This weekend opened my eyes to the fact that parenting a teenager and interactions with an ex can be eerily similar! I was inspired to consider some general rules and best practices for teens and co-parents when forming new relationships.
Allow me to set the stage for you…
My teenage stepdaughter has a school friend that she has been hanging out with this summer. Her friend is a nice enough girl, but she’s the only child of a wealthy doctor, and is accustomed to having the best of everything lavished upon her. Unfortunately, as a blended family with eight members, we simply cannot “compete” at the level of materialism that her friend’s family can, which has left my stepdaughter doing a sort of doggie paddle in the deep end trying to keep up with the Joneses.
The girls asked to go to the county fair on Sunday, which we were happy to allow. She had a limited amount of time to attend the fair because her mom was picking her up at 6 pm for her week of visitation. We encouraged the girls to go early so that they would have as much time at the fair as possible. They agreed on 1 pm as a start time, but it was after 2 pm before her friend’s parents picked her up. Our experience with her friend is that they are always late, and very unlikely to communicate if they’re running behind!
5 pm was set as their end time to allow enough time to return home and prepare for her mom to arrive; but, it was after 6 pm before she responded to any calls or texts inquiring about her location, and she refused a ride home with her dad because she was embarrassed of the fact that the driver side window of his car doesn’t work properly. The sweet irony of her distaste for that particular car is that her dad is hanging onto it for her for when she starts driving!
When we finally saw her, after 6 pm, her dad explained how disappointed he was that she failed to return home on time, nor communicate with him about being late. She shrugged her teenage shoulders and coolly replied “life is full of disappointments!” Oh sweetheart, you have no idea!
Shortly after in co-parenting land…
My children were scheduled to return to their dad for his week at 8 pm, meaning we would have to start driving at 7:30 to meet him. At 6:44 pm, I received a text from my ex informing me that he was unable to pick up the kids. He was “out of town and would return too late.” I informed my kids that they might as well settle in for the night because their dad wasn’t meeting us. They were fine with staying, but my son was frustrated with his dad and couldn’t understand why he was doing this to them, and why on such short notice?
I hurt for my kids because I knew the reason was because he is now dating a new woman, and I have seen his priorities take a significant detour lately. I understand his desire to date and form a relationship, I simply cannot understand letting a girlfriend come before the kids! He has even complained to me about our visitation schedule being too much of an interference with his social life, and the kids have voiced their disgust about him always having somewhere else to go during his time.
So, two vastly different demographics of people (a 15-year-old girl and a 46-year-old man) find themselves united in the desire to fit in, solidify relationships, and have the freedom and fun they desire! I fully support these desires; however, I have some words of wisdom that I believe fit both and their situations.
Here is my advice to co-parents (or teenagers) who are starting to date (or forming relationships) and become social (after divorce):
Never forget who you are and who has always been there for you and part of your life. Are you a mom or a dad? Are you someone’s son or daughter? If so, you are fortunate to have people in your life who care about you and will always be connected to you! Your connection to those people will be weaker or stronger depending on the priority you make them in your life. Those people won’t always be here. Eventually they will either die, or they will grow up and move away. Cherish the people you are lucky enough to be connected to. Even when their presence is inconvenient or embarrassing. Remember that you mean something to them, and they love you!
People worth having in your life will accept you for who you are and support what means the most to you. If you’re a parent, your kids should be of extreme importance in your life. No adult worth dating or falling in love with would ask you to sacrifice time with your children or begrudge you taking every opportunity to be their parent. If they’re that important to you, then perhaps it’s time to start integrating the two sides of your heart together?
Additionally, no person is worth being your friend (or lover) if they would judge where you come from, where you live, make fun of your family, or not accept you at face value! Does your friend really object to all these things that make you who you are (if so, shame on them!), or is it your own insecurities that have made you assume that who and what you are isn’t “good enough?” Shame on you if you’re embarrassed of your own family; otherwise, it’s time to develop a greater sense of self if you will allow others to control and dictate your life to you!
Being late is a fundamental show of disrespect. Whether you are chronically late for visitation exchanges or to go out with a friend, tardiness is a tacky way of stating “my life and my time are more valuable than yours, and you will have to bend to my convenience if you want to deal with me!” No one is so special that they have the right to treat you (or you treat them) like a second-class citizen!
Keep your word. Your word is your reputation, and your word is you! Others need to know that you can be trusted to stand by your word and fulfill your promises. Others are also much less likely to have faith in you, give you opportunities, give you second chances, or invest in a relationship with you if you continually fail them!
Communicate. Communication can eliminate or defuse the majority of life’s problems! Let others know your intentions, notify them in a reasonable amount of time if your plans change, ask for cooperation rather than making demands, and apologize sincerely when you have inconvenienced or disappointed others.
My heart is open to each person finding relationships that bring them joy! Relationships have a way of influencing and being influenced by pre-existing relationships and situations; therefore, each of us has to consider how our actions affect others, as well as how beneficial each relationship really is to our self!