It is really hard, but you can make it easier.
For most parents who divorce, co-parenting sucks. Somehow, you’re supposed to go from not being able to make a marriage work to being able to communicate and work together to raise your children. But even that gets more difficult when you’re faced with co-parenting a teenager together.
Before diving into the difficulties of co-parenting a teenager, you need to understand why it’s typically so tough to raise teenagers.
Why parenting a teenager is so hard
Adolescence brings with it amazing physical and hormonal changes which result in sexual and other physical maturation. And all these developments mean that teens have behavioral changes and mood swings.
Teens are gradually able to think more abstractly, make plans and set long-term goals. They may become more interested in philosophy, politics and social issues. They’ll likely also begin comparing themselves to their peers.
They want greater control of their own lives and independence from their parents. So their friendships and romantic/sexual relationships become very important to them.
Developing a sense of personal identity is one of the major tasks that teens undertake. And many try out lots of different ways of being – including ways that fly in the face of what their parents hoped for them – before settling in.
Parenting a teen is typically a tumultuous experience. It’s often fraught with fear, hurt, and pride – sometimes all within the span of an hour. There are no two ways about it - parenting a teen is tough.
Why co-parenting a teenager after divorce is harder
When you’re divorced and trying to parent your teen, it can be so much more difficult than parenting in an intact family. The surprising thing is that the difficulties don’t arise because of your teen. They arise because of you and your ex.
The six ways you can make nurturing your teen more difficult than necessary include:
- Damming up the information flow
Co-parenting sucks, and because it can feel like the finish line is in sight when your child is a teen, you start to feel like you can ease things up a bit. You may even begin believing s/he is more responsible and mature than s/he was before – because sometimes they are.
This belief leads many co-parents to stop sharing as much information with each other about their teen. They each assume their teen will naturally share the information and/or exhibit the same behaviors with both of them.
By not continuing to regularly communicate with each other about things going on with your teen, you and your ex could be keeping each other in the dark about events and/or behaviors that your teen needs support and guidance with.
- Stop talking with each other
Instead of continuing the often unpleasant or even painful communication with your co-parent, you and/or your ex may choose to start passing messages to each other through your teen. Unfortunately, this can lead to messages not being delivered or delivered late or incorrectly.
It also gives your teen a lot of power.
- Coordinating less
When your teen learns to drive, you can experience a sense of freedom. No longer are you worried about coordinating with your ex about getting your child from place to place – including from your place to your ex’s.
But this lack of coordination gives your teen freedom that they could take advantage of.
- Maintaining parenting schedule
A lack of flexibility in the parenting schedule can cause undue conflict and stress for you, your ex and your teen. Your child is trying to juggle spending time with friends, school, activities and, maybe even a job on top of spending time with both you and his/her other parent.
Learning to let go and be a bit more flexible is one of the toughest parts of parenting a teen.
- Making assumptions
Making assumptions is almost always a bad idea. But when you make assumptions when you’re co-parenting it can be even more problematic.
The biggest mistake parents make when co-parenting a teenager is they assume their child’s other parent knows their teen’s friends instead of knowing them yourself.
Friends are a high priority for teens. You’ll want to know who your child is spending his/her time with so you can support the relationships that seem beneficial. You’ll also want to encourage your teen and her/his friends to spend time at your home, so you can stay informed about your teen’s world.
- Providing inconsistent guidance
Despite how independent your teen is trying to be, s/he still needs consistent guidance, expectations, and home life. When things are reliable and steady for your teen, s/he is more likely to experiment with building her/his identity in safe ways.
On the other hand, when things are unstable at one of your teen’s homes, s/he will have more opportunities to experiment in risky and unsafe behaviors.
If you and your ex ease up on co-parenting when your child becomes a teen, you could be setting yourselves and your child up for a much more difficult few years.
Teens can take advantage of poor co-parenting. They can learn to criticize, lie and use other unhealthy methods to get their needs and wants met from one parent or the other as they pursue their independence.
However, when both parents work together, co-parenting a teenager after divorce doesn’t have to be dramatically harder than parenting a teen in an intact family.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people navigate parenting post-divorce including co-parenting a teenager. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private first session.