Parenting teenagers can be challenging, to say the least. It’s a unique stage of life when your kids are going through hormonal and emotional changes while trying to figure out the kind of person they want to be.
Add a divorce on top of that, and the challenges you face can feel even greater.
Teenagers and Divorce
Parenting a teen during or after a divorce is often complicated. Even if the divorce was amicable, there’s no denying how it will change your teen’s life as much as your own. While you should prioritize taking care of your teen and helping them cope after your divorce, it’s just as important to formulate a plan with your former partner or spouse so you’re on the same page about moving forward with your older kids.
What does that look like?
Whether you’re recently separated, or you’ve been divorced for a while, and your teen is starting to act out, it’s never too early or too late to make positive changes that will benefit your teen’s well-being.
Learn How to Co-Parent
Co-parenting is the ideal situation for any divorced couple with kids. Because 90% of child custody cases are settled without a ruling from a judge, you should be able to come up with both a custody arrangement and co-parenting plan that is best for your teen.
However, co-parenting isn’t always as easy as it seems. There are some “unspoken” rules you and your former partner have to agree to for it to be effective, including
- Open communication
- A consistent schedule
- Keeping disagreements private
- Quick, friendly exchanges
It’s not uncommon for teenagers to go through a rebellious phase. They might want to test their limits or push boundaries as they navigate life and their own identities. It’s crucial to be on the same page with your ex-spouse if your teen is going through their rebellious years. You both have to stay calm, communicate effectively, and decide how to create rules and expectations you can both put into place, so your teen is getting consistency in both households.
Manage Your Mental Health
While your kids will always be your top priority, don’t forget to take care of yourself after a divorce. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and you can’t be an effective parent or co-parent if you don’t give yourself time to heal from your divorce fully. It’s more common for people with mental health struggles to end up divorced, but the anxiety, depression, and stress you can feel after a separation often make things worse.
You can take care of your mental health by
- Meditating/practicing mindfulness
- Prioritizing self-care
- Getting enough sleep
- Leaning on your support group
- Seeking out help from a professional
When you have your own mental health in a stable place, you’ll be more equipped to help your teen through any struggles they might be going through.
Teens are already at a higher risk of developing mental health issues. One 2014 study found that 11.3% of adolescents ages 12-17 had a prevalence of major depressive episodes. Teens have a lot on their plate, and dealing with a divorce can increase feelings of anxiety or depression. Pay attention to some common warning signs, including changes in their behaviors or signs of sadness or hopelessness. No parent wants to think about their child struggling with mental health at any age, but it can be worth it to encourage them to see a counselor or therapist to help them get through this difficult time.
Encourage Open Communication
Communication is an effective key to any successful relationship. It might have been a problem in your marriage, but that needs to change if you want your teen to adjust to your divorce in a positive way. Don’t let your feelings for your ex cloud your thoughts and words as you speak to your teenager. They don’t need to be in the middle of any harbored resentment or hurt feelings.
If you’re struggling with anything from custody arrangements to co-parenting disagreements, choose to communicate openly with your ex about your feelings.
Choose to communicate with your teen, too. Validate their feelings and acknowledge their struggles. It’s okay to admit that you’re not perfect and that you’re struggling too, but make sure they know that you’re there for them as a built-in support system. Teenagers aren’t exactly known for being open books about their feelings. Letting them know that you’re always available to provide a listening ear can go a long way.
Emotions always demand to be felt. Let your teenager know they don’t have to push their feelings down. By encouraging open communication in your household, being available to answer questions, and speaking honestly (and appropriately) about what you’re going through can make a big difference in your relationship with your teen and how well they cope with the separation.
Divorce isn’t easy on kids at any age. However, by keeping these tips in mind, you can make the experience easier on yourself and your teen, and you can even develop a healthier co-parenting relationship with your ex in the process.