Teenagers and Divorce: Separated Parents Advice
By Cathie Ericson
Parenting teenagers and divorce are two flashpoints that frequently flare up during the holidays. Professionals see divorced parents making the same mistakes over and over—so here’s your cheat sheet to avoid becoming “those parents.”
1) Thou shalt not try to one-up each other with material gifts and permissiveness.
“Parents need to continue to parent their teens together, and support each other’s parenting goals,” says Gayani DeSilva, M.D., adolescent psychiatrist and author of A Psychiatrist’s Guide: Helping Parents Reach Their Depressed Tween. Don’t fall into the trap of being a “Disneyland Dad,” in contrast to a mom-who-makes-them-study-and-eat-vegetables. Also, don’t allow your child to miss school or stay out later when you’re in charge.
2) Thou shalt not say anything negative towards or about the other parent.
“Teens will be protective of the parent they see as the underdog. Do not feed into this dynamic by playing either victim or victor,” says DeSilva.
3) Thou shalt tread lightly when dating.
As time progresses, parents are going to want to move on from the marriage, says Erica Wollerman, a licensed clinical psychologist and owner of Thrive Therapy Studio in San Diego. “While this is understandable, keep in mind your teen might not be ready to see you moving on.” She recommends avoiding discussions about your dating life until you are serious with someone. “Then gauge how much you share based on how your teen is coping with the divorce.” And before you introduce a significant other, discuss it with your teen and see how open she is to the idea. It’s likely to go badly if you push her into it, she says.
4) Thou shalt not use your teen as a counselor.
It’s inappropriate to share too many details or unload your angst on your teen. Wollerman encourages both parents to set boundaries about what they talk about because teens are very influenced by their parents sharing how difficult it is for them—especially if one parent is struggling more.
“Teens have enough drama in their lives and don’t need the added stress of dealing with yours,” advises Christine Leatherberry, an attorney with Connatser Family Law in Dallas. “Rely on a friend or hire a professional to help you deal with the stress of divorce.”
Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Read more about Cathie at cathieericsonwriter.com.