and Kimberley B. Following their divorces, both of these moms saw their teens announce that they wanted to leave and move in with their fathers.
"My son and I had a huge argument and he decided to call his father and left with him," Mel says of her 13-year-old son. "I am doing the best I can, but I am angry, upset and feel helpless."
When Kimberly's 16-year-old daughter moved out of her home and into her ex's, her words echoed Mel's: "I feel screwed over. I am angry about it. I feel lonely, alone, and hurt — to say the least."
Hearing from your child that she wants to live with your ex instead of you is very painful indeed, but moms who've lived through it say that how you respond is what really matters. Here they share seven strategies to help you get through it, too.
1. Call Your Teen's Bluff
When your teen repeatedly threatens this to leave, "you just have to call their bluff, as hard and emotionally painful as that can be," say moms like Christina M. "If your child is threatening to leave, the next time you just have to pack his bags yourself, then drive him over there. It may take a few months, but he will come back. When he comes back, you tell him that the next time he threatens to leave, he will not be allowed to come back."
2. Let Them Go
Sometimes the only thing you can do is to let your child go, says Rhonda C. "... we have to allow our teens to make their own decisions so they can deal with the consequences. We have to remember we are still their mother and continue to mother a child who leaves. If you support [your child's] decision instead of making her feel guilty about it, she'll be open to compromises to make this work. Keep the communication lines open between you."
3. Set Rules
Rhonda C. and other Circle of Moms members agree that it's important to maintain contact with a teen who moves in with his or her other parent. It helps to establish rules, both with your child and with your ex, Rhona adds. "The other parent needs to help ensure you are visited regularly, and your child needs to know a schedule for coming to see you."
4. Don't Take it Personally
Jane S. offers that teens are sometimes under pressure from their other parent to make a switch. For this reason, she cautions moms not to take a teen's threat to leave too personally: "Odds are [that your child's] dad has lured her with promises that things will be different if she lives with him," she says. "Try not to focus on your hurting feelings. Instead, see this as a test of all the things you taught her since she was little."
Wendy D., who has gone through this several times, also urges moms to realize that it is not their fault: "It's the kid testing the limits," she says. "They think the grass is always greener on the other side. Just keep the lines of communication open and stick to your guns. . . . My daughter ran to her dad because of [my] rules. Now she is home and behaving better than ever. Sometimes you have to let them go [in order] for them to come back."
5. Don't Let Them See You Cry
If your ex-spouse still harbors ill will, he may be working behind the scenes to convince your child to move out from your home. For this reason, a Circle of Moms member named Jana recommends not crying in front of the child in response. "It does seem so cruel, but just try to keep your chin up and try to be strong."
Marie W. also suggests protecting yourself. "You cannot let [your child] see you upset," she says, referencing her own experience with her 13-year-old son. "This is what he wants. Let him go live with his father. He may come back on his own later. If you make a big deal of it he knows he has you licked and will hold it over your head."
6. Allow Yourself to Grieve
It is okay – and necessary – to recognize the pain and grieve the loss, says Ruth W. "It is extremely painful to be rejected by your child, and it's okay to feel pain and sadness. . . . Personally I am allowing myself the time to grieve and think. . . . you have been through all the stuff of raising a child and now he's gone."
7. Move On
As hard and gut-wrenching as it sounds, you have to take care of yourself and move on with your life, "trusting in your gut that your child will finally see the light," says Wendy H. "If your relationship is strong she may be back sooner than you think."
Keeping yourself busy by finding something else to focus on also helps to ease the loss, says Donna L. "Find a way to vent and rebalance. Pick up an activity that you love, join a support group, anything that gets you enjoying your life again. Regain your peace of mind, faith and hope."
How do you protect yourself when your child wants to live with the other parent?
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