It can be especially hard to go through a divorce while parenting a teenager. They, like you, are trying to find their place in the world while having to deal with many changes at home. As you likely already know, figuring out a new normal can be challenging.
But it is not impossible. In fact, the experience can bring you and your teenager closer as you transition into your new post-divorce life. That is if you consider the following tips. Here they are.
1. Don’t turn your teenager into your counselor.
Going through a divorce can be immensely stressful for you, and you may find yourself trying to lean on your teen for emotional support and advice as a result. While it might seem nice from your perspective that you are interacting with your teen now as you would with any close friend or confidant, keep in mind that your teen is still a child. Your child.
When you treat your teen like a therapist, you may unconsciously burden them with problems they do not have the capacity to and should not have to field. You may also end up alienating them from their other parent, which can hurt your relationships all around.
What your teen needs right now instead is a parent, not a friend. To that end, be conscious of maintaining your parental boundaries, reminding yourself that it is your job to parent your teen, not the other way around.
2. Try to establish consistent rules in both homes.
Divorce can easily disrupt a teen’s daily routine, especially as they must divide their time between both of their parents’ homes. Your teen may also be one of the many who must move from the marital home, possibly to a new town or city, which can be particularly upsetting.
To foster stability, do your best to make the rules in your home as consistent as possible with those in your ex’s home. More specifically, try to be on the same page about parenting goals, house rules, curfews, and punishments.
In this way, your teen will not feel as ill at ease making transitioning from one home to the other. They will know what to expect regardless of where they lay their head at night.
3. Hold regular family dinners.
Your teen may perceive your divorce as the destruction of their family life, but that simply does not have to be the case. Instead, remind your teen that you are still a family, only one that operates from two separate homes.
An effective way to reinforce this notion is by scheduling family dinners regularly. Depending on your relationship with your ex, if it is a cordial, even friendly relationship, an occasional meal may include them, too.
But on those “regular” nights, the ones when you may feel overwhelmed by the divorce process or adjusting to your new routine, refrain from continually opting to make the easiest dinner possible or leaving it to your teens to feed themselves since they may possess the skills. While this is OK on some occasions, family dinners, including the prep leading up to them, are helpful for keeping a routine as much as they are opportunities for checking in with your teens.
Often, teens withdraw during a divorce or the time after. Family dinners can provide teens a comfortable environment to open up with you about anything from the divorce to school to whatever may be on their minds. Even if the conversation remains light, fostering frequent and open communication lets teens know you are there for them if they need you.
4. Tailor your custody schedule for your teen.
During a divorce, teens may grow concerned with how their new residential schedule will impact their everyday lives. For instance, they may worry that having to stay in two separate homes will impact their ability to participate in extracurricular activities or see their friends or boyfriend or girlfriend if they have one.
Remember, your teen is coming into their own as an independent person with distinct likes and dislikes. Therefore, a strict custody schedule of staying at their other parent’s house every other weekend plus Wednesday dinners, for example, may not go over as well as it would for a younger child. As a teen, they will likely have a distinct opinion about what custody could look like for them.
Massachusetts courts recognize this reality. That is why once a child is about 14 years old, depending on their maturity level, judges tend to allow a child to live where they want. The exception is if there are serious parenting issues that would negatively affect the child’s best interests.
Consequently, you may find that, when asked by a judge about their living preferences, your teen will provide a very detailed opinion, one likely influenced by their ability to see their friends and maintain life as they once knew it.
That flexibility could mean them choosing to live solely with one parent over the other. The important thing to realize is that their decision may have little to do with you and everything to do with them.
5. Remember, your teen is still a child.
While your teen is developing their own sense of identity, is learning to think analytically and critically, is becoming more confident in their beliefs and opinions, and believes they know a lot, maybe even more than you (whether true or not), at the end of the day it is crucial to remember that your teen is still a child.
They have yet to go out into the world and become their own person and still have plenty of growing and learning to do. In other words, they still need you despite their protests. So prepare yourself to be present, as difficult and unpleasant as your teen may make it for you.
Final thoughts …
Your responsibilities may feel like a lot right now, but this is by no means an excuse for you not to take care of yourself. After all, if you fail to meet your basic needs, you likely won’t be able to meet your teen’s needs, at least in the way you want to.
With that in mind, eat well, get enough sleep at night, exercise, and take care of your physical and mental health. In other words, save your strength because, with teens, you are definitely going to need it.
As the expression goes, it takes a village to raise a child. So don’t be afraid to lean on others — close friends, family, clergy, a mental health professional, a family law attorney — for additional support and direction.
Contact a Massachusetts divorce attorney.
At Farias Family Law, our Massachusetts divorce and family law attorneys understand how difficult navigating the divorce process can be for children, especially teens. Always careful to prioritize co-parenting strategies that are in the child’s best interests, we have vast experience negotiating parenting plans that can accommodate your family’s needs now and for decades to come. Call our office today