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Dr. Wolf: When a child takes your side, it can be nice, but not always productive

The problem

How should you respond if after an argument between you and your partner, your teen offers you his support?

Fifteen-year-old Avery to his mother:

“Mom, I think you were right to be mad at Dad. Dad always says he’s going to do stuff, but he never does.”

Avery’s mother, who was very mad at his father, was pleased to have someone in her corner. She liked the support. But should she keep the conversation going? Are there problems with your kid coming in on your side?

What not to do

Following his words of support don’t then say what might encourage him to continue in the same vein. So if he said: “Dad always says he’s going to do stuff, but he never does,” you would not want to say something like: “Yeah, he drives me crazy. I get so mad at him sometimes.”

Too much allowing your son to participate in your criticism of his father has a number of potential problems.

1) It always makes the partner very mad at his child – potentially hurting that relationship.

“That little jerk, always siding with his mother.”

2) It encourages your child to side with you in a way that can be for him too appealing.

“It’s me and mom. We’re very close.”

This potentially shuts out his father.

“Who needs him?”

And 3) it can pull a child – in his mind – too much up to your level. Too much adult to adult, rather than parent to child. The old “how much can a parent be a friend” dilemma.

It is a tricky line to draw. The risk is that if he is too much at your level, he will be less able to use you as a pillar of strength and support. And simultaneously he will less tolerate you as a parent who makes rules and demands.

“I’m not a kid, so what gives her the right to boss me around?”

This is the way they think.

What to do

Validate what he says, but then don’t take it any further. “Yes, your dad can make me very frustrated. But that’s something I have to deal with.”

In effect: It is a problem. My problem. For which I appreciate your offer, but I will handle it.

It can be very appealing to have your kid in your corner in your disputes with a partner. But it can be a tricky place for him to go.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books including I’d Listen to My Parents If They’d Just Shut Up. E-mail him your thorny questions at [email protected].

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