Whether you and your co-parent were never married, divorced while your children were young, or split when your children were adolescents, co-parenting teenagers from two households has its challenges. Parenting teenagers in any circumstances is a tough task. Adding the scheduling and communication issues inherent in two-household parenting can increase the challenge.
Let’s face it, some of the hardest things about parenting teenagers come from the teenagers themselves. Their developmental job during adolescence is to define themselves as individuals separate and distinct from you. This often comes with a healthy dose of disrespect and some well-placed eye rolling. Whether they believe it or not, teenagers are actually in great need of parenting. You and your co-parent have the extra challenge of figuring out the balance of involvement and freedom needed to transition your teenager to adulthood. If there was ever a time to work together . . . it is now.
The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines provide some specific thoughts for parents who are co-parenting teenagers. The Guidelines begin by reiterating that teenagers need both parents to provide the anchors of their adolescence. Teenagers need time with and access to both parents during this crucial stage of life. This means facilitating time in both households and encouraging open communication between parent and child by phone, text or other communication methods. The Guidelines point out that a strong connection to family is crucial to a teenager’s feelings of safety.
With that said, some parents tend to hyper focus their parenting time on spending time with their teenage child while the child wants to engage in social and extracurricular activities. The Guidelines remind parents of teenagers that they should make all reasonable efforts to accommodate a teen’s participation in academic, extracurricular and social activities. If you think of your own teenage years, it is unlikely that you were focused each Friday and Saturday night with hanging out with your parents. Instead, you wanted to attend the high school football game, soccer practice or a sleepover with friends. A social and activity focus is a normal. Balancing the need to spend time with family and the need to engage in other activities is important and something that parents need to assist teens with doing.
Teenagers turn into successful adults when we allow them to try on adult decision-making and situations in a safe and supervised environment. Our job as parents is to provide that net of safety and the ability to spread wings. Parents focused on their disagreements and strife with their co-parent cannot effectively provide a positive example or the support needed for a teenager. It is more important than ever to work on peaceful co-parenting. Big decisions related to driving, discipline, college choices and school trips are on the horizon. Do not let your disagreements with your co-parent rob your teenager of these valuable milestones and learning experiences based on your inability to communicate and agree with your co-parent.
While you may see your share of eye rolling during this period, know that your role as the parent of a teenager is crucial to the development of a successful adulthood for your child. Hold on for the bumpy ride!