If love is a battlefield, then raising teenagers together is a battlefield with landmines. Teens can switch from adolescent to adult feelings (and back again) in no time at all. This confusing age is hard enough for them to navigate. Face the challenges of a teenager with divorced parents and watch the fun multiply!
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be turmoil and fear all the way. Knowing where some of the land mines are hidden or what to do to avoid them completely will make this time a smoother for everyone.
The thing to remember is that in the moment, teenagers are becoming independent and making an effort to express themselves. They will have their own ideas about how things should be, and those ideas can go against what you think. Ultimately, I know that you want to keep her safe and happy. These suggestions can help you tackle the challenges you may face as you raise teenagers through divorce together.
It is important to realize that teens are trying to figure out what they want and who they become. With that come a lot of hormones. Sometimes it is easier for teenagers to mask the shame, sadness, and loneliness that they might experience with anger. In other cases, when children really feel those deeper, more vulnerable feelings that they are angry, they think they are. In either case, it is your responsibility as a parent to be there for them with support and compassion.
Home is where the security is.
Home should always be a safe haven for young people. Yes, they want independence, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also need security and stability. Make sure you create a family feel. Let them know, whatever happens in the outside world, their parents will both support and love them.
Teens will have a different idea of how things will work.
Teens, especially those on the verge of having more independence with access to a license, job, and friends, or activities outside the home (i.e., the 14-16 sweet spot), will have lots of ideas about how to do things want work. It is important to listen to them and meet them where you can. Work as a team with your teens and ex as co-parents to make them feel respected and heard. If you tend to cover them up with your opinions, they may feel that you are not taking their desires into account and acting. They want to know that you are working with your ex to support and care for them even though they seem to be pulling away.
Young people just want to be heard.
Sometimes it can be challenging to differentiate between normal teenage anxiety and when your child is really in trouble. Add to this the reality that for some reason your teen doesn’t want to share their feelings with you. Maybe they want to avoid confrontation or they don’t know how to express themselves. When raising your teen through a divorce, keep in mind that your child just wants to be heard. When they talk, listen.
Other things to consider in your parenting plan as you are part of a divorce parenting
It’s difficult to tell your teen what they’re going to do, but you’re doing it for a good reason (security, to make sure your teen becomes a self-sufficient adult, and so on). Communicate that with them! Let them know that you’re not just making rules because you’re greedy for power. You have a good reason for it.
An education plan will help. It might also be a struggle at first setting new routines for your kids as they become teenagers. Remember: your teenagers don’t want to be told what to do.
Make them feel like they have a say, especially as they get older. Once they reach a certain age, they will be able to communicate your wishes to the two of you instead of you telling them what they want. Respect these wishes and honor them as best you can.
Children have time constraints and want to be in control of their own schedule. In your parenting plan, take into account that your children have new and different time constraints. Teenagers are busy bees between work, school, friends, and other activities like jobs and volunteering.
Have a schedule available for handling planning conflicts. If possible, make sure both you and your ex show up at events like sports games, reward ceremonies, and the like so your teens can see you both show up for them. Not only will your teen still feel like an important family member, but you can also spend quality time with your teen and not miss any activities that are important to them.
How will you handle household chores and other household chores? When younger children are divorcing, it is very important to maintain a consistent routine between the households of both parents. That gives them a sense of stability and normalcy. Things like bedtime, chores, and time off or rewards should stay the same.
As children get older, their responsibilities change, and this need between the two houses may not be necessary. What they do need, however, is to know the rules so that they can play by them. Clearly communicate your expectations when there is a household difference. Make sure they understand what happens if they break the curfew or get in trouble. I would recommend that the basic structure remain the same between households (i.e. expectations, consequences, and rewards) while the specifics may vary.
What happens when your teen starts to be more engaged with friends and keep up to date? You may not want to think about your child growing up and leaving the nest, but they will. If you are a teenage co-parent, you need to realize that they are teenagers. You will have friends and want to date them.
What if their boyfriend or girlfriend want to stay overnight (or if they want to stay in their house)? This is another area I would advise on consistency. That way, they can’t play you and your ex off against each other. Nobody wants to hear: “Papa lets me!” or let them take advantage of you because the rules for friends and loved ones in your home are looser.
Who will have the final say? Teens will fight you about things, plain and simple. That said, there are important considerations to be made such as what if your teen is sick, wants a piercing, decides to join a department of military service, wants to buy a car, claims they are going to drop out of school … the list really goes on. In this case, the discussions are big and should be weighed carefully. Raising your teen together is believed to be decisions made with you and your ex-partner amicably. The reality is that some parents may think they should have the final say, especially if they are paying most of it.
Discussing whose decision will be final before these issues arise (in other words, when the tensions are not high) will help you stay cool and focus on the matter when it arises. Will there be times when mom has the last word on dad or vice versa? In what situation can your teenager make their own decision? Just like who has the final say, think about who pays. You may share financial responsibility, but what about your teen’s contribution? If you want a car, do you pay for it or do you? Whose responsibility is it to replace a broken iPad? What if you want a cell phone? Include this language in the parenting plan.
One last word on parenting plans
As your teen navigates through their own changes (and sometimes feels like the center of the world), so do you. Raising teenagers together is different than raising teenagers together. Parental plans need to be addressed. Discussions about school, friends and time conflicts must take place. Consequences, structure, and what you present as a united front are an issue to consider. As you co-educate teenagers, these problems (and more) will show up. The more clarity you can provide in your parenting plan, the better. Make sure you also look at your parenting plan. There’s no point if you never use it. Help your teen take you seriously by giving them new structures and boundaries as they get older. It will make a world of difference when you have to make decisions for your teen on behalf of you and your ex.
We understand co-parenting teens because we navigated co-parenting 2 who are adults and 2 more who are almost ready to leave the nest. We personally enlisted the help of professional counselors and therapists.
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