Have you noticed how busy the tween and teen years get all of the sudden? Your child goes from a cute and playful child to a sometimes snarky, very involved adolescent. The good news is that this transition is pretty normal and happens in just about every family. But how do you handle this when parents are co-parenting from separate households?
Trust me . . . every parent, regardless of whether in an intact family or not, finds these years one part exciting and one part exhausting. It can be easy to think that kids these days are way busier than kids in the past. However, developmentally, kids haven’t changed much since you were a kid. A child’s job during adolescence is to step out independently into his or her life a little more than that child has ever done before. Gone forever are the days when your young child wanted nothing more than to spend all of his or her time with you. While that can feel a little sad, it’s an important and healthy step toward adulthood. A parent’s job, after all, is to guide a child to becoming a successful adult. So while this process can be a bit tiring and even painful, it is crucial.
Parents who are managing their family from separate households may find that their carefully crafted parenting plans seem not to fit so well anymore when adolescence begins, and children get extra busy and focused on their peers. A child may begin to resist switching homes, may not want to attend family events, may get upset when he or she has to miss a soccer practice or school dance. Often, parents begin to dig in their heels to insist on FaceTime from their child, or they point fingers at one another claiming that one parent is encouraging a child to reject the other parent. While this does occasionally happen, more often the child is at some level rejecting both parents and wants peers to be the focus of his or her world. The child wants to have independence to determine what he or she does, with whom, where and when. While parents need to provide some important guardrails for safety, encouraging independence is healthy.
What does this all mean for parenting time? As you are lamenting that your child no longer wants to do family game night on a Friday with you, your new spouse and his or her younger siblings, think back to your childhood. If one of your parents had insisted that instead of going to the mall, to a party or to the football game with friends you stay home and play Scrabble with that parent, what would your reaction have been? Would you have resented that parent as your friends went on without you to have fun?
You can’t hang onto young childhood even though it’s hard to let go. As you are structuring your parenting time or figuring out your weekend plans with your child, remember that the steps into independence without you are the most important things that your child is doing developmentally right now. Don’t be the wrench in the system. The best thing you can do is to begin the slow and steady process of developing a more adult relationship with your child which includes respect for and support for the activities that your child values, whether that’s soccer on a Saturday, working for the local restaurant, or having a sleepover with friends. Never forget that your child is a developing person who in a few short years will be totally in charge of whether he or she has a close relationship with you or a distant one based on resentment. Forcing family facetime during your parenting time is sometimes necessary but should not be the “every weekend” norm. Your child is walking toward adulthood. Be proud of that and be part of that by giving your support . . . very quietly and in the background so that you’re not so embarrassing.