Some people would say that managing to co-parent young children with an ex-partner is more difficult than it would be with older children. But parenting a teenager with your ex- can be equally challenging, for different reasons. In Part One of this blog, I talked about some ideas for dealing with typical day-to-day practical problems. But in some families, especially those with a history of a lot of conflict, the issues can be more complex.
For example, do any of the following ring a bell?
“He/she is deliberately making my life hell”
If the separation was difficult and there are still raw emotions or wounds being nursed by the parents, it can turn even the slightest problem into ammunition in the parents’ ongoing battle. Maybe one parent calls to say they’ll be late to drop off the kids or pick them up. There could be conflict between everyone where, for example, something is arranged (or permitted) during what would normally be the ‘other parent’s time’.
It’s important not to emotionally over-react to what may have been an unavoidable scheduling conflict. If these problems are recurring, you may need to seek professional help to avoid dragging your teenager into arguments.
“I can’t believe you didn’t ask me first”
One of the reasons relationships break up is because different values become too difficult to ignore or tolerate. If this is the case, there’s no point being surprised when you find out that rules and expectations are different in each parent’s house.
For example, a common source of conflict is where one parent is more permissive than the other. This can lead to heated arguments between ex-partners along the lines of “why did you let him go to that party when you know I was against it?!” An important step can be to identify each parent’s position on important issues such as alcohol and drug use, parties, sexual activity, driving, going out unsupervised etc., ideally before your child reaches the age where these issues become relevant.
Key points to remember:
- Although everyone’s busy, it’s a mistake to try to discuss these kinds of issues ‘on the run’. It’s also definitely not a good idea to talk about these problems in front of your teenager. So arrange another time that suits you both, preferably in a neutral venue.
- Stay focused on what you want to happen from here on. Spending time going over what’s already happened probably won’t help. It may be necessary to compromise on some things, but you need to be clear about what you won’t compromise on, and clearly and calmly explain why.
- Try to maintain a focus on positive, workable solutions. It’s often a good idea to summarize and share what you’ve agreed in writing with your ex- and with your teenager so everyone is clear.
- Parents must also work hard to establish and maintain a strong positive relationship with their teenager, so that the parent’s views and concerns are fully discussed and explored. This will reduce the chances that teenagers will play one parent off against the other. It also increases the chances that when things don’t work out as planned, the issue can be discussed calmly with the goal of avoiding problems in the future.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for some professional help (ideally, sooner rather than later) in dealing with communication with either your ex- or your teenager. It doesn’t have to be labelled ‘counselling’ if that’s likely to be met with resistance. Think of it more like you would a work training course, designed to help build everyone’s skills.
With your teenager’s welfare in the centre of the discussion, and possibly with professional help, you can work out where you’re able to compromise, and where you may have to simply accept the fact that not everything can be in your control.
And keep in mind that, as mentioned in the previous blog on this topic, you’re giving a great gift to your teenager by demonstrating to them how to handle tricky situations in a mature, flexible and reasonable way.