Should I let my elder play the role of the father?

Should I let my elder play the role of the father?

We have been separated, my wife and I, for over a year. In the event of a contentious divorce, my three boys, aged 14, 12 and 6, are in the main custody of their mother. The eldest plays the role of the father and is flattered by his mother when he does so. Is this a good thing? What will be the consequences for himself, for his brothers and in particular the smallest is anxious about the behavior of the elder? (Pedro, 42)

Catherine Marchi

Clinical Psychologist


It is never good for a teenage son to occupy a place that is not his own. An older son does not have to "endorse" responsibilities and authority that are not his. To occupy the paternal role is to symbolically occupy the role of "mum's companion". This ambiguous relationship with his mother is undesirable for a son, just as it is undesirable for an eldest daughter to become symbolically the "companion of his father" (a situation sometimes encountered when both parents die).

Although divorced and away from home, the father of your three children is you! That's what you need to make clear to your wife, and of course to your three boys, especially your senior. Show them that you continue to assume your paternal responsibilities, follow their loan education, call them regularly, tell them that they can call you whenever they feel like it, be available and ready to support them and to help them as often as possible.

Then, if the relationship with your ex-wife is too conflictual to tackle these kinds of problems together, there is still the possibility of using family mediation. Because it is important for children that the two separated parents agree on how to exercise the new parenting. Respect for the rights of the father and his participation in the education of the children are indeed very important.

The function of a mediator is to establish a written memorandum of understanding between the two opposing parties. The protocol is established by mutual consent. A mediator is neither a counselor nor a psychotherapist. It offers both parents in conflict a neutral place where they can expose their point of view, describe their situation and let out their emotions. Once communication is restored, both parents find the solutions and choose a compromise. It takes 6 to 8 mediation sessions to find an acceptable solution for both.

For practical information, contact La Maison de la Mediation, 38 bis rue Henri Barbusse, 75005 Paris.Tel: 01 43 26 95 12. To obtain addresses for mediation services in the provinces, contact the National Committee for Family Mediation Services. Tel: 02 31 73 67 97. Ask your lawyer, they are used to this kind of approach.

Catherine Marchi, a clinical psychologist, is a graduate of the Université René Descartes Paris V.


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