Ask any parent of a teenager and they’ll tell you that co-parenting teens isn’t easy at the best of times, especially if you and your partner are divorced. 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.
We chat with Dr Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach, for ways divorced parents can make co-parenting teens easier:
Keep sharing information
Keep sharing as much information with each other about your teen. Don’t assume that your teen will naturally share the information and/or exhibit the same behaviours with both parent. 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.
Don’t 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.
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.
Don’t maintain a rigid 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
Don’t 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.
Provide consistent 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.