Raising teens is never easy, but it becomes even more complicated when they are involved in a two-household family. Teens are going through a lot of changes, and having to navigate two completely separate households often adds stress to their already too-busy and somewhat volatile emotional lives. Teenagers usually prefer that their families blend into the background while they do their teen-thing. But, when a kid is going back and forth between houses, due to a divorce, the family and “family time” often becomes a focal point of the teenager’s life (like it or not!). Of course, that is not all bad. There are plenty of people who will tell you that their divorce is what made them finally realize the fleeting nature of their children’s youth and was, in fact, the impetus for ensuring that they spent time with their children before it got to be too late.
It is important for parents of teenagers to remember that, just because your child doesn’t see you much — due to everyone’s busyness — that doesn’t mean that your teenager will want to hang out with you when he or she does not have a scheduled activity. Teenagers want to be with their friends, usually, and any parent who makes it a point of getting in the way of that for “visitation time”, might be asking for trouble. The older they get, the tougher it is to maintain a regular schedule of time with your kids – but they are always happy to have you drive . . . and pay! But, it is often those drives, after all, when you will at least get to know your children’s friends and that is, many parents find, a delight! Try and keep a balance between making sure you and your children spend time together and allowing your teen to have a social life that is not over-prescribed by your and your ex’s divorce situation.
John Hartson, PhD. And Brenda Payne, PhD recommend, in their book Creating Effective Parenting Plans: A Developmental Approach for Lawyers and Divorce Professionals, that people working on parenting plans for families with teenagers be mindful of teenagers’ differing needs at the various stages of adolescence. For example, with 12-13 year olds, Hartson and Payne note that there are many physiological changes going on during this time, in addition to the big move-up to middle school. Often times, they assert, it is best to leave the custodial care schedule as it is and not add any more changes to the mix, unless there are serious problems.
For older teens, those entering high school and later, it is often wise to include them in discussions regarding where they will be/want to be spending their time. At this point, for many teenagers, it tends to be more about “where” than about “with whom” they will be spending time. For example, some teens express strong desires to spend greater amounts of time in one home over the other, not because they desire to be with one parent more than the other, but their choice is often greatly influenced by which home has greater proximity to friends, activities, and the convenience of having all of their stuff in one spot.
Remember that teens, like children of all ages, are still watching everything that you do. You are still their role model in many ways, as is their other parent. They need to see you and your ex function in everyday life so that they can learn what is important in your family culture, how you “get it all done”, what are your priorities, how your values effect your choices, etc. This is your last shot at parenting, for the most part, and you want to try and get it right. That will mean that you have to find a way to both spend time with your teenager, while keeping a healthy awareness of his or her need for some level of independence.
Your teenager will be gone before you know it. Enjoy your time together. Listen to your teen. Try and accommodate his or her needs and desires, but don’t cave in to every whim. Watch for classic divorce manipulation between you and your ex. Let your teenager know how much you love him or her every day. Cross your fingers . . . and be confident that you are doing the best that you can, which is all anyone can really ask of a mom and a dad.
Posted by Kristina Duncan Hoeges, Freelance Paralegal and Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator
This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.