The teenage years can be exciting yet challenging for both teens and their parents. Helping your teen make a smooth transition into becoming a more independent person can be complicated in a divorced family. Some of these challenges include: teens going back and forth between two homes, different rules in each house, parents dating just as teens are exploring intimate relationships; and possibly adjusting to one or both parents’ remarriage and step-siblings.
What do you do if your teenager chooses to spend time with a friend or their other parent over you? Friends are a high priority for teens, so don’t take it personally if he or she wants to spend time with them. Show your teen that you can adapt to his/her needs, even if that means missing out on time with him/her. Encourage your teenager to give you feedback about leisure family activities they might enjoy.
Taking the higher ground and not applying guilt or pressure to spend time with you when they opt to be with their friends or their other parent will pay off in the long run. Your child needs you to be their parent, but friends are key for healthy identify formation and socialization, and can also help them build higher self-esteem.
At times, your child may assert their independence by wanting to carve out time with a parent who they share a special interest with or don’t see as often. Be careful how you respond to changes in their schedule; try to be understanding and flexible. Take the higher ground and show compassion rather than disappointment. After all, divorce is not a decision that kids make, and they can benefit from making choices about how they spend their free time.
Fathers and Teenage Daughters
In my clinical practice and research, I’ve discovered that daughters sometimes have more struggles with post-divorce adjustment than boys during adolescence. One aspect of life that is often altered by the breakup of the family for a girl is her connection with her father. A girl’s relationship with her dad can change drastically after divorce since most girls live with their mothers and have reduced contact with their dads.
In my research for Daughters of Divorce, I found that many girls grow into womanhood with wounded trust if they don’t have the opportunity to heal their relationship with their father. Fathers can also be a good buffer between mothers and daughters if they maintain an active role in their daughter’s life.
Truth be told, girls may distance themselves from their moms as they go through day to day growing pains and exert their independence. Smart mothers encourage their daughters to have regular contact with their fathers and avoid doing anything to complicate their daughter’s trust in him – such as bad mouthing or criticizing him.
Co-parenting Challenges with Teens
Co-parenting, at its best, is a wonderful opportunity for children of divorce to have close to equal access to both parents – to feel that it is okay to love both of their parents. Dr. Joan Kelly, a renowned psychologist, reminds us that the outcomes for children of divorce improve when they have positive bonds with both parents. These include better psychological and behavioral adjustment, and enhanced academic performance.
However, few authors mention that while co-parenting or shared parenting is usually the best decision for children, it takes two special parents to navigate this arrangement over time. Interacting with each other at drop-offs or special events, making shared decisions, or even speaking to an ex who you’d rather forget can be a challenge.
In order to succeed at co-parenting, it’s wise to be realistic about the difficulties that may arise as your kids go through childhood and adolescence. For instance, it might be hard to differentiate between the impact of your divorce and normal adolescent rebellion. Be sure to stay tuned in to your teen’s words, gestures, and any significant changes in their behavior.
For instance, Megan and her brother Nathan spent close to equal time with their divorced parents until they reached adolescence, when they both protested their schedule. When Megan was thirteen, after her father’s remarriage, she wanted to spend most overnights at her mother’s home, while Nathan started spending more nights at his father’s apartment (as it was located near most of his friend’s homes). Fortunately, their parents agreed that it was in their best interests to revise their schedule. As a result, both Megan and Nathan thrived as they felt their needs were being respected.
During and after divorce, it’s crucial that both parents promote a healthy bond with their teenager in order to nurture high self-esteem and resiliency. Showing your teen compassion and flexibility won’t guarantee success every day, but they’ll feel less stressed as a result.
Likewise, while blending families can give teens an opportunity to access new relationships and support, it can also present difficulties for your teenager. Some of the issues that might arise and cause difficulties for teens are conflicts between family members, and feeling left out or displaced by a stepparent, step-sibling, or half-sibling. Attempt to see things from your teenager’s perspective. Be sure to encourage an open dialogue with your child so they can discuss issues that they find stressful and brainstorm possible solutions together.
In sum, try to enjoy and appreciate the teen years by showing empathy and capturing special moments with your teen when possible. When you take time to truly listen to your teenager, they’ll be more likely to ask your advice. Expressing acceptance and understanding to your teen can go a long way to smooth over the rough patches that come along in a divorced family.