Co-parenting teenagers isn’t easy, especially because adolescence can be so stressful
You and your ex are not the only ones deeply affected by the dissolution of your marriage.
Your children also have to re-do their life after divorce and for most teens, they already have enough on their plate as they go through adolescence.
For most divorced parents, co-parenting with each other sucks.
Somehow, you’re supposed to go from not being able to make a marriage work to being able to communicate and work on your parenting skills together in order to raise your children, especially when you have a teenager.
Why is parenting teenagers so hard?
The adolescent years bring with it amazing physical and hormonal changes which result in sexual and other physical maturation. And all these developments mean that teens have behavioural changes and mood swings.
Teens are gradually able to think more abstractly, make plans, and set long-term goals. They may become more interested in philosophy, politics and social issues. They’ll likely also begin comparing themselves to their peers. They want greater control of their own lives and independence from their parents. So their friendships and romantic/sexual relationships become very important to them.
Developing a sense of personal identity is one of the major tasks that teens undertake. And many try out many different ways of being – including ways that fly in the face of what their parents hoped for them – before settling in.
Parenting a teen is typically a tumultuous experience. It’s often fraught with fear, hurt, and pride – sometimes all within the span of an hour. There are no two ways about it – parenting a teen is tough.
With the added stress of also going through their parents’ divorce process, it just gets even harder. When you’re divorced and trying to parent your teen, it can be so much more difficult than parenting in an intact family.
The surprising thing is that the difficulties don’t arise because of your teen. They arise because of you and your ex. Divorced parents often have different parenting styles and follow different parenting advice. Thus, it can be a source of stress for everyone involved.
Difficulties don’t arise because of your teen. They arise because of you and your ex
Here are the six ways divorced parents make co-parenting teens more difficult than it needs to be:
1. You ‘dam up’ the information flow
Co-parenting sucks and because it can feel like the finish line is in sight when your child is a teen, you start to feel like you can ease things up a bit. You may even begin believing they are more responsible and mature than they were before – because sometimes they are.
This belief leads many co-parents to stop sharing as much information with each other about their teen. They each assume their teen will naturally share the information and/or exhibit the same behaviours with both of them. By not continuing to regularly communicate with each other about things going on with your teen, you and your ex could be keeping each other in the dark about events and/or behaviours with which your teen needs support and guidance.
2. You stop talking to each other
Instead of continuing the often unpleasant or even painful communication with your co-parent, you and/or your ex may choose to start passing messages to each other through your teen. Unfortunately, this can lead to messages not being delivered or delivered late or incorrectly.
It also gives your teen a lot of power.
3. You coordinate less
When your teen learns to drive, you can experience a sense of freedom. No longer are you worried about coordinating with your ex about getting your child from place to place – including from your place to your ex’s.
But this lack of coordination gives your teen freedom that they could take advantage of.
4. You strictly maintain a parenting schedule
A lack of flexibility in the parenting schedule can cause undue conflict and stress for you, your ex and your teen.
Your child is trying to juggle spending time with friends, school, activities and, maybe even a job on top of spending time with both you and their other parent.
Learning to let go and be a bit more flexible is one of the toughest parts of parenting a teen.
When both parents work together, co-parenting a teenager after divorce doesn’t have to be dramatically harder than parenting a teen in an intact family
5. You make assumptions
Making assumptions is almost always a bad idea. But when you make assumptions when you’re co-parenting it can be even more problematic.
The biggest mistake parents make when co-parenting a teenager is that they assume that their child’s other parent knows their teen’s friends instead of knowing them yourself.
Friends are a high priority for teens. You’ll want to know who your child is spending their time with so you can support the relationships that seem beneficial. You’ll also want to encourage your teen and their friends to spend time at your home so you can stay informed about your teen’s world.
6. You provide inconsistent guidance
Despite how independent your teen is trying to be, they still need consistent guidance, expectations, and home life. When things are reliable and steady for your teen, they are more likely to experiment with building their identity in safe ways.
On the other hand, when things are unstable at one of your teen’s homes, they will have more opportunities to experiment in risky and unsafe behaviours.
If you and your ex ease up on co-parenting when your child becomes a teen, you could be setting yourselves and your child up for a much more difficult few years.
Teens can take advantage of poor co-parenting. They can learn to criticise, lie and use other unhealthy methods to get their needs and wants met from one parent or the other as they pursue their independence. However, when both parents work together, co-parenting a teenager after divorce doesn’t have to be dramatically harder than parenting a teen in an intact family.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, divorce and co-parenting has appeared on MSN, Yahoo! & eHarmony among others. You can learn more about Karen and her work at drkarenfinn.com.