Teens and Divorce

Photo by Sujin Jetkasettakorn

If you and the other parent divorced while your child was younger, the teen years can present some challenges in terms of your visitation schedule.  A schedule that worked for an elementary school age child is not going to fit a teen.  And, if you and the other parent have split during your child’s teenage years, it can be difficult to devise a plan that will work for everyone involved simply because the teenage years are so difficult to parent during.

Big But Not Big Enough

The first thing to remember is that teens may look and act a lot like adults, but they aren’t yet completely mature.  They still need to have two parents and they still need to have those parents involved in their lives.  Teens are working hard at learning to be independent, and this means that they do need special consideration, but it does not mean that you and the other parent should throw up your hands and say “there’s nothing we can do.”  It can be difficult to continue to parent someone who doesn’t want to be parented, but that’s your job right now.

Flexibility Is Key

Friends, school, sports, activities, dating, and jobs are essential to teens.  If you have a visitation schedule that severely restricts your child’s ability to enjoy those essential activities, all you’ll end up with is resentment.  Instead, you need to try to create a balance in your teen’s life.  He or she should have plenty of time to do the things that matters to him, but he’s also got to make some room for spending time with his parents.

When you all lived in one house you probably did not tell your daughter she had to skip the field hockey game because you wanted to spend time with her.  You didn’t tell your son he couldn’t hang out with friends on Friday night because your spouse wanted to spend time with him.

As the divorced parent of a teen, you’ve got to flex the parenting schedule to incorporate the things that make your kid who he is.  If your spouse has visitation this weekend, but your teen has a dance to go to, the parent whose scheduled time it is should take the teen to and from the dance, and spend the rest of the available time with him.  You need to find a balance between your teen’s need to be a kid and the need for him or her to have time with both parents.

Create a Minimum

Since teens schedules are busy and your and the other parent’s schedules are also probably pretty packed, it’s important to agree to some kind of minimum time per month with the non-custodial parent. For example, decide that you’ll try to arrange things so that the non-custodial parent sees your child for at least four overnights per month and 4 other evenings or afternoons – this is the flexible way to fit in the “every other weekend and one night a week” plan into a busy life.  Fit parenting times in where they go the easiest.  Be creative with your time sharing.  Take turns taking your daughter to basketball practice.  Have one parent commit to teaching him how to drive.  Have the other parent be involved with weekend band or cheerleader activities.  Some parents have a hard time being so flexible because it feels like a loss of control.  In fact it is just the opposite – you set a minimum and then work with your child to make it work for everyone.  It takes a bit more cooperation, but in the end, you will both have a better relationship with your child and he or she will feel more fulfilled and connected.

Stay Connected

Teens are big on technology, so the non-custodial parent can maintain a close relationship with text messaging, cell phone calls, andSkype.  Non-custodial parents can have a difficult time staying connected during the teen years – teens certainly aren’t know for being open with their parents!  And, if a family divorced when the daughter was 7, she’s a very different person at 15 and it can be hard to stay in the loop.  Find out about her interests and activities and make yourself a part of them – either by showing up to cheer, by offering help, or just by asking friendly, non-intrusive questions.

Surviving the teen years requires a mutual understanding – you take your teen’s life seriously and he or she will take both parents seriously as well.

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10 Tips to Improve Communication with Your Ex

Although your marriage or relationship is over, you still have to communicate in order to arrange visitation and discuss issues involving your kids. Instead of gritting your teeth and sending mental daggers his way each time you talk, follow these tips to make communication easier, more effective and more comfortable for both of you. The less stressful those conversations are, the easier your own life is going to be.

  1. Smile. I’m not kidding. Studies show that if you force yourself to smile at times when you don’t feel happy, it actually does improve your mood. And if you smile at your ex, you immediately defuse the situation. Warring tribes used to greet each other with a handshake to show they had brought no weapons. A smile does the same thing.
  2. Don’t talk money. Money is often the root of the biggest disagreements among divorced couples. He’s not paying what he should, he doesn’t agree with you when you want more, he disputes what’s actually owed, etc, etc. Therefore, keep money out of the equation when you’re talking about the kids or exchanging the kids.
  3. Don’t take the bait. You’re excellent at pushing each other’s buttons. So be aware of that and be smart enough to keep your buttons covered. Remind yourself this is not a real conversation. It’s a game. You win by not engaging. End of story.
  4. Plan ahead. Mentally rehearse any decisions or issues you need to discuss beforehand and boil it down to a concise, simple statement or request. Have a script and stick to it. This allows you to control the course of the conversation and stay focused.
  5. Pause. No need to count to ten, but instruct yourself to just slow down all of your reactions. In difficult encounters, your first deep, primal reaction might be to slug him. You’re an adult though and suppress that and keep your hands at your side. However, your second reaction, which comes only split seconds later might be to verbally slug him. Take a second and press your lips together or take a breath so you can get past that and allow the thinking, reasoning part of your brain to take over.
  6. Be calculating. You know this guy. You understand how he ticks. Use that to your advantage. Work him to get the situation to work for you. Use whatever he responds to, whatever helps him behave rationally, calmly, and reasonably.
  7. Focus on the future. No one wins when you hash over the past. You each have your own version and that’s that. The future is there to be shaped, so focus on what you can do to make it a good one for your child. This means no fighting about who did what or any rehashing of past problems.
  8. Face the facts. Too many women waste time struggling against the truth – this guy is your kids’ father and you’re stuck with him for the long haul. Stop looking for ways to shut him out and start looking for ways to make it work with him in the picture. If you deal with him in that spirit, everything becomes easier.
  9. Complete the transaction. You and your ex are talking or seeing each other because there is business to accomplish – kids to be exchanged, a schedule to be made, a schedule change to be negotiated. Remember that’s why you’re there and that’s what your goal is. Focus only on achieving that goal. He can throw tons of other junk at you, but you’ve got to keep your eye on the final goal.
  10. Run. Not literally. But when you’ve completed the transaction, get out. This is where you get into trouble if you don’t move on. If you’re not working on a specific goal, you’ve got lots of room to pick at each other. Don’t let it happen.

NOTE: Please be sure to see the previous post for a chance to win the ebook The No-Fight Divorce Book, everything you need to know to use mediation.

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Back to School Tips for Divorced Parents

The stores are filled with binders and glue sticks so it must be time to start thinking about back-to-school. This time of year is busy for all parents, but it is particularly challenging when you’re divorced or separated. Not only are you juggling supply lists (including impossible to locate folder colors), sneaker shopping, open houses, and more volunteer events than your schedule has room for, but you’re also managing a parenting schedule, cost-splitting, and handling all of your exes “moments.” Follow these tips to keep your sanity.

 

Track Expenses. If you and your ex have an agreement to share school expenses or if your ex is responsible for all of it, you need to keep your receipts. Try to buy everything at one store if possible to minimize confusion. Keep copies of the receipts so you have a record of what you’re owed.

 

Share Supply Information. As much as school shopping can be a headache, it is a way to stay connected to your child. Even if you have agreed that you will be the parent in charge of school shopping, your ex might want to be involved. It’s not uncommon for a divorced dad to take his child out and buy the latest and greatest sneakers, backpack, or gadget. Making sure the other parent understands what the school requirements are will prevent a hissy fit by your child when the giant backpack fails to meet school specs and must be returned.

 

Coordinate Events. If you and your ex both want to attend open house, make sure he knows when it is. If you can’t stand to be in the same room together, arrange to go on different nights or at different times. If that’s not possible, most teachers are willing to do a quick one-on-one to meet one of the parents at another time.

 

Notify the School about Pick Ups. If you have sole legal custody of your child and have any concerns that your ex could try to pick your child up from school without your permission, you need to give the school a copy of your custody order and direct them not to release your child to anyone but you.

 

Think About the Night Before School.  Do you remember that sick to your stomach feeling of the night before school? Your child experiences that too and it’s important to do whatever you can to make the first day of school easier for him. If at all possible, have your child sleep at the home where the bus will pick him up most of the time. This will minimize tension and help him get settled into a routine.

 

Arrange for Separate Notifications. If your ex has the right to receive information about your child’s academic progress and school activities (most parents with joint custody do, but some custody orders directly spell this right out), he needs to make arrangements with the school to have duplicates sent to him. As the custodial parent, you do NOT want to have to be responsible for copying and sending him everything that comes home. That being said, there are times when a teacher might send a quick handwritten note or email to you alone and it would be in the spirit of cooperation for you to share it. It is also nice to share graded papers and tests that come home.

 

Coordinate Calendars. Now that school is getting revved up again, there are going to be lots of events – book fairs, sports meets, science fairs, concerts, and more – scheduled for your child. Compare the school calendar with your parenting schedule. You want to make sure your child able to attend important events. If your ex lives nearby, you can suggest he take him to events that fall on his days.

 

Talk to the Teacher. If you are recently divorced, or in the middle of a split, make sure you find a moment to talk to your child’s teacher about the situation. Children of divorce and separation often act out at school, have emotional moments, or just occasional bad days and you want your child’s teacher to know what’s going on.

 

Smile! When school portraits roll around, if you do not want to talk to your ex about buying a package of photos together, send him an extra purchase order so you don’t have to get involved.

 

Plan Projects. It’s quite common for kids to want their dads to help them with certain school projects – particularly the ones that require construction! It would be great if you and your ex could talk about this kind of situation in advance so you can already have a plan in place for the science fair project or whatever will be coming along. If your ex agrees to handle a project, make sure he has all the details, including the deadlines and specs. It’s tempting to let him sink or swim, but it’s ok to let your mom nerves take over and remind him once or twice about the deadline so that your child does not end up in a bind. Try to remain hands off as much as possible though, so your child and ex can have this experience together.

 

Remember Who School Is For. It is too easy for school to become yet another battleground where you and your ex each attempt to stake your claim – you become active on the PTO and pal up to the teacher while your ex makes calls to complain to the principal about every little injustice to your child. You’re each secretly trying to be über involved with the school so you feel connected to your child. School is your kid’s turf – a place for her to have fun, grow, and get away from the issues at home. Don’t ruin that for her.

 

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Keeping Summer Vacation Fun in a Divorced Family

photo courtesy of federico stevanin

Kids wait all year for summer vacation.  But when parents are divorced or separated, summer vacation becomes more complicated.  Kids look forward to long days with their friends doing nothing.  When they have a parenting schedule to live with, summer loses some of its fun.  Your child needs to spend time with both parents – that’s a given.  So how do you keep the parenting schedule from messing up your child’s summer dreams?

Plan around it. If you and your child dream of lazy days at the beach or crazy afternoons at an amusement park, plan your family’s schedule around the parenting schedule.  Try to work, clean the house, or do volunteer work while your child is with the other parent.  Save the big events for days when your child is with you.  If you have children and step children with conflicting schedules, talk with both sets of parents and look for a way to make adjustments so that you can all have family time together once in a while.

Welcome friends. One of the biggest concerns kids have about schedule is not being able to see their friends.  Make it clear friends are welcome at your home anytime.  If you’re the non-custodial parent, go the extra step and offer to drive the friends (who probably live near your child’s other home) to your home.

Make other plans. Whether you’re the custodial or non-custodial parent, it’s impossible to be with your child the entire time he or she is at your house.  Look for alternatives that will keep your child happy and occupied while you’re busy.  Look for a class or day camp that ties into his or her interests – zoo camp, art camp, soccer camp – the choices are huge.  Planning this activity will give your child something to do and will ease any guilt you might feel (you shouldn’t!) about not being completely available.

Think of yourself. Be sure to plan some adult fun for the days your child is away.  You’re supposed to enjoy the summer too and those days on your own are the perfect times to explore new places, meet people, and expand your own horizons.

Remember what it’s like to be a kid. There were plenty of times when your idea of a good time was sleeping till noon, spending 4 hours in front of the tv, or plugging yourself into a video game.  The same probably holds true for your child.  Let him or her have time to just veg.  You don’t need to plan excursions and events every time your child is at your home.  Let there be time for just being a kid.

Relax. Stop pressuring yourself to create the perfect summer for your child.  If you look back you probably will find that your favorite summer memories are of small, everyday things.  You’re not a cruise director; you’re a parent.  There’s a lot to be said for quiet dinners on the porch, picnics in the backyard, ice cream cones on a hot night, and fun in the sprinkler together.

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Biting Your Tongue

Photo credit: photostock

Once you’re divorced or separated, it seems as if you should be free of your ex and able to live your life without his or her influence. However, if you are parents together, this is not a realistic expectation. You will be parents together for the rest of your lives and although you don’t have to live together or see each other often, you do have to find a way to function together as parents.

Spirit of Acceptance

Your child has two parents and although you are not in love with each other anymore, and in fact, may not even like each other, it’s best for your child if you work together as parents. No matter what kind of parenting arrangement you may have – shared custody, sole custody, or residential custody with visitation – you must still find a way to work together as a team.

As you’ve already learned, you cannot change who the other parent is, nor how he or she does things. This was true in your marriage and it remains true as you parent together. Part of parenting together is accepting who the other person is and learning to live with it. It may not be easy to put up with the things about the other parent that drive you crazy – lateness, neatness, snide comments, lack of attention to details, pickiness – whatever it is. But learning to do this is part of your job as a divorced parent.

Watch Your Words

As you and the other parent work through your journey as parenting partners, it’s likely that you will have clashes. Even if you had the most amicable divorce in the world, as you parent it is almost certain that resentments, jealousy, outrage, and other negative feelings will plague you at some point. It’s difficult to parent together when you rarely are together. You’re each growing into different people than you were when you were married.  As the years pass you may become more and more unfamiliar to each other.

One of the most important skills you will need to work effectively with the other parent is communication. Because you are not parenting in the same home, it is essential that you learn to communicate with each other about your child. Learning how and when to talk to each other is an important skill, but perhaps the most important skill is learning how to say nothing at all.

Silence is Golden

If you constantly criticize or complain to the other parent, your relationship will evolve into a negative one. Always pointing out what he or she is doing wrong just feeds the fire of resentment and anger. It is not your job to point out everything the other parent is doing wrong. That’s not your responsibility anymore. One of the best things you can do to create a supportive co-parenting environment is to try not to say anything negative. Instead focus on sharing information about your child, making plans that will benefit your child, and saying something nice once in a while.

If you are in a very difficult parenting relationship where every communication you have with each other seems to end in an argument, you need to cut back on your face to face communication. Try email, instant messenger, texting, or even sending notes back and forth.

Parent Together, But Apart

You and the other parent are part of a parenting team, but you’re each on the field at different times. Trying to set up some common boundaries and rules is helpful to everyone, but you can’t and shouldn’t try to control what is happening when the other parent is in charge. You have to let go and let the other parent do things his or her way – without commenting on it, criticizing or offering a better way to do it.

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