Couples who separate or divorce face additional complications when co-parenting teenagers, including households with completely different sets of rules. One household believes teens learn responsibility when they set their own curfew. The other swears that nothing good happens after midnight and enforces an 11 p.m. deadline. How confusing are these differences for teens? Should co-parents try to agree on a shared set of rules?
In general, teens are usually flexible and resilient enough to handle two different sets of standards or expectations from parents in separate households, Phillips says. But co-parents should communicate frequently, share issues that arise, and find a way to agree on how to address important matters that affect the health, safety, and welfare of their child.
Advice for Co-Parents
Our experts offer this advice on co-parenting:
- Don’t worry too much if the rules at the other household differ from yours. Part of the reason you’re not together may be that you don’t collaborate well.
- If your teen prefers the rules at the other household and tries to convince you to change yours, view this as an opportunity for them to learn how to negotiate and self-advocate. If they present a strong case, consider their argument.
- Communicate frequently and cooperate with your co-parent in a positive way for the sake of your teen. Professional counseling—even if you go alone—can help.
Single parents of teens may not experience the hassle that comes with negotiating every decision with a partner or trying to resolve conflicts over value differences. But they bear the weight of every choice and must face the dizzying adolescent rollercoaster alone.
It’s a draining combination that puts single parents of teens in two high stress groups (single parent and parent of teenagers). This makes them among the most stressed people in the country, according to the NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health survey.
“It can be so much work to make every single parenting decision about really big issues and not have somebody to bounce ideas back,” says Hoefle. “It’s also exhausting from a practical standpoint because you’re the person who gets all the emotional ups and downs.”
But single parents are often effective decision-makers who recruit their teens to help run the household and find solutions to family problems. This approach is “very formative, very powerful, and teaches a huge amount of responsibility,” says Pickhardt.
Advice for Single Parents
Our experts offer this advice on single parenting teens:
- Make your physical and emotional health a priority.
- Take alone time to re-energize, both for good health and to be emotionally available to your teen.
- Build a tribe, a trusted group of friends or family who can provide backup and reliable advice.
- If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider seeking professional counseling support.
Being a stepparent can be an “absolute minefield,” says Pickhardt, who also wrote Keys to Successful Stepfathering. A teen is less likely to bond with a stepparent who joins the family during adolescence. And stepparents often walk a tightrope as they become a family insider but remain an outsider at the same time.
Depending on family dynamics, a stepparent may be involved with the teen at various levels—as an equal and active co-parent, as a consultant to the original parent, or as an observer/nonparent. Regardless, stepparents of teens can offer a fresh perspective that the original parent may sorely need, Pickhardt says.
Advice for Step-Parents
Our experts offer this advice on step-parenting:
- Don’t allow the teen to pit you against your partner. (For example, the teen’s parent mandates family dinners and you support the teen’s desire to eat dinner out with friends. Try to present a united front and discuss it with your spouse later.)
- Even if the relationship with your stepchild is precarious and you want to avoid conflict, you must share any information about risky or dangerous behavior with their parent.
- Be as actively involved as possible. Although you are not the teen’s original or biological parent, as a caring, interested adult in the home, you occupy an important role in mentoring the teenager.
- As needed, a professional counselor with expertise in stepfamilies can help define roles and aid in conflict resolution skills.