7 Ways to Help Your Teenager Cope With Your Divorce

7 Ways to Help Your Teenager Cope With Your Divorce February 13, 2021

Dear Terry,

I was divorced three years ago and my question is “when my children will recover and get used to living in two homes?” I’m a forty-two year old teacher who was married for fifteen years and I have three children ages 10, 12, and 15. My marriage had been very bad for a long time and we argued often. I think we were all relieved for the first few months after my ex-husband moved out but then my kids started complaining about living in two houses and my 15 year-old daughter started acting out by getting bad grades and smoking pot with her friends.

I’ve read that it takes two years for children to get over their parents’ divorce an my ex and I share custody and don’t get along any better now that we live apart. But one thing seems like a problem and that’s my ex is dating someone my oldest daughter dislikes. She says she’s too young (she’s in her early 30’s) and she resents that she spends most nights at her dad’s house. My ex also criticizes me to our kids and we still argue in front of them sometimes.

What can I do to help my kids adjust to living in two homes? Do I come down hard on them and ground my 15 year-old daughter so she stops being rebellious and improves her grades? My fear is that she will be resentful, lash out at me, and her attitude will get worse. My two younger kids are doing better but they seem sad sometimes and say they miss us being a family. Sometimes, my two older kids don’t want to go to their dad’s house when it’s time for them to spend a few days there.

Please help me to get my children back on track!

Sincerely,

Kristin

Dear Kristin,

I’m sorry to hear that your children are having some difficulty adjusting to your divorce. It’s important to consider that your children may not have the wisdom, insight, and clarity to make decisions about spending time with both of their parents on their own and can benefit from your guidance. Researcher Robert E. Emery writes, “According to leading experts in developmental and clinical psychology, there really are only two critical aspects of parent-child relationships: love and parental authority.”

Your role as a parent is to help your children adjust to divorce and setting boundaries, routines, and limits is an important aspect of parenting. So don’t be afraid to let your children know your expectations and have family rules and consequences for breaking them. Also, be sure to give them plenty of affection and offer praise when they are following routine and respecting your rules and doing well in school.

Let’s face it, communication with your ex is key to successful co-parenting. It’s a good idea to sit down with your ex and come up with a few strategies to encourage your children to cooperate with their “parenting time” schedule. For instance, you may decide to make different arrangements for drop off and pick up. Most importantly, it’s key that your children see that you and your former spouse are working together for their well-being.

Next, you may need to examine the “parenting time” schedule to make sure that it’s working for your children. For example, adolescents usually want more control over their schedule due to school, activities, and time with friends. They may develop resentment toward you if they can’t make some decisions about their schedule. Listen to their thoughts and feelings and try to be flexible.

Loyalty conflicts can make some kids feel as if they don’t want to spend time with both parents.  One teen I interviewed said, “I felt like I had to keep my mom’s new boyfriend a secret because my dad didn’t have a girlfriend for a while.  When my dad asked me if my mom had a boyfriend I didn’t know how to deal with it so I said I wasn’t sure.” Her story reminds us that children should never be used as a messenger between their parents’ post-divorce. Let them enjoy their childhood and think about how you want them to remember you when they grow up.

Here are 7 ways to help your teenager be successful at living in two homes:

For the child under ages 12 to 18:

  • Reassure your children that they have two parents who love them. If they balk at going to their other parent’s home, you can say something like “Even though mom and dad aren’t married anymore we both still love you and are trying to be good parents.”
  • Do your best to encourage your teen to adhere to their parenting time schedule – being consistent with their schedule will help your kids feel secure.
  • Attempt to show enthusiasm about their visit with their other parent. It’s important to put your differences with your ex aside and to promote your children’s positive bond with them.
  • Allow for flexibility in their schedule. At times, teens may have difficulty juggling their busy life with school, extracurricular activities, friends, and jobs if they start working.
  • Avoid giving them the impression that being with their friends is not as important as spending time with you because this may make them feel guilty.
  • Plan activities with your kids that might include their friends at times – such as sporting events or movie nights.
  • Respect your teens need for autonomy and relatedness.  Dr. Emery writes, “Teenagers naturally want more freedom, but they also want and need relationships with their parents, though your adolescent may be unwilling to admit this.”

Finally, modeling cooperation and polite behavior with your ex-husband sets a positive tone for co-parenting. When children are confident of the love of both of their parents, they will adjust more easily to divorce. Keeping your differences with your ex away from your children will open up opportunity to move beyond divorce.

Find Terry on Twitter, Facebookand, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 

 

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