Who Wants to Spend the Weekend with a Hostile Teen: Divorce and Adolescences Present Unique Challenges?

Teenagers forced to spend time with parents amid a separation tends to be especially awkward for adolescents. They are more likely to resent the disruption of their personal life to accommodate parent’s schedules. When they are practicing leaving the nest, their parents begin demanding scheduled “nesting” time. Teens may rage about these enforced schedules as” it” becomes more critical than their interests, goals, and activities. Divorce can disrupt the natural developmental stage of adolescents, providing the unfavorable choice of spending limited time with one parent or a life divided between two homes.

Some teenagers and parents believe the teen should decide who they want to live with and when they see the other parent. Washington law does not permit a child to dictate where and when they live with each parent at any age. But, child-focused professionals and parents know they need to listen to their voiced preferences and concerns. If parents refuse to listen, teens may choose to get their point across by acting out in ways that pose a risk to their health and safety and damage the parental relationship.

Most teens prefer not to shuttle between two residences, requiring one parent to give up a significant amount of residential time. However, physical separation makes it harder for many divorced parents to maintain a healthy relationship with the teenager they love. If one parent backs off and agrees to less residential time, how will they keep a close relationship, and will their acquiescence be interpreted later as uncaring?

What can a parent do to maintain a good relationship with their teenager during this tumultuous time?

Being an adolescent makes a difference in their expectations. Parents need to understand that:

  1. Teens are apt to minimize their need for parental relationships —Children with good relations with both tend to have better adult relationships and joint financial support through college.
  2. When adolescents do not view more challenging relationships as disposable, they develop healthier long -term relationships.
  3. Teens develop emotional muscles when they learn to work out their differences with the less favored parent constructively.

To help their adolescent transition into the life of separate residences and enforced access to both, parents need to:

  1. Ask questions to understand the challenges their teen is facing in transitioning from one to two households.
  2. Involve their teenager in brainstorming solutions to the problems they are facing.
  3. Be opened to gradually implementing the residential schedule to allow their child to adjust to and acclimate to the new households.
  4. Explain why it is so crucial for them to be a continued presence in your new home while accepting responsibility for the fact that your choices required this change, not theirs.
  5. Let your child know how much you love them and validate their separate identity development by listening to what they have to say.
  6. Continue to be a parent by establishing healthy boundaries and responsibilities in both households; getting a divorce should not be a license for your teen to ignore established family values and behaviors.

In my meditation practice, I always ask my clients what you want your child to say as an adult when asked the question, “How did your parents’ divorce affect you?” Their answers become the value-based guidelines we use to construct a child-focused parenting plan.

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