If love is a battlefield, then co-parenting teens is a battlefield with landmines. Teenagers can swing from adolescent to grown-up feelings (and back again) in the snap of your fingers. This confusing age is hard enough already for them to navigate. Throw in the challenges of being a teen with divorced parents and watch the fun multiply!
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be fraught with turmoil and anxiety all the way. Knowing where some of the landmines are hidden, or what to do to avoid them outright, will make this period smoother for everyone.
The thing to remember is that right now, teens are becoming independent and striving to express themselves. They will have their own ideas about how things should be, and those ideas may go against what you’re thinking. At the end of the day, I know you want to keep them safe and happy. With these suggestions, you can navigate the challenges you may face as you are co-parenting teens through divorce.
It’s important to recognize that teens are trying to figure out what they want and who they’re becoming. With that comes lots of hormones. Sometimes it’s easier for teens to mask shame, sadness, and loneliness they could be experiencing with anger. Other times, kids think they’re angry when really they’re feeling those deeper, more vulnerable feelings. At any rate, it’s your job as a parent to be there for them with support and compassion.
Home is where the safety is.
Home should always be a safe haven for teens. Yes, they want independence, but that doesn’t mean they don’t also need safety and stability. Make sure you establish a family-first feeling. Let them know whatever is happening in the outside world, their parents both will support and love them.
Teens will have a different idea about how things are going to work.
Teens, especially the ones on the cusp of having more independence with access to a license, job, and friends or activities outside the home (ie: that sweet spot of 14-16) will have a lot of ideas about how they want things to work. It’s important to listen to them and meet them where you can. Work as a team with your teens and your ex as you co-parent so they feel respected and heard. If you tend to blanket them with your opinions, they could feel like you have no regard for their wishes and act out. They want to know you’re working with your ex to support and nurture them, even though they seem to be pulling away.
Teens just want to be heard.
Sometimes, it could be a challenge to decipher between normal teenage angst and when your kid is really in trouble. Add to that the reality that your teenager may not want to share their feelings with you for whatever reason. Perhaps they wish to avoid confrontation, or they don’t know how to express themselves. When you co-parent your teen through a divorce, remember that your kid just wants to be heard. When they talk, listen.
Other Things to Consider in your Parenting Plan as you Co-Parent Through Divorce
It’s challenging to tell your teen what they’re going to do, but you are doing this for a good reason (safety, making sure your teen becomes a self-reliant adult, and so on). Communicate that with them! Let them know you aren’t just making rules because you’re power-hungry; you have a good reason behind that.
Having a parenting plan will help with this. It could also be a struggle at first as you establish new routines for your kids as they turn into teens. Remember: your teens don’t want to be told what to do.
Make them feel like they have a say in it, especially as they get older. Once they hit a certain age, they can communicate their wishes with both of you instead of you telling them what they want. Respect those wishes and honor them as much as you can.
Kids will have time constraints and want control over their own schedule. In your parenting plan, consider that your kids will have new and different time constraints. Teens are busy bees between work, school, friends, and other activities like jobs and volunteering.
Have a plan in place for time for handling scheduling conflicts. When possible, make sure both you and your ex show up at events like sporting games, rewards ceremonies, and the like so your teens can see you’re both showing up for them. Not only will your teen still feel like an important member of the family, but you’ll also get to spend time with your teen and not miss out on activities that are important to them.
How will you navigate chores and other household responsibilities? When kids who are younger experience a divorce, it’s very important to keep a consistent routine between both parents’ households. That gives them a sense of stability and normalcy. Things like bedtimes, chores, and time-outs or rewards should stay the same.
As kids get older, their responsibilities will change, and they may not need that consistency between both houses. However, what they do need is to know the rules so they can play by them. Communicate your expectations clearly if there is a difference between households. Make sure they understand what happens if they break curfew or get in trouble. I’d recommend that the basic structure remains the same between households (ie: expectations, consequences, and rewards), while the specifics may vary.
What happens when your teen starts to become more involved with friends and begins to date? You may not want to think about your kid growing up and leaving the nest, but they will. As you’re co-parenting teens, you have to realize they are teens. They will have friends and they will want to date.
What happens if their boyfriend or girlfriend wants to sleepover (or they want to stay at their house)? This is another area I’d advise consistency. That way they can’t play you and your ex off each other. No one wants to hear, “Dad lets me!” or have them take advantage of you because the rules around friends and paramours are laxer at your house.
Who will have the final say? Teens will fight you on things, plain and simple. That said there are important considerations to make, like what happens if your teen is sick, wants to get a piercing, decides to join a branch of military service, wants to purchase a car, claims they’ll drop out of school… the list goes on, really. In that instance, these are big discussions that should be considered carefully. When you’re co-parenting your teen, it’s assumed that decisions are mutually agreed upon with both you and your ex involved. The reality is that some parents may think they should have the final word, especially if they are the ones paying for most of it.
Having a discussion about whose decision is final before these issues come up (in other words, when the tensions aren’t running high) will help you stay cool and focus on the matter at hand when it occurs. Will there be times when mom has the final say over dad or vice versa? In what situation does your teen get to make their own decision? Just like who has the final say, think about who pays. You may be sharing financial responsibilities, but what about your teen’s input? If they want a car, do they pay for it or do you? Whose responsibility is it to replace a broken iPad? What if they want a cell phone? Put that language in the parenting plan.
A Final Word About Parenting Plans
As your teen is navigating their own changes (and at times feeling like the center of the world), you, too, must navigate changes. It’s different when you’re co-parenting teens than when you’re co-parenting adolescents. Parenting schedules will have to be addressed. Discussions about school, friends, and time conflicts will have to take place. Consequences, structure, and what you present a united front on will be a point to consider. As you’re co-parenting teens, these issues (and more) will come up. So, the more clarity you can provide in your parenting plan, the better. Make sure you actually look at your parenting plan, too. It won’t do any good if you never use it. Help your teen take you seriously by giving them new structure and boundaries as they get older. It will make a huge difference when you have to make decisions for your teen on behalf of you and your ex.
We understand co-parenting teens because we have navigated co-parenting 2 who are grown and 2 more who are almost ready to leave the nest. We, personally, have sought after the help of professional counselors and therapists.