Throughout our parenting lives, we’re given conflicting and superficial parenting advice from magazines, friends, and family. During a divorce, unfortunately, there are times when an ex who has harmed your children is mandated to stay away. At other times, your teen wants nothing to do with their other parent. But, when the time comes to really communicate with your teen’s other parent, (the one who’s nearby, in their lives, unchaperoned, and available to them) we have to accept the most important parenting advice for divorced parents with teens.
You won’t want to hear this important parenting advice all the time. Instead, you may be caught up in believing you’re justifiably right to tell them what to do or to hate them for hurting you. After a breakup, most parents feel they know what’s best for the kids. Especially, when you see your teen doing things that are stupid, thoughtless, rude or going down the wrong path. (That’s when we blame the other parent and their DNA!)
As divorced parents with teens, you remember they’re not quite ready to get out there and make it real.
When your teen is doing what they’re supposed to be doing – going to school, playing sports, being involved with activities; saying please and giving you a thank you-you know what you’re doing. There’s a lot to be proud of even if they don’t get all A’s or are the MVP on the football team. If the other parent is nearby or at the parent-teacher meetings with you, the truce between the two of you is usually taken for granted.
Sometimes, you’ll be at a game or an event and want to shy away from the other parent. As divorced parents with teens, you may not want to stand too close or hear them shout cheers from the sidelines. There’s no need to pretend you respect or admire them if you don’t. There will be times as you re-negotiate your parenting time and activities that it doesn’t seem fair. And it’s not. Fair.
Watching your teens walk away from you to live their own life is one of life’s greatest challenges for parents.
I remember when my oldest child was tiny, just a few weeks old. I was nursing him in the middle of the night, delirious from lack of sleep and looking out the window. All of a sudden I had this flash of parenting advice. I saw his entire life fly before me: his first day of school, learning things in a classroom, having a playdate, being with his nanny, riding a school bus, going to the movies, playing sports, getting hurt, falling in love, making love, going to the Prom, going to college, getting a career, getting married, being a parent himself… just like that. All the times I would not be able to be with him.
That flash of parenting advice has stayed with me for years. As a divorced parent with teens, it has allowed me to feel the pain of separation every day, not just the pain when my kids leave to go with their father on his parenting time.
Often we forget in the midst of a divorce that we’re not allowed to live our children’s lives.
As divorced parents with teens, we are forced to let go and give them the time and space to experience the life they have been given. During a divorce, that means with the other parent. This is when we may truly hate letting them go. Letting go doesn’t mean being negligent or cruel. Just the opposite… letting go gives them a chance to become who they’re supposed to be without you. We can’t do it for them. And as divorced parents with teens, we can’t control what occurs as they step out into the world without us – on their own going to school or to camp or on their own going to their other parent’s home for the weekend!
When divorced parents share teenagers, they share the burdens that teens bring with them. “Little children, little problems… big children, big problems.” Luckily, as they go from crawling to walking to dating, we’re given time to grow into how to handle the chaos that sometimes befalls our kin. And this is where the most important parenting advice for divorced parents with teens comes in.
When the shit hits the fan, you will want to have your teen’s other parent on speed dial.
As divorced parents with teens, you will need them to be there for you. For your teen. For thinking through options and choices. To figure out the steps to take because, though they may no longer be intimate with you, they are your teen’s other parent. You’ll need their clear dialogue and whatever parenting skills, and useful discussion, they’re capable of giving you. You will want to strategize and consider decisions together.
Shit hits the fan sometimes and your teen’s other parent loves your child too.
In those moments, when it really matters, none of the stuff you were arguing about will. It won’t matter if you didn’t break bread together at the football awards dinner or that your divorce cost you years of lost time and thousands of dollars. It won’t matter that they hurt you at all. Or that they hurt your child by leaving the family home. It seriously won’t matter because when it counts… when it truly counts… the teen in trouble is all that matters.
I have been through several shitty experiences raising teens with my children’s father. Each one has been worse than the one before. They were all scary and desperate, and serious. Each one involved life and death. Way too many of these moments for any parent to deal with. And the one person, the first person I call is my children’s other parent. I need him. Because my child needs their other parent more than we’ve ever needed anyone in their life.
No one else loves your child the way the other parent loves your child. When they do and when they can.
We may not share dinners together or have the same friendships. I didn’t like the disassociated, objective analysis of my life in my home. You may not get invited to those family events and former friends’ celebrations. But at the moment when the shit hits the fan, it won’t matter.
That’s why it’s important to remember, as you send those OCD texts and go back and forth arguing about who packs what clothes and what they eat for dinner that one day you may need them. Amid all the petty, stupid (seemingly justified and necessary) fighting that goes on as two formally married people literally tear themselves and their marriage apart, there is another parent to help you.
When shit happens to your child, they will need you to be there for them. Together.
In every case. Even if you never live together again. Even if you hate one another, disrespect one another or despise each other. To your teenager none of that matters in their self-centered adolescent years. They need you to be there for them.
And here’s the thing… you will be.
During the tough times, you will rise above all of it and remember you’re parents. You will do the right thing and be grateful for the support. Whether you’re still angry or not, you’ll welcome their comfort. Even if you couldn’t look them in the eye in the courthouse. And if you’re lucky, there may even be a thank you.
When it comes to our children, you really are capable of showing up.
So, here’s the big question… can you show up now in service to your children (in service to yourself) whatever age they are? As divorced parents with teens, can you show a united front in support of your children? If that other parent hurt you, can you put that aside for the moment you’re in front of your child? When your teenager needs you? (Which is every day.) When the shit hits the fan?
Your children are testing and watching to see how you’ll react, to see how much they can trust you, and to figure out if you’re on their side of things or your own. (That sucks!) But it’s true and it’s always happening.
What I know for sure, is that your teen is on their own path. You’re also bigger and better than you know. You will be able to show up when you have to… no matter what has transpired in the past with that other parent. Your pride will shrink, your heart will open, and your mind will rush toward help. As your fear takes over, you’ll need the support to help your child. When the shit hits the fan. And so will their other parent. I believe that. I’ve seen it over and over again.