Parenting Teenagers During Divorce
While your teen is busy trying to exert independence, parents still need to lay some ground rules to make sure that both parents stay involved in their child’s life. The key is to have a mutual understanding between you and your teen. In other words, take your teen’s life seriously and he or she will take both parents seriously as well.
Big, But Not Big Enough
The first thing to remember is that teens may look and act a lot like adults, but they aren’t yet completely mature. They still need to have two parents and they still need to have those parents involved in their lives. Teens are working hard at learning to be independent, and this means that they do need special consideration, but it does not mean that you and the other parent should throw up your hands and say, “There’s nothing we can do.” It can be difficult to continue to parent someone who doesn’t want to be parented, but that’s your job right now.
Flexibility Is Key
Friends, school, sports, activities, dating, and jobs are essential to teens. If you have a visitation schedule that severely restricts your child’s ability to enjoy those essential activities, all you’ll end up with is resentment. Instead, you need to try to create a balance in your teen’s life. He or she should have plenty of time to do the things that matters to them, but they also have to make some room for spending time with their parents.
As the divorced parent of a teen, you’ve got to flex the parenting schedule to incorporate the things that make your child who he or she is. If your spouse has visitation this weekend, but your teen has a dance to go to, the parent whose scheduled time it is should take the teen to and from the dance, and spend the rest of the available time with them. You need to find a balance between your teen’s need to be a kid and the need for him or her to have time with both parents.
Create a Minimum
Since teens schedules are busy, and both parent’s schedules are also probably pretty packed, it’s important to agree to some kind of minimum time per month with the non-custodial parent. For example, decide that you’ll try to arrange things so that the non-custodial parent sees your child for at least four overnights per month and four other evenings or afternoons.
Be creative with your time sharing. Take turns taking your daughter to basketball practice. Have one parent commit to teaching him how to drive. Have the other parent be involved with weekend band or cheerleader activities. Some parents have a hard time being flexible because it feels like a loss of control. In fact it is just the opposite – you set a minimum and then work with your child to make it work for everyone. It takes a bit more cooperation, but in the end, you will both have a better relationship with your child and he or she will feel more fulfilled and connected.
Teens are big on technology, so the non-custodial parent can maintain a close relationship with text messaging, cell phone calls, and instant messaging. Non-custodial parents can have a difficult time staying connected during the teen years – teens certainly aren’t known for being open with their parents! And, if a family divorced when the daughter was 7, she’s a very different person at 15 and it can be hard to stay in the loop. Find out about her interests and activities and make yourself a part of them – either by showing up to cheer, by offering help, or just by asking friendly, non-intrusive questions.