Since last summer, I've posted periodically about DSS (11) sending his Mom texts that make it sound like he hates living with us, feels no ties to anyone or anything here and spends all his time longing for the day he turns 14 and (as she's led him to believe) he may simply elect to move to CA, with her. This has been happening for anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks after he returns from visits with her, depending on the length of the visit. It doesn't seem to happen when she visits him here, which has only been for a weekend at a time, this year.
> My husband has twisted his life into a pretzel the last decade, trying to remain part of DSS's life;
> My biological sons (DSS's step- and half-brothers) all adore him; and
> I've known DSS, in one capacity or another, since he was a preschooler. I love him very much and, since he was just a cute little 3rd-grader, I've done the day-to-day mothering of him, about 80% of the year.
So, it's been heart-wrenching knowing he's told his mother things like, "I wish I never had to come back here." But, beyond my own feelings, it's been bewildering having him express such thoughts while acting perfectly normal, happy and loving toward all of us and telling us he's excited about school, sports, seeing his friends and being "home" with us.
The other day, while putting away clean clothes in his room, I found something he apparently wrote right after he came home from his winter break visit with his mom (while engaged in his nasty-texts-about-living-here period). It simply said, "Truly, I like living here. But I'd rather live in California." and he signed it with his full name (neither the nickname we call him, nor his mother's maiden name, which she encouraged him to start using before the custody change and which I've seen him continue to use, in correspondence with her, since then).
For some reason, seeing that has given me such a sense of peace and logic. In the middle of this period when he was saying rotten things about us to his mother - which he knows pleases her - yet acting just the opposite around us and not even mentioning to us that he misses her (which we don't mind hearing, but he was pretty solidly conditioned, while living with her, not to express much missing of the other parent)...in the middle of that, it looks like he wrote out this statement of his own truth, for himself. He doesn't hate us, or living here. He likes it, just like he seems to. But he misses his mom (which he should) and, at least at the time he wrote that - when he'd just separated from her again - he felt he'd rather live with her, if he has to choose (which she has steadfastly insisted that he must).
Maybe, during the 2 months he spends with her in the summer, he also feels homesick for all of us and feels glad this is his home. Or maybe, now that he's old enough to realize his old preference is impossible ("I don't want to choose. I want everything to be equal. Equal time."), he really would prefer to live with his more sugary-sweet, maternal parent...but that doesn't mean he HATES living here.
These things probably also factor in:
1. He has a hard time remembering when he got to see plenty of his mom (and took that for granted); missed his Dad (who he takes for granted now)and was therefore excited about coming here to live with us. (Certainly, he missed his mom. I'm not saying he was excited about leaving her. But aside from a few tears at bedtime the first couple nights, he was very happy to get all this time with us, to go to the same school as his big brothers, etc. And surely he believed he'd see more of his mom than has ended up being the case!);
2. Now, all his time with her is vacation (and she works in the travel industry, so they do some pretty hefty vacationing) and all of his school work and structured activities are during his time with us.
3. The difference in parenting styles: She tries to be his "BFF". We don't.
4. She lives somewhere much cooler and more exciting.
I know it's not exactly the same, but when I was his age I dreamed of living with my favorite aunt, who lived by the beach, always sympathized with me about everything and took me on shopping sprees every time I visited her. Only in my twenties did it dawn on me that wouldn't have equated to great parenting.
Bottom line: So, if he's forced to choose, he'd choose her. At least, that's how he feels right after getting on a plane and leaving her. Or maybe that's how he feels all the time. But he likes his life here, too.
Given some of the extreme history and circumstances, a responsible judge or custodial evaluator should still do more than rubber-stamp whatever he says at age 14. An adult needs to consider the relative healthiness of his two potential homes: physically, educationally and psychologically; and to weigh the criteria on which his stated preference is based. And I have firm ideas about what a thoughtful, unbiased person making an appropriate effort would conclude. But whether he ends up leaving us, for high school; or whether he ends up staying here after testifying that he wants to live with his mom...either way, it's good to know that - regardless what he feels his mother needs to hear from him - in his own heart, this isn't an issue of hating one place and only feeling ties to the other.
This, I can live with.