Co-parenting can be challenging and difficult to organize and communicate through, no matter what age our children are! When they’re infants and toddlers, parents worry about how well little ones will adjust to extended time away from a nursing mom or handle bouncing between homes. As they become involved in activities, we juggle attending practices, games, and events from different parent’s homes and schedules. It can be a lot for parents- and kids- to keep up with and adjust to!
The teen years introduce a host of new experiences and complications, especially for co-parents who don’t reside right in the same area. We want to begin to allow our kids to develop autonomy and new skills; but, how do we find a balance so that each parent gets their quality time in with the kids? How do parents divvy up the costs and responsibilities? How do we best support the growth of our adolescents?
Freedom to develop relationships (including dating), driving, and first jobs are some of the hot topics when co-parenting teens:
Dating and friends. As kids grow older, they tend to form more relationships outside of the close circle of their home and family. Weekends and school breaks shift from being family time to increasingly more and more time with peers. Ideally, co-parents will try to be on the same page by allowing access to peers and encouraging healthy relationships, curfews, sharing concerns about unhealthy relationships or behaviors (e.g. suspected drug or alcohol use or sexual activity), and so on.
It’s always helpful if kids know that their parents have consistent values and standards, as well as communication about events and concerns, that way kids won’t be as likely to play one parent off of the other or use the lack of communication and cooperation to get away with things they shouldn’t!
Some co-parents do a great job of being in sync with these issues, while others function as two separate universes in terms of rules and expectations. In these cases, kids may have strict oversight in one home and be able to run wild in the other.
Co-parents should consider discussing such topics as; curfews, expectations regarding supervision while at friends’ homes, expectations for contact from the child to parents, agreed age to begin dating, dating protocol (bringing dates to meet parents, and so on).
Are you prepared for the fact that the desire to socialize may make kids virtually absent during visitation time? While gradually disappearing is typical for all kids, it may seem especially drastic when we only get time with them every other week, or whatever the visitation schedule is. Will you mandate that certain times are strictly for family time or to be at home? How will you handle this situation when you live in one town but your kids and their school and friends are in another?
Driving. Earning a license and getting behind the wheel is a highly-anticipated milestone for teens, but it can be full of obstacles for parents. Do co-parents agree on the age and other expectations to be able to drive (for instance, will your kids be required to maintain certain grades and behavior to drive)? Who is supplying the car, gas, and insurance?
Some divorced parents have these factors spelled out in their parenting agreement; but, many others will be forced to cross this bridge and make decisions when the time comes!
Will you share in the cost of driver’s education?
Typically, a car must be insured by the person whose name is on the title; so, will that mean that one parent is stuck with all the costs to provide both a vehicle and insurance or can an agreement be made to share costs?
Will the child be allowed to drive a car between homes and use it in all places (even if one parent lives at a distance), or will vehicles be made available to use in each location?
How will you handle the situation if you provide the vehicle and it becomes damaged or involved in an accident under your ex’s supervision? Will you also be responsible for repair costs?
Driving could open a big can of worms related to costs and liability, and if co-parents don’t agree to terms, it could leave a child waiting on the sidelines to drive. Some cases may be simplified if there is more than one child and each parent can take turns bearing financial responsibility for driving; but, we all know that some co-parents will refuse to help out financially or agree to reasonable terms!
Jobs. Many teens will want to work to begin building valuable experience and earning their own money. Similar to dating and increased peer involvement, a job can claim a large amount of time from a teen’s schedule. Many overlapping questions exist for co-parents to address:
Do you have criteria for your teen to work (e.g. maintaining certain grades or behavior), and will both parents support these standards?
How will your teen get to work? What if the teen’s two homes are at a distance? Will he or she always have a way to work?
Do co-parents agree on how many hours is acceptable or how late the teen may work? Many popular places for teens to work, such as fast food restaurants, can expect employees to work long and late hours.
Nate started working at a local pizza restaurant when he was a sophomore. The restaurant was close enough to his dad’s house that he could walk to work, which made it very convenient on dad’s weeks, but necessary for his mom to drive him to and from (a 25-minute ride each way). Sometimes, especially on weekends, he was asked to work until 10 pm or later, which was also very difficult for his mom. He had to keep track of uniforms, which had to travel between homes. His dad stipulated that he must have A’s and B’s to work because school was most important, but his mom didn’t agree that this was necessary.
Because of the challenges faced with Nate’s first job, his younger brother has now been told that he will not be allowed to have a job in high school. His mom now lives even further away, and it’s too difficult for her to ensure she could get him to a job every day of her week in the same town where he attends school. The obstacle he will face is finding employment where he is only scheduled every other week or being allowed to drive 40 minutes each way to a job. It’s unlikely he can make this scenario work; but, this is the reality for a child of divorced parents!
If you have a teen or tween, some difficult discussions and decisions are likely headed your way! Not only will you and your teen have to form agreements about how to handle new relationships and opportunities; but, our child’s other parent will also have an impact on the cost and feasibility of these subjects. We want to encourage growth and maturity in our kids; but, there’s a lot of planning that will have to go into making typical teen experiences possible for kids with divorced parents. As if the teen years aren’t already quite eventful, they’re likely to be a lot more complicated for co-parents!