Dear Dr. Brady: Help! Shared custody complicated by teen daughter’s change of heart toward her dad

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Dear Dr. Brady,

I am the mother of a wonderful, bright, kind and sensitive early teen daughter.  Her father and I divorced and have been sharing custody for over a year.  My daughter spends every other week with each of us and the other parent calls and talks to her every night.

The last few excScreen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.54.36 AMhange times, she has expressed sadness and doesn’t want to go to her father’s house.  She also is reluctant to talk to him on the phone daily.  I’ve explained how important it is that she talk to him and spend time with him and questioned her as to why she didn’t want to go.  She says it’s not fun and she feels she is constantly disappointing him.  She is asking why she can’t live with me full-time and it’s breaking my heart.

I know he’s not a bad guy and he also wants the best for her.  We just have very different styles of parenting.  I’m wondering if it is just a phase or if it’s natural for the child to gravitate towards the same-sex parent?  How can I help her through this? Should I try to discuss this with him?  I don’t want it to backfire and he gets mad at her for her feelings.  Any insight would be most helpful.  Thank you!


Mom in the middle

Dear Mom in the Middle,

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.52.37 AMFamily crises that occur just before developmental changes often have interesting impacts on the relationships between the people in the family. Interesting because we might not expect positive feelings, increased closeness, or improved communication but sometimes that is exactly what we get. And other times we get the exact opposite!

I hear you asking a few questions; one is whether this is typical for early teens to want more time with their same-sex parent. Another is whether you should break confidence with you daughter and bring up the issue with her father. It’s one of those awful positions to be in, especially in the aftermath of a divorce where it likely feels some part of normalcy is almost returning.

Please know that you are doing a great job.

You are tuned into your daughter, you have worked with your ex to establish a routine, and you are reflective (rather than reactive) when changes are happening. Kudos to you from a stranger.

Is it normal for a teen girl to want to spend more time with mom?


It tends to ebb and flow; early teens, when bodies and social circles are in flux, do see more outreach to mom, later years when school participation and activities increase see an uptick in dad outreach. And intimate relationship changes (starting or ending, on the part of the parent or the child) will turn whatever the “norm” had been on it’s head again. Emotional closeness isn’t fixed, it changes over time, deepening or easing up depending on a great many factors.

Here is the really hard part. Mostly what it depends on is access.

Unless there is something really damaging about the interaction between your daughter and her father, daughter’s always do better with active and involved father’s than they do without them. Academically, relationally, and personally girls with dad’s that are regularly involved in their lives, school and social circles, feel more secure and confident. (Note, this applies to girls with fathers who are alive and available compared to girls with fathers who are alive and unavailable).  I shared my own story about this last November during a TEDxAmoskaeg Millyard talk. Mom’s are important, absolutely, but there is a huge role that dad’s play in their children’s sense of self and success that is often undervalued because of cultural traditions and gender norms.

There are lots of answers to “why can’t I just live with you all the time” that are very valid, but none of those answers will make it feel any easier for her or for you.

If someday your daughter is not feeling connected to you, wanting distance, and cutting short the interactions she has with you, do you want your ex to explain what is happening or do you want your daughter to do this? I am guessing that if she is able to do it, you would prefer to talk with her directly.  Chances are her father would too. While you can’t erase the need for her to go between homes and alternate phone calls, you can help her build her skills in negotiating this relationship. Can she share these feelings with him? Can she come up with ways to make the calls more meaningful to her, or less pressured in some way? Can she discuss with him ways of making their week together leave them both feeling appreciated and loved?

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.57.22 AMI would encourage you to examine your parenting agreement if you made one when you were divorcing. It may have outlined how you each will handle communicating with each other about your daughter’s emotional and physical well-being. If you did, I would suggest sticking to whatever you may have mutually agreed. If you divorced using a collaborative law process you may wish to consult with the coach you used to hear his or her suggestions.  If these agreements aren’t part of the equation than I would suggest empowering your daughter to share her thoughts with her dad.

She is going to be his daughter for the rest of her life, through close and distant times, so figuring this out isn’t something you should do for her. Ultimately how it gets navigated will be on each of them, with you being the onlooker to their process. And how it gets handled will be her mental model of what to expect when negotiating these things with you and future relationships too.


Resources: Collaborative Law Alliance NH

Send in your question

Alright, it’s your turn. I hope you’ll join me in seeking clarity for the shifts you are navigating.

Readersclarity of Manchester Ink Link seek relevant, local, and pragmatic reporting. Editor Carol Robidoux provides layered reports that allow all of us to feel not only part of the story, but partners in resolution. My hope is that this column will serve as a compass for readers seeking clarity in the chaos of their businesses, personal lives, or relationships. From time to time we will have guest columnists offer their insight on a challenge. This information is simply opinion, but I hope you will share your stories so that others can gain clarity for themselves. Questions are powerful. We hope you will share yours here.

Loretta L.C. Brady
Loretta L.C. Brady

Loretta L.C. Brady owns BDS Insight a culture, crisis, and conflict management firm in Manchester.  She is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Saint Anselm College. She, her husband Brian Brady, and their five children live and work in Manchester.

The opinions or views expressed in this column are not intended to treat or diagnose; nor are they meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental heDisclaimeralth professional. This column, its author, the newspaper and publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions. Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady, clinical and organizational psychologist, offers her and guest columnist opinions on a variety of current event and reader submitted subjects. She and they are expressing personal and professional opinions and views. Manchester Ink Link and Dr. Loretta L.C. Brady are not responsible for the outcome or results of following the advice of this column in any given situation.

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About this Author

Dr. Loretta Brady

Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, writer, and Professor of psychology at Saint Anselm College. She received her doctorate from Fordham University and has been a source for the New York Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post on issues related to inclusive workforce development and resilience. Her career includes a Fulbright fellowship, McNair fellowship, international consulting, and entrepreneur advising for over two decades.