DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: I'm 16 and my parents divorced last year. I love them equally, but I live with my mom because there is more structure here that's helpful for school. However, now my dad is remarried and is pressuring me to live at his house. He knows I don't like switching houses every week (parents, you try it), so he is pressuring me to move in full-time. I do stay there certain weekends and holidays already and often have dinner there, but I really don't want to live there. I feel so bad about this! The pressure is making me really emotional and unstable. I'm ready to move there just to solve the problem — even though I totally don't want to! Why can't he just be OK with me living where it's best for me without this big guilt trip? How can I convince him that I love both parents equally even though I want to live with just one of them?
— Torn Apart by Guilt
Moriah, 17, Rutland, Vt.: To help eliminate the "favorite parent" problem, make it clear that the choice is for you. It's better for you personally. Most parents appreciate teens making beneficial life decisions, since many don't. You might mention this.
Carlos, 18, Fairfax, Va.: I went through this. My mom was moving to the U.S. and my dad was staying in Bolivia. It was too much pressure for an 8-year-old, but I told Dad I loved him with all my heart, and it was best to move with Mom because not only did she need me, I needed her. Sit him down and express your love. Then follow with what you know is best.
Breele, 20, Dana Point: You're 16. You don't need justification, just clarity: "Dad, I love you and this is what I'm doing." Don't move because you feel bad for him. He's a grown man; he'll get over it. My dad did. I experienced something similar. And shame on him for how much he guilt-tripped me! The strain he created in our relationship was his doing. I wanted to live with my mom — and I did. Despite the strain, my life was incomparably happier in the more stable household. Keep doing in life what makes you feel empowered and strong.
Warren, 24, Nashville, Mich.: Stability is important for school and mental health. Your parents love you and ultimately want what's best for you. That said: Do what's best for you. Your father may be upset or sad, but in time he will understand. Just let him know how much you love him and continue visiting him. That's how I dealt with my parents' divorce, and I have an excellent relationship with both of them now.
Katelyn, 19, Huntington Beach: Tell him your mom provides more structure, and that he provides other things (love, emotional support, etc.), and that you love them equally. Suggest that you'll call more often or schedule regular "daddy dates" (along with the dinners, weekends and holidays). If he continues pressuring and guilt-tripping, ignore it and stick to your reasoning. He'll either come around, or he won't — and neither will be your fault.
DEAR TORN APART: The freedom to "choose" between parents can indeed be a major source of stress and destabilization — especially if parents use guilt and manipulation "pick me" cards. I find it easy to support your choice because you want the more structured environment (as opposed to the one with the most toys and/or fewest rules) — AND you're not excluding your father. Now, if he could just relax and enjoy you! It's important to be absolutely firm about your decision. When you waver, it makes him keep trying.